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A Conversation with JKT’s Cousin

The other day I interviewed JKT’s cousin (on his father’s side). Never sustaining a consistent familial relationship with the Toole side of the family, JKT reconnected with his cousin at several points in his life. The information he shared with me offered intriguing insight into the final moments of Toole’s life, details that contradict some commonly held beliefs about his last days. I will not go into the details of the conversation here. After all, I must keep something for publication.

However, I will say that his cousin, unlike most people I have interviewed for this book, did not focus on Toole’s wit or humor. As a biographer, I tend to look for consistency in recollections. Expectedly, I have found Toole’s wit and humor, as evident in his novel, the qualities of his personality that his friends find most memorable. But my conversation with Toole’s cousin highlighted a different aspect of Toole. And expectedly so. Their exchange was based on brief, but important interludes in Toole’s life. It seems Toole contacted his cousin when he sought a confidant who could relate to the challenges of life in the Toole household.

My conversation with JKT’s cousin reminds me of the complexity of that elusive thing we call personality. Each one of us refines and displays behavioral characteristics, which eventually become iconic of our person. Even with our closest friends and family, social dynamic may determine our behavior. But at times, we may seek counsel with friends or family members on the margins of our circle–the friend of a friend, or a distant cousin. Do we gravitate to such individuals because we can momentarily discard the mask in which we live and find a more authentic discourse? And after doing so, do we maintain that authenticity? Or having refreshed ourselves, do we once again don the mask, because it is where we are most comfortable?

In the face of such questions, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman echo in my ear:

“Why drag about this corpse of your memory lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place?” Emerson asks.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Whitman proclaims.

And so, I recognize that every contradiction needn’t be resolved, for the complexity and the idiosyncrasies of the individual, as Emerson and Whitman argue, is a condition to celebrate.

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