L’Amérique, Part II

I’ve been having real problems focusing on the last read-over of my book, L’Amérique. My guilt has risen in direct proportion to the time the book has been sitting unopened on my desk. It’s been more than a week now. Part of my reticence is because I’m loath to let it go. It’s an old friend; it has lived in my head and in various small notebooks that have traveled with me over the last few decades. Many friends have gone away in the last couple of years. I don’t want to lose another one.
Another reason is that the book’s editor and I have parted ways, much to my chagrin. We worked well together. She made the book more readable, tightened it up and I know her work helped make L’Amérique sellable. I came to think of it not as my book, but as our book. There are three more books on which I hoped we’d work together, and it saddens me to realize this won’t be the case. It’s like Tom without Jerry, or Jean-Paul without Simone.
Winston Churchill famously wrote, “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”
I doubt L’Amérique is a monster, but yeah, even though it’s a scary proposition, it’s time to fling it to the public.

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L’Amérique

I received the advance copies of my new book, L’Amérique, this morning. This is the edition that I will go over with a fine tooth comb, searching for any typos or edits I should have caught before.
L’Amérique is thinner and smaller than I thought it would be. I didn’t expect War and Peace; I did think my book would be impressively large enough to dominate a single bookshelf. It is, after all, MY book, and Leo Tolstoy and I share Europeans roots. Plus, I know his great-grand-daughter; we went to school together, which should have counted for something.
The manuscript was 308 pages long when I sent it to the publisher. In print, it’s 230 pages. It’s a handsome small volume with a gorgeous cover, but it’s hard to accept that I spent almost a decade, on and off, writing it. IMG_0046
It went through several iterations. Initially, it was a novel whose point of view hopped about. There were vignettes about my mother and father together, about them individually, about the relatives who lived on the first floor, and the concierge who both terrified and entertained the inhabitants of 3, rue de la Terrasse, in the 17em arrondissement near the Parc Monceau. It was a book about postwar Paris, as well, and finally, it was a book about me.
When I first wrote it, I wanted to include everything I could about my wonderfully dysfunctional yet kind family. I wanted to describe my brave father’s long walk from Portugal to Brittany at the beginning of the war. I wanted readers to be impressed by my frightfully talented mother, whose paintings were hung in the best galleries of Paris, who wrote books and acted and became a couturière bent on challenging Coco Chanel. I wanted everyone to love my eccentric Tante Thérèse who slept with her hat on, and hate her detestable maid, Guénolé. There were so many stories to tell, and I was—and still am—in a hurry. Time is running out.
I submitted chapter after chapter to various writers, most notably members of the Arlington Writers’ Group, and the critiques I got from these fellow authors was priceless. Some liked it, some loved it, and, one memorable evening, a woman told me how detestable was the entire tale I had given her to read. It dealt with the drowning of a child, and she hated it.
When the book changed from a recounting of various tales to a sort-of memoire, many stories were left behind, and in the end this was all right. My wonderful editor at the time was draconian, and I fought her advice even when I knew she was correct. Her efforts made L’Amérique vastly better and much shorter. The book no longer wandered aimlessly. Its structure became more solid, a work built on good, strong foundations rather than on sand. We read the book aloud to each other. I cried during a description of my mother’s behavior that hospitalized her and forever, in my eyes, changed my father.
When I opened the book for the first time this morning, I noticed immediately that the acknowledgement page was missing. It was the last piece of copy I handed in, and somehow it got mislaid. I suspect that as I go through the book this weekend, I’ll find others errors—all mine—and hopefully, when L’Amérique goes to bookstores in October, it will be error-free.
I’m happy this volume is finished, but I have to admit to a sense of post-partum depression. L’Amérique has been churning about in my head for three decades. Now it’s out of my hands. Luckily, I plan for this to be a trilogy, and book number two is half-written. I hope I’ll have the time to write book number three.
There are still so many people I need to remember.

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Jail, Part 2

I’m still wrestling with the guilty-until-proven-guiltier concept. My friend has been in Jail since April 7. Her first trial date was slated for April 25, but the people who were supposed to take her from the jail to the courthouse never showed up. Her new trial date is sometimes in late October.
Her attorney, a public defender with dozens of indigent cases, says he will look into it. Meanwhile, she sits in jail.
She cannot receive telephone calls. Any telephone contact is one she has to initiate. When she calls me, a woman’s voice asks if I am willing to accept a call from an inmate at the detention center. I am and I do. The ensuing conversation lasts a total of 15 minutes and is punctuated by shouts, the occasional scream, doors slamming open and shut, and unintelligible public address announcements. The calls are monitored and she is not supposed to talk about her legal status. Her smart phone was taken from her. Like most people nowadays, she has not memorized the numbers of her friends, so even if she wants to call someone, she doesn’t know the number to dial.
She cannot have face-to-face visitors. Any one coming to see her—aside from her attorneys who to date have not seen her—must do so with Skype. She will sit in a room with a camera and microphone. The visitor will use a smartphone.
All this, to me, implies that her standing in society has been diminished to that of convicted criminal whose rights have been abrogated.
Frankly, I don’t doubt that she screwed up, but that’s not really the point. This is a free society defined by very specific laws designed to protect the rights of even the worst accused offenders. The only thing one can say of a doubtful positive nature is that, from what I hear, she is being treated exactly the same as other inmates, regardless of sex, race or religion. I guess when you slash people’s rights, there is no need to discriminate.

All this is seriously unsettling.
Many years ago, I spent a few hours in a lockup in Washington, DC. I had been caught driving my motorcycle without a motorcycle license. I did not know I was violating a recently passed law regarding specific licenses for specific vehicles. I was handcuffed. My helmet was forcibly removed and I was shoved without ceremony into the back of a police car. Yes, just like in the movies, the officer pushed my head down so I wouldn’t bump it. I was taken to a local police station and led to a cell. I complained that the handcuffs were cutting the blood circulation, and a matron came and loosened them. I took the opportunity to tell her I didn’t know about the new law; I’d been riding motorcycles since I was sixteen years old, and had taken the road safety courses offered several years earlier by the local Department of Motor Vehicles. I even told her I’d written a book about bikes and bikers. She was in no way impressed and told me my ignorance of the law was not her problem.  I was fingerprinted and a mug shot was taken.
I was released later that day when someone realized there was a grace period for obtaining a bike license, and the expiration was a month away. No apologies were tendered. I took a cab back to my bike, which the police had left on a sidewalk near a major thoroughfare. I found a $25 ticket affixed to the handlebars for parking in an illegal spot.
I am not sure what will happen to my friend next. I can’t conceive that she’ll stay in jail until her new trial in October, but it’s in the realm of the possible.
I’m afraid of making too much of a fuss; I have heard horror tales of revendication against inmates whose friends prove troublesome.
I want to help. I don’t know how.

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Jail

A friend of mine is in jail in the far reaches of Virginia, which is to say some thirty miles away. She did a couple of stupid things that could have endangered her and the local populace. She was caught and charged with a misdemeanor; I heard about it three or four days after the fact. When she called, I could hear noisy conversations and the din of muddy announcements over a loudspeaker. I learned that she could not afford a private attorney, and that a public defender would be assigned to her case.

I set up an account with a company specializing in handling inmate calls, and also put some money in a commissary account so she could buy some essentials—a blanket (because the cell she shares with another woman is cold), a sweatshirt, reading glasses, and candy bars (dinner is at 4:30 p.m.; breakfast at 7 a.m.)

The big issue was her car, in which she was arrested. The vehicle had been towed and put into an impound lot a few miles from the jail. It was stuck there, costing $50 a day, and had already accrued several hundred dollars in fees. I volunteered to go and get it.

This proved to be a Kafkaesque task. My friend had to sign a notarized deposition, a property release form permitting me to get the vehicle. This makes sense, but notaries are few and far between in jail. She finally got the form and I went to the jail to pick it up, intending to go from there to get the car out of impound. I’d planned to drive her car back to her home and take a Lyft back to the lot, retrieve my own car, drive back to my place and take a nap. When I got to the detention center on a rainy mid-morning, I was informed that the paperwork was still being processed. Could it be hurried, since I was already at the jail? No. Things take time. The officer I dealt with was uninterested and shrugged a lot.

It struck me that my friend had been found guilty without benefit of a trial, which is allowed under the Napoleonic Code but frowned upon in the US and deemed unconstitutional. I didn’t press the issue. My experience, when dealing with people who have guns and a bit of authority, is not to argue the finer points of law.

During the following week, I called three times a day and was informed no one knew where the papers were. Often, phones went unanswered, or I got cut off. I was transferred repeatedly to an officer who had nothing to do with property control. After a while he asked that I stop calling him, and hung up. Finally, one guard suggested that perhaps the forms got lost? This was not an unusual event in the penal bureaucracy. My friend would have to sign another form. It took seven days for the deposition to make it to the jail’s personal property office. The little mishap cost my friend $350.

When I learned the forms finally were ready, I returned to the detention center. I found that the jail sounds I’d heard on TV shows and movies were remarkably accurate. Jail doors do slam with authority. It’s almost as if the sound was designed to flout hope.

I watched as jail visitors came and went. After close to an hour, I asked a guard how much longer I might have to wait. She looked at me blankly. “I have no idea.”

I waited some more.

Eventually a friendly man with a handful of papers appeared. Yes, I said, I was indeed Mr. Saginur. I showed my ID. He handed me the papers. I signed a release. Hallelujah.

At the impound lot, a pleasant young woman looked at the documents, nodded, took my credit card and handed me a receipt. Yikes, almost $1300 in fees. These included towing fees, processing fees, state fees, county fees and a fee I couldn’t quite figure out. It struck me that were my friend to be found not guilty, she’d be out quite a few bucks with no hope of getting reimbursed.

Somehow this isn’t right.

I don’t excuse my friend’s behavior, but I do take issue with the assumption of guilt, the indifferent bureaucracy, and the fact that what should have taken minutes instead took more than a week. Guilty or not guilty of a misdemeanor, this is unfair.

 

 

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Multitasking

Talking with a new friend, a lovely woman poet and writer, decrying the state of the world, we alight on a subject familiar to both, a not-so-new phenomenon espoused by far too many who are, in truth, incapable of making it work.
Multitasking is the order of the day. I don’t know anyone with either Cocteau’s or da Vincy’s genius, which is to say I don’t know anyone who multitasks with a high degree of success. Mostly, I see people display their lack of patience and inability to stick with a single project. Call it intellectual attention deficit. Multitasking is a reversion to kindergarten.
I was reminded of this yesterday night as I threaded my way through a multitude of files on my computer. In the recent past, I’ve opted to involve myself in others’ multitasking, and not once has this truly paid off. I have the first twenty pages of three books to which a writing partner was going to contribute, but did not. I have plays written at the request of a theater person who was going to produce them but lost interest. There are blogs written in partnership that ceased to exist after four entries, and a gorgeous online magazine that never made it past Issue One; multitasks all. I wonder at this need to accomplish more than one thing at a time, a desire that inevitably leads nowhere.
My father was a plodder. I say this now with respect and kindness, though when I was much younger I looked down upon his single-mindedness. I was much more impressed with my mother, who acted on stage and painted and entertained weekly and played championship bridge, and ran a half-dozen French interest groups with great drama and complaints.
It was only much later that I realized my father always finished what he started, whether it was laying down a thousand bricks to create a patio, or writing his weekly columns for European newspapers. He never missed a deadline, and the brickwork he did was elegant and lasting. Mostly he worked alone, though he did from time to time dragoon me into putting up a gazebo or replacing the glass in his greenhouse. I take after him. I’m a plodder as well and increasingly proud of it. I get things done when I say I will.
Perhaps doing several things at once makes us feel we accomplish more. We can boast of our juggling even as we drop the balls. We feel better and more accomplished than the boring mere mortals who can’t manage to keep chainsaws, bowling pins and spinning plates on sticks in he air simultaneously. Multitasking is the appearance of accomplishments, not the reality. If we do not give a hundred percent to the task at hand, we won’t get a hundred percent result. The more we add to our circus act, the less we produce stuff that is successful and not just hot air.
One of the problems we encounter with multitaskers is their uncanny ability to drag others along. We singletaskers are trusting souls. We believe it when someone we trust or admire says that, together, we will accomplish great feats. We assume the other person will give a hundred percent. We don’t expect our shared project to be abandoned by our partners, often without explanation.
This need to do more than necessary with less than success isn’t new, but it’s disconcerting. When I try to multitask, say by working on two or three books at once, I can almost guarantee that no book will be finished with the degree of finesse a reader expects, or with the respect the written word deserves.

 

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Untitled

After chemo today, for the very first time, I found myself deeply saddened by the procedure. In the past, I’ve been angry, frustrated, resigned, and there were a time or two when I thought the administering nurses had handled me poorly. On occasion, I was amused. Once, the nurse tried to slip on a defective paper gown with no arm holes. Another time, I looked at the syringe used to inject the chemicals and started laughing. The thing was ludicrously large, fit for King Kong. But I’ve never felt sad.

The sense of dejection stayed with me through the ride home. When I was back in my apartment, I tried to isolate the feeling and define its source, and suddenly realized that I am no longer sure I will beat this disease. It may be that the best I can hope for is a draw that will see more surgery, more chemo, more discomfort. I don’t think the white-hat cells are losing, but I’m beginning to believe the black-hat cells are firmly entrenched and will probably never give up. I hope I’m wrong, but shouldn’t all these treatments and procedures have cured me by now?

Several months ago, my doctor suggested I put my affairs in order. “Don’t be alarmed, but you never know,” he said with a shrug. “Better safe than sorry.”

I’d already done that.

Maybe I’m simply tired of feeling like a host to nasty squatters.

I’ve heard of chemo brain. Maybe this is chemotion.

 

 

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I too Slept with President Trump

I thought I should own up to it; maybe start a rumor or two to enhance my career.
In France, a few years ago, the President at the time was embarrassed to be caught on the back of a moped driven by a bodyguard. Monsieur François Hollande was going to meet his mistress while wearing a motorcycle helmet to shield his identity. It didn’t work. A paparazzi saw him and Europe had a good laugh, but not because Hollande was involved with someone other than his wife. No, it was the ludicrous attempt to hide his actions that made him the butt of ridicule. Monsieur le President! Sur une mobilette! A Paris! Mon Dieu. How déclassé can you get! Past French presidents have all opted for very expensive Citröen automobiles to travel to their extra-curricular activities.
During the Clinton era, French journalists had a jolly time trying to explain Bubba’s actions to their readers. That an American President could be sanctioned for such a benign event as a minor sexual encounter with a young woman, well, that was and remains incomprehensible. To this day, Clinton remains a most popular American in Europe, drawing crowds wherever he goes.
The French, who, aside from President Macron, truly detest Trump and find him the cartoonish exemplification of the Ugly American, are once again trying to understand puritanism. They look at Ms. Storm as an attractive entrepreneur. They can’t quite understand why Trump would lie about their trysts. They note that, in the US press, Ms. Storm has been promoted from a slutty porn actress to the much more socially acceptable director of adult films. They editorialize about the amazing circumstances that have led a director of adult films to be more believable than POTUS.
America has always been a sort of comical giant to the rest of the world. It’s helpful to have a giant on your side. He (or she) can move furniture, carry heavy things and help correct situations that need correcting. On the other hand, the giant can be clumsy and do things wrong. With Trump in power, it’s sort of like watching an amateur juggler working with chain saws. You wince, you close your eyes, you really hope no one gets hurt but Trump is not a skillful performer; often a chainsaw flies into the crowd and decapitates an innocent bystander.
My French friends are worried about the right-wing movement sweeping Europe. The difference between them and my American friends is that the Europeans will vote to change things they find offensive. Denmark, Sweden and Belgium boast voter turnouts in the 80+ percent. The US is a sad 14th in voter turnout with fewer than 58 percent of eligible voters showing up at the polls.
These figures, folks, aren’t fake news. Let’s hope the upcoming elections allow this country to climb in the ratings.
Oh, OK, I confess. I haven’t slept with him.

 

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