Saturday, March 2, 2013
An Accidental Autobiography
I've spent the last ten days reading Barbara Grizzuti Harrison's autobiography, written in 1996. I read her book about Italy, Italian Days, a few years ago. There is a lot of truly terrific writing in it. A wonderful section on women and their perception of their bodies. An appreciation of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Another of Red Barber. Fascinating descriptions of places she'd lived (India, Tripoli). Her terrifying Brooklyn childhood (her mother was deeply crazy, and her father sexually abused her for years).
But the descriptions of the love of Harrison's life, who she calls "Jazzman," really made me wonder about her own sanity. I am well aware that a. love makes people do stupid things (and I have done many); and b. I've become more empathetic as I'm aged. So to read that this intelligent, experienced, articulate woman, well past 50, is doing things like calling Jazzman's wife and harassing her, really pulled me up short. I was embarrassed for her. It made me uncomfortable. And the rest of my experience of reading the book was not only trying to justify her behavior, but trying to match up that Harrison with the Harrison that the rest of the book implied, the Harrison who could write like this.
Harrison bought a carved monkey with a hole in its center in Bali. "When I kept my monkey on a table surface, it used occasionally, in the night, to change position, and I would see it in the morning staring in a direction opposite the one I had last seen it in. I am fully aware of the fact there are no inanimate objects. Tired of the monkey's willfulness, I hung it on a wall, where now it seems content to be."