Down for the count? Breathless is out!

What comes after the Countdown to Publication?
The book launch. And what comes after that? Um…? You tell me.

images-1The day after my last scheduled book event for 2013, I woke up with an odd feeling. Something was missing. I was missing the sense of anticipation that had my adrenaline pumping for the last month. Many good things had happened. The launch party was a fundraiser for the wonderful mentoring organization Girls Write Now, and we raised a lot of money. The reading at Bluestockings along with Sari Botton, editor of Goodbye to All That, and two of the authors in the anthology, Marcy Dermansky and Marie Myung-Ok Lee, was stimulating and fun. I had done a few interviews that I could post on my website. Everything seemed promising.

And now? As I write this farewell to the countdown, I can’t escape that letdown feeling. Is this it? My life is exactly the same as it was before the book came out. Friends have sent me celebratory emails and posted on Facebook: they like the memoir!!

The party is over.

Sound familiar?

What now? Will anything happen? And how to live in the meantime? I’ve been here before, so I should know the drill. We survive. But I can’t help wondering what the best way to live in the aftermath. I welcome all suggestions.

Thanksgiving is upon us. When I was looking online for an image to illustrate this post under the category “after the party,” I found a message that seemed apt both for the launch and for the holiday: “I am thankful for the mess to clean up after the party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.” I would not go so far as to say I am thankful for the mess, but I am thankful for the friends who have stood by me on the long journey this book has had.

Oh, and my home remedy for the post-party blues? I’m having my study painted for the first time in ten years. It was ten years ago when I wrote the draft that became the memoir. When I return to the book business, it will be a fresh start, time for a new chapter.

Happy holidays to all.

Where were you when you learned that President Kennedy was shot?

What does a memoirist really remember? Mortifying to confess, I remember where I was when I heard the news of the event in relation to my love life. That was the main event when I was twenty-two.

In November 1963 I was living in Paris, and teaching American English in a ée for girls. The night I heard the news on the radio, I was waiting in my maid’s room for a man I had just started dating to arrive. When he did, we went out to an Irish bar to watch the news on television. I reported the French coverage in a letter to my parents the next day.

handwriting     I hadn’t had time to send my letter when the news of Kennedy’s assassination came over the radio. I was able to follow the reports from the first “flash” to the confirmation of his death. Today the radio has not ceased to talk, speculate, and lament. Even the vegetable sellers are upset and talking about it.
     I myself was completely overwhelmed and I shudder to think of what will happen in the next elections. Please keep all documentation that appears on the subject.

 

I continued a few days later in my girl-reporter mode.

     There was complete (radio, tv, newspaper) coverage here. People were stunned and heartbroken. Everyone seemed to have admired, and more, liked Kennedy, finding him “jeune et sympathique.” We talked about it in my lycée classes, and my kids seemed quite impressed. Different people came and expressed their sympathy and shock to me. Over here the main questions were: how could the protection of a president be so inefficient? And, what was going on in the Dallas police force (i.e. police and Ruby? police and FBI?) I and everyone here were especially disgusted by the violence of the whole thing, and could not understand how such important things could get so out of hand. There still is no explanation and I wonder if there ever will be.

KennedyI had been living in Paris for three years without going home, and working very hard on becoming an expatriate. The fact that I was on the verge of falling in love with an American expatriate made that dream even more irresistible. The man, whom I was to marry two years later, was Irish American. As a nice Jewish girl from Manhattan I knew that an Irish American Catholic from Boston was not what my parents would consider husband material. Even I had my doubts at the beginning. Looking back it now seems to me that the prestige and glamour of Kennedy in France―with his Irish and Boston Irish origins―insidiously made my choice more acceptable, less foreign, in my eyes, at least, if not theirs. Still, in the second letter about the assassination, I introduced them on paper to the person I now call Jim Donovan.

It’s hard, if not impossible for me to separate in memory what I felt about the event from the French fascination with Kennedy (and Jackie) in which I experienced it; it’s even harder for me to sever the connection between my incipient love story, the failure of the marriage to which it led, and the shock of what seemed unthinkable. In my mind, the two tracks of memory are intimately linked.

The replays of the moment on television bring everyone back there, even those by definition too young to remember. The spectacle of the shooting and other now iconic images of the scene, not least Jackie Kennedy’s bloodied pink suit, John John’s salute, and Caroline’s little blue-coated, blonde girl adorableness become instantly familiar, instantly part of collective memory. All of us will connect learning of the event with some aspect of their personal life―hence the “where were you when?” In that sense, my memories are no more significant than belated ones, despite the fact that this happened in my lifetime. That’s how, I think, we remember, where we were when. In more than one way, political memory is always also personal.

COUNTDOWN TO PUBLICATION: Breathless Is Out! Read Chapter One Today. (Please?)

This my fourth and final Countdown to Publication. Wish me luck.

It’s even in two bookstores in Brooklyn. For the first time in my life (as a Manhattanite), I wish I lived in Brooklyn. I’d love to walk by a bookstore window and see my book lined up in the company of other books. A paper object to hold and touch that someone might choose to pick off the shelf and read. This is not the first time for me—the first was Getting Personal way back in the twentieth century—but it’s the first time in the twenty-first, and the thrill is the same.

booksnbooks

After weeks (or is it months?) of platforming–let’s call it what it feels like, masochistic groveling—the book is launched into the great marketplace. Was all the efforting (this is actually a term from yoga!) worth it?  I don’t know, maybe I’ll never know. But I do know I am thrilled that the book can speak for itself at last. I hope you will like what it has to say — and consider buying it, sharing it, and helping me tell the world. And don’t worry, it doesn’t start out slow. Chapter One is short, but there’s sex, there’s Schubert, and of course, there is Paris.

 

COUNTDOWN: “Is it you?”

This is the third installment of my “countdown to publication” for the members of shewrites.com

A few months ago, I showed the book jacket of my forthcoming memoir to a friend. This was a woman about my age, maybe a bit younger, a person and writer I admire but only know slightly. “You were pretty,” she said, with an air of perplexity. What did this mean, exactly, I wondered? That she found it hard to believe that the woman sitting across from her at a café table had ever looked good? If that was really me, my face had undergone a long decline. She must think I look awful, I decided. “Oh well,” I said, “it was a long time ago,” joining her disbelief in a gesture of wounded politesse.
Maybe putting one’s ingénue face on a memoir cover is a dangerous activity, dangerous to one’s vanity, it seems. But who would want to look at my face now, as I look back over my twenty-something life? Certainly not me. Better to run the risk of retrospective narcissism.
There are three photographs of me from my early days in Paris in the book: the cover, that was a street photo of me walking along the quais of the Seine; my passport picture; and another street photo, of me walking on the Boulevard St-Michel with my roommate. To me the pictures are there in order to document my narrative: yes, I lived there, and to me the girl I looked like then is important to the story. I was an American girl—in some ways generic—but I was also that American girl. A French major, a nice Jewish girl from New York, a girl who wanted above all to be happy, although she did not seem to have much of a talent for happiness, but was ready for any adventure.

envelopeThe photographs document a moment, a moment past that certainly was, but if I only had had my snapshot album, I would not have been able to write the memoir. True, the images dated the change of boyfriend, the change of hairdo and hemline, but something crucial was lacking—but, as it turned out, miraculously available to me, something written: a cache of letters that I had sent home from my first day in Paris to my last. In the beginning, the weekly report was my parents’ particular pound of flesh—write a letter or we won’t send you any money (I was always broke). But after a while, the letter production became a habit. It was easier for me to write than to have them send me telegrams asking what was wrong. It was another era, when parents were unwilling to let girls be free and on their own.
Many, many years later, after my parents died, when I emptied the apartment I found the letters in my mother’s underwear drawer. They were bundled in chronological order, and occasionally, my father had included drafts of his letters (mainly of threats and condemnation). The letters were a gold mine of information—and misinformation. I could still remember what I had lied about. But even the letters were not enough. Yes, they gave me names and dates, but was I really in love with my husband to be, little dreaming I was about to marry a con man? “I’m really, really in love,” I wrote.
It’s hard to measure feelings fifty years later, not to mention recapture them.
And yet that is truly the challenge of memoir: to sort and sift through photographs and whatever documents remain, and try somehow to get back there in memory. It’s not only memory, of course. There’s the task of finding the story line that makes sense of each point of remembrance and holds them together in a coherent pattern, a narrative that feels like the truth. Have I found that?
I’m not sure, but I know that I never stopped asking: Was that me?