Marilyn Monroe at The Paramount Gallery in Hollywood, for the Making of the Film Misfits

Mmm… Motivation

As today is January 5th, there is a good chance that by now you have attempted to write down your New Year’s resolutions, tried your hand at some of them (gym memberships spike in January, with many of the new members to never attend), found the tasks difficult and your motivation slipping. A married couple I know had agreed to be more patient with each other, and so they managed to postpone their first fight in 2017 until 7 in the evening, January 1st.

Of course that is a somewhat accelerated rate: if one of your resolutions was to learn a new language (c’est bien!), it would be premature to arrive at a conclusion now. If, on the other hand, you had wanted to not be late for work ever again and have already arrived at 9.05 twice this week (I’m looking at you, mirror), you might be failing.

Generally speaking, my attitude towards plans is that expressed in Beckett’s novella Worstward Ho: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ You only succeed by trying, and fulfilling a portion of The Grand Plan is likely to take you further than not having a Grand Plan at all. That is why I have decided to take part in Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge — and am already a book behind.

A good piece of advice towards fulfilling one’s goals is to make them SMART: Specific, Meaningful, Adaptive, Realistic and Time-bound. Instead of listing ‘Get out of debt’, you should have ‘Follow the budget, put 10% of income into the savings account, cook dinners at home, be born before 1980’. (Who’s bitter? You’re bitter!) In all seriousness though, see point 2 of ‘What do you want to achieve in 2017?’ and, if you find it helpful, apply accordingly.

Marilyn Monroe's Resolutions (Collage)
MARILYN MONROE’S RESOLUTIONS (COLLAGE). WINTER 1955. MARILYN MONROE & BERNARD COMMENT / BRAIN PICKINGS

Starting a new life, attempting to be better and more productive come New Year is not a recent fad, nor is it restricted to one’s Facebook feed. For a while now, Brain Pickings (a great website and blog about culture and books, single-handedly run by Maria Popova and attracting over a million visitors a month) has been publishing New Year’s resolutions penned by philosophers, writers, scientists, artists, and politicians. Virginia Woolf resolves to keep a diary — which she did, from 1915 to her death in 1941 — and Susan Sontag wishes to practice kindness and courage.

Out of the entries I have come across, the most striking perhaps is that written by Marilyn Monroe. At the age of 29 (after The Seven Year Itch and before Some Like It Hot) she put the following list at the back of her address book:

Must make effort to do
Must have the dicipline to do the following —

zgo to class — my own always — without fail

xgo as often as possible to observe Strassberg’s other private classes

gnever miss actor’s studio sessions

vwork whenever possible — on class assignments — and always keep working on the acting exercises

u – start attending Clurman lectures — also Lee Strassberg’s directors lectures at theater wing – enquire about both

l – keep looking around me — only much more so — observing — but not only myself but others and everything — take things (it) for what they (it’s) are worth

y – must make strong effort to work on current problems and phobias that out of my past has arisen — making much much much more more more more more effort in my analisis. And be there always on time — no excuses for being ever late.

w – If possible — take at least one class at university — in literature —

o – follow RCA thing through.

p – try to find someone to take dancing from — body work (creative)

t – take care of my instrument — personally & bodily (exercise)

try to enjoy myself when I can — I’ll be miserable enough as it is.

Marilyn Monroe. New York, 1955
MARILYN MONROE. NEW YORK, 1955. ED FEINGERSH / LES BEEHIVE

That is a document made by a determined, self-aware person dedicated to her art — working and studying, focusing on mental health, treating herself with care and her body as an ‘instrument’. It rather goes against the public image of ‘dumb blonde’ that was used for Monroe’s career.

The films that made her a star also had her typecast, as either a calculating bimbo (How to Marry a Millionaire, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) or a troubled femme fatale (Don’t Bother to Knock, Niagara). Marilyn Monroe remains a vision, an icon, an image instantly recognisable and constantly reproduced — but few, in comparison, are aware of her artistic abilities.

I shall try to apply a quiet dedication to my own goals (which I am also prepared to share posthumously). Out of the ones I had written down in January 2016, I fully succeeded with two: attending a novice climbing course and visiting Paris in April. There are more places to be this year, and many more words to type — and miles to run, and skills to learn.

But I’ll be smart about it, and I’ll remember to enjoy myself when I can, too.


Current album: Teenage Fanclub, Here
Current book: Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures
Current TV series: Planet Earth II, Series 1 (2016)

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