I’ve spent most of the past week+ methodically recording the contents of J’s main scrapbook. I’m only about 25 percent finished. This is going to take awhile. Fortunately, it’s easy for me to get a rhythm going if I do it while watching T20 cricket. Whatever works, right? This might sound tedious to you, but I’m a weirdo who finds this kind of thing to be ridiculous amounts of fun. Every day that I work on this mini-project, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be the caretaker of J’s legacy. Who knows how many impulsive decisions were made over the years to ensure that her scrapbooks and photos were not tossed in the trash? I’m well aware that this path was a fragile one. One false step could have resulted in an unknowable tragedy.
RESEARCH NOTES: WEEK 15
VICTORY: I’m feeling gratitude this week. My victory is that this project fell in my lap.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: I am learning so, so much from the contents of J’s scrapbook. Too many amazing things to decide between.
FRUSTRATION: My writing hand hurts.
CURRENTLY READING: Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola (for some personal inspiration)
Sorry for posting this two days late. I had internet problems on Tuesday and was too busy to fit this bit of writing into Wednesday’s schedule. Let’s get started!
And I thought that endlessly staring at online copies of census records was hard.
It turns out that poring over century-old newspaper clippings (I’m talking physical copies) is even worse on the eyes. Who knew, haha? I finally forced myself to start cataloging the contents of J’s small but mighty scrapbook. It’s tedious only from the standpoint that it is going to take weeks (I’m on page 8) to finish. Other than the necessarily slow nature of the process, it is really damn exciting. I’ve already learned a great deal more about J and her early career in Memphis. This has also, of course, opened up many, many, and I do mean many, new avenues to explore. Dozens. All by page 8. Researching a biography is hard, y’all. That’s mostly a good thing, so I won’t complain.
RESEARCH NOTES: WEEK 14
VICTORY: Making it to page 8 of the scrapbook in about an hour. It’s not that impressive (the early pages aren’t very dense), but it’s a nice start.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: I’ve been able to add a few songs and engagements to J’s timeline.
FRUSTRATION: Being unable to work at this full-time.
CURRENTLY READING: I’m tying up loose ends with a couple of previously-mentioned books.
One of the first things I did at the start of my research was set up Google alerts for J and her husband R, on the off-chance that it would eventually pay off in some murky way. Since then I’ve received three relevant alerts and one false alarm. They’ve been great in helping me track professional engagements. When you are dealing with people constantly on the move, every filled-in date is helpful.
RESEARCH NOTES WEEK 9:
VICTORY: A book I had on hold suddenly became available AND the timing was perfect.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: The 100th anniversary of a small-town review of one of R’s productions, allowing me to place him in Michigan on 8 December 1920!
FRUSTRATION: Adding 30 books to my TBR list for every one I finish.
CURRENTLY READING: Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel.
HOURS SPENT ON RESEARCH: 12
I’m reading an e-copy but here’s a nice edition available on Etsy:
This week brought our first real snow of the season, more reading (lots of it), and a new tidbit about J’s husband that should open the floodgates to a considerable amount of fresh information. All in all, it’s been a relaxing and productive period.
RESEARCH NOTES WEEK 8:
VICTORY: Reading at a pace that actually satisfies me.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: I discovered not one, but two “new” musical groups that J’s husband, R, produced. Both pretty prominent in their day.
FRUSTRATION: Directly contradicting point one: not being able to read 24/7.
CURRENTLY READING: Babbits & Bohemians: The American 1920s by Elizabeth Stevenson (see here).
Some weeks involve direct research about J or her family; other weeks are devoted to general history reading. I’m currently in a flurry of the latter activity. I learn a lot during these times, just not about J. It’s all necessary and enjoyable work. Time well spent.
After I’ve finished my current book (see below) the pendulum will likely swing back the other way. I love history, but I might just love J even more. That is saying something.
RESEARCH NOTES WEEK 7:
VICTORY: Waking up every day and doing the thing regardless of what the days threw at me.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: None. I’m okay with that because I learned tremendous amounts of historical information.
FRUSTRATION: Also none. That’s a win.
CURRENTLY READING: A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe
Researching J also means researching her husband, R, and his career. Being twenty-one years older, his advent as an entertainer and theatrical manager nearly coincided with his future wife’s birth. Later, their showbiz careers were inextricably connected for the two decades preceding his death.
Going down all of these necessary by-roads and highways is one of the reasons I expect my research to take around five years.
RESEARCH NOTES WEEK 6:
VICTORY: Once again carving out “enough” time for my research.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: A three-page spread about R and his various theatrical and musical companies, in a 1910 issue of Lyceumite & Talent.
FRUSTRATION: Not being able to read all the things all at once.