Afterword to Then Again

Reading Diane Keaton’s cleverly constructed and unapologetically revealing memoir Then Again I’ve spent more time reflecting on my life and feelings than her actual story.  Friends regularly accuse me of going off on tangents.  To me, my rambles all are on track.  Some books are favorites because of where they take my thoughts. It is a surprise and often a disappointment to reread one of these favorites and discover it isn’t what I remembered.

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I feel validated when an author states my obvious.  It’s disappointing when we’ve used the same words.

I feel pleasure when the author articulates emotions and feelings that are in my stomach and in my heart but haven’t yet been put into words by my head.

I also enjoy being struck by an opposing view when it causes me to pause and rethink.  I can handle seeing the black and white turn grey

Diane Keaton has done all three.

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Then Again, like the Jacqueline Kennedy interviews that I wrote about in an earlier post, was a gift.  This was a gift from my older son’s girlfriend.  They just recently decided to go their separate ways.  It’s a difficult thing for a couple to do, especially a couple that worked so well together.  I’ll never know why.  Hopefully they both know why.  But that is part of the baggage this book carries for me.  Bittersweet baggage, because she is a delightful woman (and he a wonderful young man).

My other son has a new girlfriend who, and I’m not sure if this is because I just read Diane Keaton, reminds me of Diane Keaton.  I don’t know her well enough to say that their personalities are similar, but she seems to have the same presence.  She’s delightful too.

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Diane Keaton’s mother kept 85 separate journals, and scrapbooks.  Her writing started with letters to her husband while they were separated after the war.  He was in Boston in the Navy. She was 24, in California, and had just given birth to Diane.

I kept an on-and off diary starting in high school, wrote copious letters in college, and influenced by Anaias Nin in the seventies, began years of a passionate outpouring of what I remember as drivel, whining, and moaning about the lack of exciting boys/men in my life, or their rejection of me, and my utter alone-ness.  Finally I stopped writing.  Things must have improved.

During one visit to my parents’ home, my mom brought me up to the attic and presented me with a box of things that I had left there while I spent a year in France.  Included in that box were the journals.  Oh my god, I thought.  Did my mom read these?  What would she have thought?  I didn’t open them, but brought them home.

As my children grew, however, so did my anxieties about what was actually in those journals.  If I didn’t want to read them for fear of what they contained, how would my children or my husband, react to them   One day they went out with the trash.

As an archivist by profession – this was total heresy.

Sometimes I wonder what was in those journals and if I wrote well – but never enough to regret not keeping them, even after reading about Diane Keaton’s mother’s scrapbooks.  The future has always been more important than the past to me.

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The last chapter of Then Again is Diane Keaton’s reflection on the final chapter of her mother’s life – her death.  Like my mom, Diane Keaton’s mother had Alzheimers Disease.  We believe my father did also.  But neither of my parents have been as debilitated by the disease – at least not yet.  I can’t bear the thought of my mom curling up and shrinking away.  It could happen. Maybe we’ll be lucky and one day she will just lie down to rest on the couch as she always does in the afternoon, but not wake up.  The disease shows very little mercy.   I have not yet been able to put my emotions and feelings stirred up by this chapter into words.  Diane’s story with her mother has been no help to me.

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I was supposed to read this book.  Diane Keaton’s mom would cut out photos and headlines from magazines and she would copy quotes from everywhere.  One day she had a cover from a New Yorker thumb tacked to her kitchen bulletin board.  It read “ Is it possible to go backwards and forwards at the same time?”  Yes it is – just as it is possible to grow younger and older at the same time.

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