04/30/2012 08:49 am ET

Diane Keaton On Writing Her Memoir, 'Then Again' (EXCERPT)

Hollywood actress Diane Keaton's memoirs, "Then Again", was first published in November, and relied heavily upon her mother's personal journal. For the book's paperback release, out on May 1st, Keaton added an "afterword", describing how difficult she found the book to write. Below is an excerpt from the new section.



Mother saved everything. There was my birth certificate, Randy’s prescription for cough medicine, Robin’s first pair of glasses with uplifted rims. Ugly.

There were the black-and-white, three-by-four-inch rickrack-edged Halloween photographs. Dorrie as a witch. Randy as a pirate. Robin as a princess. And me, the firstborn, a gypsy queen. There were the report cards, the tickets from Disneyland, and the letters Mom wrote at the end of each year telling her four children something about who they were. These letters were the beginning of Dorothy’s world of words, an ever-expanding universe. Words became her GPS tracking device through emotional terrain. So much so that by the time Mom finished her survey she had written millions of the smallest unit of speech that can stand by itself: words.

"Then Again" not only gave me an opportunity to speculate on loss, it also gave me the perfect set of circumstances to rethink love. I pored over Mother’s eighty-five journals and Dad’s fourteen “Dear Diane” letters that survive. I read five-year-old Dexter’s first diary in the shape of a heart: “When I saw the deer it loked at me this was my favorite thing I saw on the trip to Gran Canyon.” I went through scrapbooks, photo albums, Hallmark greeting cards, reviews of my inconsistent career. I couldn’t help but revisit Duke’s 2009 “All About Me” assignment—“I am relly active. I am good at Toon Town (videogame). My family is my sister and mother. My favorite game is bsket ball”—illustrated with a stick-figure self-portrait holding an orange basketball and the words “Me” next to “We Win.” I listened to my friends describe experiences in the field of “deep affection.” But love, like a word without a sentence, was difficult to understand.

My editor kept me going with reassuring advice. “Diane, don’t worry about knowing what the preceding chapter is now or how the whole thing is going to hang together. Now is not the time to polish or worry over what you’ve already written, it’s the time to write more.” And “Diane, this is powerful, upsetting material about your mom’s inner life. But it’s roughly nine pages without any word from you.”

I took his advice and read through my own, let’s just say, not “revealing” journals, where I found nothing on love, or even the hope of love. After reading what I wrote on the last day of 1978—“My face twitches in rhythm to the buzz of the air-conditioning unit in Woody Allen’s ‘Untitled’ rented camper. Twitch Twitch. Twitch. Legionnaire’s disease has hit N.Y.C. Three are believed dead. Warren made a salad last night, while I relayed, yet again, my doubts about men and women”—I was no closer to understanding the meaning of the world’s most misunderstood word.

Knowing I needed something to help expand my frame of reference, some sort of instruction beyond the limited world of my own words, I walked through my library, looked up, and saw the quote I’d painted across the top of the wall: The eye sees what the mind knows. That’s when it came to me. An idea. I drove to Home Depot. I bought a bulletin board. I hung it in my office and I gave myself a job. My job was to cut and paste passages about love. Monday through Friday I made it my mission to search and rescue a quote a day. Many were snatched from the Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times.

Others, like “Home is a place where when you knock on the door, they have to let you in,” I found in books. Some took up a lot of space. Others got lost in the mix. A few, like these words from Ann Tyler’s "A Patchwork Planet", I revisited over and over. “I knew couples who’d been married almost forever—forty, fifty, sixty years. Seventy-two, in one case. They’d be tending each other’s illnesses, filling in each other’s faulty memories, dealing with the money troubles or the daughter’s suicide or the grandson’s drug addiction. And I was beginning to suspect that it made no difference whether they’d married the right person.

Finally, you’re just with who you’re with. You’ve signed on with her, put in half a century with her, grown to know her as well as you know yourself or even better, and she’s become the right person. Or the only person, might be more to the point.”

Day after day I witnessed an enlarging abundance of love on my bulletin board. Sentences merged into varying shapes and sizes secured by hundreds of thumbtacks. Love became a pattern on my wall—no, not a pattern, more like a tapestry, a widespread tapestry of other voices, other words, lumped on top of one another, ever changing, always variable. As my bulletin board became thick with a kind of textured patina, it began to trigger memories. One day I looked across my panel of thoughts and suddenly remembered Woody’s old floor-to-ceiling kitchen bulletin board. It too had spread out and diversified to include things like a handwritten note from a dentist fan who praised Woody’s healing humor, the famous Barbara Morgan photograph of Martha Graham dancing, hundreds of New Yorker cartoons, correspondence from a young Daphne Merkin, and in the center a faded photograph of Woody’s hero Sidney Bechet playing his tenor saxophone.

Taken from the paperback edition of Then Again by Diane Keaton (Random House, $16)