Note: I’m outlining a piece of fiction that will probably take me a while to finish. However I don’t want my blog to become a desert, so I’m keeping the tumbleweeds at bay in the meantime by writing some short observations, reviews, and wee stories, while also posting chapter drafts as they are completed. Enjoy, loyal readers (if you exist).
I’ve been following the Vivian Maier story for a few years. She’s the woman who was a lifelong nanny and housekeeper, and who used the freedom of movement the work afforded her to take over 100,000 photographs throughout her life. The photographs (and short films) she took are intimate, surprising, and touching depictions of bustling Chicago streets and the day to day lives of families she worked for.
I recently watched “Finding Vivian Maier,” a documentary directed by John Maloof, the man who bought boxes of Maier’s undeveloped film at auction and who has spent years researching her life, developing her film, and increasing awareness of her work. After watching the documentary and putting my thoughts together about this rather curious woman, I came to the following conclusion:
Vivian Maier was an alien.
OK, hear me out. This theory didn’t just come out of thin air. It came from numerous viewings of “Earth Girls are Easy” and a teenage obsession with “Third Rock from the Sun.” It also came from the following observations:
She seems to have come out of nowhere
Maloof researches her family tree, and finds that the majority of her family is disconnected – siblings who no longer correspond, cousins so distant that they had never met or learned each other’s names. He eventually discovers surviving members of her family living in a tiny town near the French Alps – but I find this thin familial connection suspicious. Next you’ll tell me she broke her leg while climbing Pitz Palü. When she came to earth, she must have discovered that one needed to establish some background, or else seem odd. Her solution wasn’t to concoct relatives in a remote village – but worse, she visited the village and claimed to be an American who was blood-related to some of its inhabitants. All she had to do was some cursory research to establish the French Connection. She was also known to have changed the spelling of her name regularly, and was always hesitant to give her name to strangers at all.
Her appearance and manner was strange
Former employers describe her tall, lanky figure and awkward gait – as if she were not comfortable in her own skin. She wore oversized clothes that were far out of fashion, and kept her hair cropped short. These are classic signs of an alien who has taken on the physical characteristics of a human, but who has difficulty adjusting to a new body. Think Vincent d’Onofrio in “Men in Black.” She also had a French accent that a linguist claims is most likely affected. Perhaps this served the dual purpose of confirming a French background while compensating for the difficulties of speaking a newly-learned language? She was also a known hoarder, who saved not only her film, but also stacks upon stacks of newspapers and magazines. Were these specimens to take back to her home planet? Finally, she had a difficult time managing money, which makes sense if you come from an alien civilization that long ago moved beyond archaic forms of currency.
She was fascinated with people, especially children
The majority of Maier’s photographs are of human beings simply existing. They are eating, shopping, observing, reacting to off-stage incidents. For most of her photographs she used a Rolliflex camera that could be held at abdomen level, making her photography much less conspicuous. One has to take great care when documenting the human race for your home planet. And of course the film would need to remain undeveloped so it could be easily transported to the Mothership. She even took a solo trip around the world – the purposes of which was to further document various human cultures, while at the same time meeting other alien implants like her, stationed in other countries. In addition to her street photography, she documented the lives of the children she cared for. What better way to observe the growth and development of adolescent humans than working as a nanny?
Have I made my case? Have I convinced you?
I hope not.
The truth is: we don’t want to believe that people like this exist. We get uncomfortable with the thought that there are among us those who prefer to be on the outside, looking in. And if we acknowledge their existence, we must give them escalating labels:
What I found most poignant about Maier’s story is that she LOVED people. She loved every emotion captured on their faces, every spec of beauty they created, and every piece of evil they unleashed. But she never lived among us. This, to me, was a very conscious decision on her part. Many who are socially awkward and simply cannot fit comfortably within societal norms will feel shame, will close themselves up, will even end their lives in despair. Yes, Maier withdrew from what we consider a “normal” life, but she had a gift and a motivation that made her luckier than other lost souls. She had a window to the world that made her astonishment with humanity known. Everything about her seemed alien, and that’s a shame. Her story can teach us all about acceptance. About the dignity of the silent.
As I watched the movie, I recalled a little gift I have for remembering. I realized early in life that not everyone possessed the ability to recall whole conversations and incidents from years prior. Friends and family have been astonished by my ability to recall minute moments of life lived. I like to think this ability is based in my lifelong lonerism, paired with a true and deep fascination with being human. In Maier I find a sisterhood, a quiet understanding. I also find a cautionary tale, and a lesson – to look through life’s window, and occasionally open the door and say “hello.”