What’s a mid-life crisis called in your early thirties? What constitutes the crisis being ‘mid-life’? For those who have been being reading this week, you’ve witnessed my sad little journey as I go through a non-menopausal ‘change of life’. But you know what? I have been in this transitional place a ton of times. In fact it seems very much like historically speaking, this week in general is not my time to shine. But first, allow me to explain that I am crap with recalling dates and years. I don’t remember birthdays well, nor can I recall the dates of births, deaths, marriages, holidays, it’s all a blur. How do I recall things? Of course, through pop culture happenings. My friend Monica and Heath Ledger died in the same month, which incidentally was the same month I had gotten an IUD.
When in Australia, they were covering the fourth anniversary of Ledger’s death, and all I could think was…”I really miss my friend…and I’ve only got another year left of birth control”. I remember going on a road-trip through the Southern United States, and seeing a magazine cover with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes when they first got together in 2005. And that’s how I remember the year I explored the Bible Belt, it was in the same year that Cruise scared the great jumping Jesus out of Oprah by getting his shoes all over her leather sofa. It’s not the greatest system for remembering dates, but it’s just how my brain works.
This week marked the fourth anniversary of Micheal Jackson’s death. When I first heard about his demise, my wedding had already been cancelled, and I was house sitting at my aunt’s ranch-house, where the wedding was meant to take place. I was obsessing about the end of my engagement in the exact same way that CNN was focusing on Jackson’s death. There were only so many details that one can elaborate on, “In case you’re just joining us, Jackson is still dead, he used to be super talented, influential and black, then things got weird…
“It was not always this baby dangling kind of madness, he was once just a talented boy in a jaunty hat”
“It all started with a military jacket and a monkey named Bubbles”.
“He then married married Elvis’s daughter, proving his heterosexuality once and for all”.
“But then things took a bad turn about ten minutes later. Which is such a shame as they photographed beautifully together”.
“He dabbled in plastic surgery in the same way an empty-nester might throw themselves in into a major home renovation project. The kids are off to college, might as well go for the whole hog. Anything you ever wished was different would be replaced by the best materials. The thing will plastic surgery is…if you don’t like the final result you can’t just move to a new house. Can’t build a palace on quicksand, that’s just science”.
Jackson had children, gave them strange names and surgical masks to wear in public; wore pajama pants to his child molestation trail, and eventually became the creepiest white man ever. Next up: let’s forget all that and talk to Liza Minnelli and Usher to discuss his finer qualities”. As for me, I was busy running over the fabric of my own failure, feeling for snags, and holes in the material. Sadly, Larry King was too busy dealing with the Jackson tragedy to come round and ask searing questions, “Alicia, what happened, where did you go wrong?”
Boy oh boy would Larry King have gotten an earful, it would have been too much emotion and information for one man to handle, and so he’d be forced to bring in back up…someone who listens, cares and really understands women.
Who wouldn’t want to be the meat in that conversation sandwich? All that cigar smoke and suspenders, damp salt and pepper hair, fogged up glasses. Larry King has been married more that Elizabeth Taylor, I can see how the old coot does it, he’s the thinking woman’s Hugh Hefner.
Furthermore, this week also marks the first anniversary of writer Nora Ephron‘s death.
When I heard about this, I was back in Canada, once again I was living out of a suitcase in my parent’s basement, after nearly three years of living in New Zealand and Australia. Jackson’s death was hardly a surprise, but this was a major blow to me. I love her writing. She wrote Heartburn a comic novel about adultery and divorce, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. Julie & Julia, which she adapted, wrote and directed, is my all time favorite film.
The summer of Jackson’s death I was hanging on a spider web thin thread, and my parents came into town for lunch and that movie. That film was like a bright light. New beginnings. Perseverance. Personal Growth. Food. Paris. New York. Writing. Stanley Tucci as the greatest movie husband ever. Julie & Julia saved me a little bit–or at the very least put the gentlest breeze in my droopy sails. Since her passing I’ve gone over Ephron’s writing with a fine tooth comb; after reading four of her books in succession, I started my blog. She wrote one piece called “My Life as an Heiress”, about the impending death of a wealthy uncle, and the rumors that swirled amongst her father and sisters about the fortune that would be left to them. At the time, Ephron was struggling with a screenplay, and imagined what the kind of expected wealth could bring. She wouldn’t have to finish the script, she could just live off her inheritance. In the end, it turned out that most of the money was lost in bad investments, and once split different ways, it was enough for a willow tree in the backyard. Ephron went back to writing her script, which was When Harry Met Sally…, one of her finest writing achievements.
She credited losing that inheritance to finishing the work, which catapulted her into a completely new level of success. Ephron knew how to write about her pain, divorce, death, displacement with this crackly, dry salty sense of humor. The worse the story is, the better it is. More often than not, she counted her failures as avenues to success. Ephron always said:
Every struggle is a story. Jackson’s death is now in the hall of fame for legendary downward spirals. Having it all–the talent, the money, the exposure, the fame, the awards, the bejeweled gloves, the monkey business. Yet, for years the media closely followed an unraveling mortal creature in PJ pants still trying to sit atop the throne next to the gods. And then one day in June, amid preparation for his ironically titled comeback tour, he took his last Oxycontin. And that, as they say, was that.
At my mother’s house, the TV set on high-alert, helicopter footage waiting for a glimpse of Jackson’s body strapped to a gurney under a crisp white sheet. The press were wrigning their hands–wondering just where Jackson had gone wrong. It’s a Motown Greek Tragedy, it’s in the stars, it’s as unchangeable as nature. Some are fated to fail. Few are lucky enough to shine for even a second–and to remember it clearly at the bitter end. On Ephron’s deathbed, she told her vigil-holding son to “take notes”, which is something her own writer mother had told her to do in her last days. Ephron told him to take notes because he’s going to want to remember the very thing he wishes he could forget.