An unguarded moment – me and Mr and Mrs Miller

Many people have been asking me in recent weeks, when are you going to write something new for your blog. Some others have asked me, have you pitched anything anywhere, got any other features in the works.

Fair questions. I’ve been asking them myself.

For the record, I do have many things in the works. Some I will publish right here and others I have some publications in mind I’d like to pitch them to. But these pieces are all in various states of suspended animation and some might stay like that for quite some time.

I’m honestly tired of making excuses for being unproductive. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that writing is a job like any other and the only way to get it done is to just sit down and do it. Talking about it, moaning about it, crying about it, doesn’t help a bit. But I’m just feeling very tired right now and for some reason that’s all I can focus on. As it does every year at this very same time my day job spirals out of control into an all-consuming vortex of deadlines and crises that eat into nights and weekends until Christmas comes and some semblance of a normal routine descends on me again with the turning of the old year into the new. But right now it’s simply too difficult to come home and think and write and sit at another screen. For now, all I can do to stop from going crazy and to get through the deadlines is see a few films and get some sleep so I can get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

But of course I miss writing, like I’d miss my right arm if I woke up tomorrow and it was gone. It’s a pretty essential part of who I am and I don’t feel quite right when I don’t do it. And the more time that passes the more I worry that I have nothing worth saying, no words to say it with and that all inspiration has dried up completely.

I had this very fraught conversation with a colleague and friend and aspiring illustrator who has been feeling much the same way. She’s as busy and exhausted as I am and hasn’t felt much like picking up a pencil after hours. When she feels all inspiration leaving her she takes to Pinterest for visual stimulation as a good way to organize shapes and forms into ideas and images. I thought this was good advice and might help me too since film is a visual medium and my writing about film usually starts with my response to something I specifically connect with in an image. Not quite ready to take to Pinterest and yet another social medium I have to worry about regularly engaging with, I decided to try and revive my muse by pinning some images here.

One of the pieces I’ve been working on for a few months is a long essay about Marilyn Monroe. I’m trying to say something new and interesting about a woman everyone has an opinion on. I’m interested in Monroe’s famous, delicious curves, but not in the way they are usually dissected as proof of her status as one of the sexiest women in Hollywood history. Her curves, for me, contain almost everything we need to know about Marilyn Monroe’s story. They are evidence of her vulnerability and softness. And when they are threatening to spill out of too tight clothes they also tell us a story about the messiness of her later life.

I’m starting my essay with a photo of her and her third husband, the brilliant American playwright Arthur Miller, to whom she was married from 1956 to 1961. It’s an image I really love, of the newlyweds relaxing at their farmhouse in Roxbury, upstate New York (Miller lived there until his death in 2005).

Here it is.

Arthur and Marilyn secret

The photo taken by Sam Shaw (who took many photos of Marilyn throughout her life including her most famous image, the iconic shot of her in that white dress blowing up around her waist as she promotes The Seven Year Itch) is one of a series he took of Monroe in a quiet place, away from the garish lights of Hollywood. He once explained his intentions in photographing her: “I just want to show this fascinating woman, with her guard down, at work, at ease off-stage, during joyous moments in her life and as she often was—alone.”

She’s not alone in this one but it is a fascinating photo all the same. I’d give anything to know what they are thinking here, what they’re whispering to each other. An entire world seems to exist in this one image, a world that, despite the existence of this photo, none of us will ever know. I’m still researching the timing here, but I think that Marilyn was pregnant in this photo, soon to suffer a miscarriage. There is a lovely ripeness to her curves here, more than ever, and an even more phosphorescent glow to her divine skin. The newlyweds look playful, gorgeous and deeply in love.

This was their beginning. And it’s where I’m starting again, looking closely into these images for something lost but never completely out of reach. A spark.

Marilyn with daisiesSam Shaw 2

Marilyn and Arthur bike ride

Marilyn MONROE





1959 Photoshoot of Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot (4) in jeans


Sam Shaw




The Misfits



8 thoughts on “An unguarded moment – me and Mr and Mrs Miller

  1. You need energy, to write well. It burns a lot of fuel, the brain. I know I sound like an old Scrooge, but increasingly I wish I could skip past Christmas to the new year, when there is time to breathe and think and write again.

    It’s good to try and understand someone so famous afresh, to challenge received wisdom, as far as that is possible. It was a bit soapy and sudsy in places, but I thought the recent film ‘My week with Marilyn’ tried to do that too, to get to the world behind the image – have you seen it?

    1. So true. I do get home some nights and feel like my brain has gone to sleep.

      It is good to try and understand a famous person afresh, but it’s also challenging. You seem to take on the burden of everything that has been written about them before you like you have to account for all of it in case you get caught out.

      I did see the film and for the most part really enjoyed it.

  2. This is so lovely Jojo! I love that you did your own version of “pinning” and accompanied the images with such touching words.

    Not long now until the silly season is over and we can let our minds rest! Xo

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