Days of Their Lives
Five individuals tell their edgy narratives—a hyperrealist painter, a spunky comedienne, a gutsy blogger, and descendents of political royalty and the literary world.
By Lee Billings published January 1, 2006 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Chuck Close, Jessie Klein, Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Heather Armstrong and Susan Cheever fashion their private stories for public consumption.
Chuck Close, hyperrealist painter. What we remember him for: reinventing contemporary portraiture. Also: A 1988 spinal aneurysm that rendered him quadriplegic but did not end his career.
"I'm the last person to see the psychological narrative of my own work. I try to present people, myself included, in a straightforward, flat-footed way. If you present an image that way, there's embedded in the face itself evidence of what kind of life the person has lived... I live 100 percent in the moment. I don't think about the past and I don't think about the future. But I do think there is a more celebratory quality since the [paralysis], and that comes from the pleasure of getting back to work."
Jessi Klein, a New York stand-up comic. What we remember her for: quirky TV commentary on the 2004 Presidential debates.
"If my life were a movie, the most important scene would have to be the night my college boyfriend and I broke up. At 1 in the morning, out on the street, I saw him with this other chick. I completely wigged out and punched him in the face. Losing the person who had been part of my life since I was a teenager was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it became the best thing that ever happened to me. I was 26 at the time. I had to find out who I truly was and learn to be on my own. Stand-up was something I'd always wanted to do, but in those dark days, it was [also] very therapeutic. Seriously, if you ever have a bad breakup, I recommend you find some shady bar with an open mike where you can ask: 'What's the deal?'"
Christopher Kennedy Lawford
Christopher Kennedy Lawford, author of the tell-all Symptoms of Withdrawal , about growing up Kennedy. What we remember him for: notoriety as the wayward son of rat pack actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy, who is the sister of President Kennedy, who battled drugs and alcohol from ages 13 to 30 before finally rebuilding his life.
"After Uncle Bobby died in 1968, my friends once again tried to get me to drop acid with them. I had said no many times, but that day I said yes. That sent me down a 17-year road. There was one pivotal moment in my life after that: Feb. 17, 1986. I'd been trying to get sober for nine years, and I woke up that day in so much pain. I was either going to put a gun in my mouth or do whatever anybody said to get sober. There was a level of surrender in me that I've never had before or since."
Heather Armstrong, creator of the blog dooce.com. What we remember her for: dishing on her life and getting fired for blogging about her job, a situation now referred to as "getting dooced."
"I was the youngest of three children, and I was the straight-A student. I was the captain of the volleyball team. I was the high school valedictorian. I got the scholarship to Brigham Young University. I was the perfect Mormon. Then a light went on, and my life changed. I've done some stupid things, but I've come out the other end and found it wasn't religion that was the reward but the relationships with my family and friends."
Susan Cheever, author of Note Found In a Bottle and Home Before Dark (among others). What we remember her for: an honest, often brutal, memoir of her childhood with her famous father, short story master John Cheever, and a painfully detailed account of her recovery from alcoholism.
"It's good to write things down. If you don't, you forget them. But I don't think there's any relationship between what you write in a memoir and what actually happened. I'm not saying I make it up. It's just that when I write, I'm using my memories of events only to illustrate what I'm trying to say. In every moment, thousands of things happen so when you write a memoir, you're going through a selection process without even knowing it. The first thing I did in writing about Concord, Massachusetts, was get in a canoe and paddle up river as Thoreau had. I was trying to recover memories that weren't mine; specifically, Thoreau's memories."