Reflections on Amber Tamblyn’s Dark Sparkler

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I was recently listening to an episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. His guest was Amber Tamblyn. I have been a fan of Tamblyn since her days as the title character in Joan of Arcadia, and I enjoy the Poetry Corner she writes for Bust magazine. On Maron’s podcast, she talked about Dark Sparkler, her new book of poems. Tamblyn spent several years searching through information on the lives and deaths of young actresses. What makes Tamblyn’s collection of poems about these women so compelling is her own connection to the subject. Tamblyn grew up in Hollywood, so in some ways it seems that her exploration of these women’s lives is a way to contemplate her own trajectory.

In my last post, I discussed Kathleen B. Jones’s journey through Hannah Arendt’s life. I think it is important to bring up Jones’s book here because, like Tamblyn, she uses her subject(s) as a gateway to explore and ask questions of her own life. I want to go back to something Jones wrote because I think it applies to Dark Sparkler:

And because, before and behind me, across thousands of miles and eons of time, someone collected souvenirs of her origins and exile, I can touch, in those layers of life’s comings and goings, ages of beginnings and endings so that, in whatever time I have left on this earth, I might tell a story, a tale that could survive this ever-changing movement of life” (193-194).

This sentiment exists in the raw beauty of Tamblyn’s poetry. Each poem is really her pouring out words as she sifts through the artifacts of lives ended much too soon. Each poem itself then becomes a souvenir of that life–something which the reader can then pick up, hold and examine.

I read most of Dark Sparkler in one sitting, yet it is a book I will keep going back to. In the forward, Diane di Prima writes:

At some point you will begin to get curious. Something will start to tug at the edge of your mind/heart. At that point, go to the library or search the Internet for information about any girl/woman you find yourself thinking about. Look up Peg Entwistle, Bridgette Andersen, Samantha Smith. Read their (often sadly short) stories. Let your imagination fill in what book and computer don’t say.

I will keep going back to this book because, just as searching out information on each of these women became Tamblyn’s gateway to a meditation on their lives and deaths, these poems are a gateway and an invitation for the reader to do more. In choosing your path to delve deeper into some of these lives, you may uncover your own truths and your own story. When you flip through Dark Sparkler, you will see familiar names like Sharon Tate, Marilyn Monroe and Dana Plato, but there are quite a few people whose names who you won’t recognize. Tamblyn’s poems make the reader want to learn more about these women–the stories beyond the glamor and sensationalized trauma.

Memoir writing is an exercise in taking up the self at a particular moment in order to gain deeper meaning. By putting such an exploration out in the world in written form, we are inviting others into the conversation. In Dark Sparkler, Tamblyn does this by first taking up the lives of her subjects and then by taking herself up as subject in the epilogue. In doing so, Tamblyn is putting her own life in conversation with her subjects.

In the end, I think that is the success of this book. Tamblyn did not set out to report the facts surrounding the lives and deaths of these actresses. If you want such information, look online or pick up a biography. What she did was set up the conversation so that we may get to know these stories beyond the typical version offered up for greedy consumption.

For more on Tamblyn’s writing, check out her website.

Works Cited:
Jones, Kathleen B. Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. San Diego: Thinking Women Books, 2013. Print.

Tamblyn, Amber. Dark Sparkler. New York: Harper Perennial, 2015. Print.

Reading Diving for Pearls by Kathleen B. Jones

“We read books at certain times in our lives and they have an impact on us depending on how open we are to what they are saying.”
Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt by Kathleen B. Jones

The magic of reading is that it can be a gateway into another person’s life and thoughts in a way that gives us insight about our own life. In Diving for Pearls, Kathleen B. Jones gains deeper understanding of her own life through years of reading, studying and researching Hannah Arendt. Jones masterfully explores the complexities of Arendt’s life, but where her book really shines is in the telling of her own story as well as the wisdom she gained from her own experiences by reading Arendt’s work.

This book is not a linear chronology of Arendt’s life. This is the type of story Jones describes as, “much more than a simple description of a series of events or occurrences; the whole point is to uncover layers of meaning in the life lived” (7). In the interest of full disclosure, Jones was my thesis advisor when I earned my MA in Women’s Studies from San Diego State University in 2003. My thesis explored the ways women write their lives in memoir, and I took up this idea of uncovering layers of meaning in one’s life, so I had a particular interest in how Jones did this with Arendt’s life even though I knew only a little bit about Arendt prior to reading Diving for Pearls.

This is a different kind of biography. It’s one in which the biographer is strongly present. Jones does not hide behind her subject in the way some biographers do when they leave only tiny bread crumbs of clues as to their existence as biographer. Her story is just as central to the book as Arendt’s is. I like the honesty with which Jones explores how her subject came to affect her. By approaching the book this way, she is invited the reader to have their own journey through Arendt’s life and their own life. I also appreciate that her relationship with Arendt is not merely one of idolization. Jones does not always agree with Arendt, and she puzzles some of her most controversial ideas such as those expressed in Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Jones looks critically at Arendt’s relationship with Martin Heidegger–a relationship that started when she was a student of Heidegger’s at the University of Marburg. Heidegger became a controversial figure when he supported the Nazi Party, and Arendt maintained contact with him later in her life despite this. Jones uses her discussion of Arendt’s relationship with Heidegger to explore the Heideggers in her own life. In doing so, Jones puts her own story in conversation with Arendt’s.

Jones writes, “…because what a life’s story means depends on others’ responding to it, story-telling needs a public world, a world filled with others who make my own story matter maybe even more than it matters to me. Without all those others, any life story would remain meaningless” (391). Our stories are shaped by the meaning derived by those who listen and read. In Diving for Pearls, Arendt’s story is shaped by Jones’s telling of it. In addition, Jones’s story is shaped by her reading and studying of Arendt, and each page brings reflection and changes and shapes that story.

At the beginning of the last chapter, Jones tells of a friend who asked her why she found Arendt so compelling. Jones writes, “Because of her hesitations, her inconsistencies and reversals, I said. Earlier in my life, I wanted everything to fit. Now, I crave ambiguity. Give me the rough edges, the bags under the eyes and the wrinkles of truth” (367). In a time where there are plenty of examples of public figures’ failings being paraded before us so that we can mock and belittle them, it is refreshing to see someone take up a life in a way that lays bare the wrinkles and rough edges as a way to gain meaning rather than for the purpose of public shaming. Jones never asks her reader to condemn Arendt for some of her more controversial ideas and choices. Instead, she writes about those things to get us to think about Arendt’s story as well as our own.

Jones’s choice to include her own story worked really well for me. As I mentioned, my knowledge on Arendt prior to reading this book was limited. The masterful blend of Jones’s story and Arendt’s story provide easy access to the complex ideas Arendt discusses about the nature of evil, power, history and more.  The style of this book helped me to put my own life in conversation with both women in a way no other medium can.

Contemplating her research, Jones writes, “And because, before and behind me, across thousands of miles and eons of time, someone collected souvenirs of her origins and exile, I can touch, in those layers of life’s comings and goings, ages of beginnings and endings so that, in whatever time I have left on this earth, I might tell a story, a tale that could survive this ever-changing movement of life” (193-194). Perhaps this is the biggest takeaway from Diving for Pearls: in others’ stories, we find our own. Each word is a souvenir of the places visited and the choices made, and in putting those words on paper we leave evidence for some reader/explorer in the future trying to piece their own life together and begin the cycle again.

You can purchase Diving for Pearls from Powell’s, or visit your favorite local bookstore.

Work Cited:
Jones, Kathleen B. Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. San Diego: Thinking Women Books, 2013. Print.

Reading & Writing Resolutions for 2015

I am not usually one for New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s Eve never quite seems to live up to the anticipation. We countdown to midnight only to find out that January 1 is just another day. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical about the new year, but I have never really been the kind of person to use the change to a new year as an opportunity to reset–except when it comes to reading and writing goals.

Every year I have a plan to read more books. I think every book nerd has that goal, and there never seems to be enough time to read all the books we want to. I got Stephen King’s Revival for Christmas, so that’s on my reading list for 2015. I also really want to read Diving for Pearls by Kathleen B. Jones. Of course I always have a long list of favorites I want to reread, which includes Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions among other things.

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I just moved to a new place. I’m not a big fan of packing and moving (who is?), but I do enjoy unpacking my books at a new location and spending time figuring out where they will go. Getting my books set up by the new year is a big goal for me. There is an art to a good book shelf that requires a little more than just throwing books up on a shelf. I prefer alphabetical order, but I like to get creative with stacking and placing pictures and curios on the shelves along with my books.

As for my creative writing, I am starting a new project. It’s in the realm of creative nonfiction. I am not sure yet if it will be something I see through to the end. I have many unfinished writing projects that started off as good ideas. Somewhere in the depths of my computer and on the pages of notebooks lurk zombies, time travelers and other fictional children waiting for me to finish their stories. This new idea is more personal, and I feel strongly about seeing this through to the end. For now I have a new notebook specifically for this writing project because I believe every new writing project begins with the perfect notebook. Just as the wand chooses the wizard, so too does the notebook choose the writer.

Happy New Year! May 2015 be filled with creativity and lots of books.

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