In her own words...

Between Lives: An Artist and Her World


The sixteen years since I wrote some of my recollections in Birthday have produced not only their share of events and people but an almost obsessive need to remember more and more of my past life. The present book is, then, an amalgamation of that earlier record and the additional years of living while listening to memory's voice by turns antic, troubling, above all insisting to be heard. I have also come to realize that my earlier decision to severely limit the cast of characters was more perverse than honest, for, as everyone knows, we are the product not only of our own choices but of the sounds, sights, and especially the people we have encountered along the way. To accept this concept one must accept chance: the people are not always the most lustrous. But whoever they are, they have marked a life.

Of those first bronze greats nearly all are gone now, survived by a few widows, dry and full of touched-up memories to feed the host of historians picking through the powder of vanished identities in search of secrets—and the steamier the better—to polish off and serve up as biography. I vowed not to be such a name-dropper. Surely something could be told of what happened without naming names. But it was a cruel vow: private to the point of irritation; even, as I realized, unfair to the reader, who deserves to be allowed to identify a few ghosts (some of whom are still among the living). More and more of them jogged my memory until it seemed sometimes in the middle of the night they were all ganging up on me, demanding to know why they had been left out. ''You knew me, too. You worked with me, you played with me, you laughed with me, you cried on my shoulder .... "....

Are everyone's drowsy souvenirs as vagrant, even frivolous and kaleidoscopic? Yet, great or small, they anchor this account of a life and deserve their place in its unspooling. Thus, though my story follows its own undeviating course, it is relieved sedately or horrifically by these intrusions: whirling flecks and lucent gems orbiting the days and years, adding their colors to an unpredictable picture.

I like to think of it as a garden, planted in 1910 and, like any garden, always changing. There are expansions and diminishments as well as replacements, prunings, additions. One person's garden, one person's life. So far.

      –excerpts from "Preface," pp. 7-9.


About this work

Between Lives: An Artist and Her World was published in 2001 by W.W. Norton, New York.  It revisits and expands upon Dorothea Tanning's earlier memoir Birthday (The Lapis Press, 1986).