Alison Thompson, author THE THIRD WAVE, shares a letter she wrote to her parents while volunteering in Haiti during the cholera epidemic.November 11, 2010
Dear Mum and Dad,
I am lying in my tent in Haiti, typing on my iPhone under a flashlight. A full moon is leaking in through my window and 47 ½ palm trees are casting Halloween shadows on my roof. Mutant dinosaur mosquitoes buzz in my ears in search of a landing zone, and the cock-a-doodle-doo rooster's body clock is out of whack.
How can I tell you about the things I have seen without making you cry into your cereal? I'll spare you the details of babies dying in their own vomit, but I will tell you that after our first night at St. Mark's hospital our medical team broke down and cried, helpless at not being able to save everyone. Out here you are only as good as your last prayer, and God's inbox is backed up.
On my first night in the ER I walked the ward alone checking on IVs while sick people called out in Creole. I don't have a clue what they were saying but I do know they were dying, and I could smell it in the air. Je t'aime was the only French word I knew, and a few weak smiles leaked out. That night I felt like an alien on Planet Cholera. While checking out the morgue I ran into Loune from Partners in Health as she was unloading heavy boxes of supplies from a truck. I felt a swell inside me as I watched her slave away in the dark. She's a quiet hero of the cholera outbreak and deserves a trip to Disneyland. There are many quiet heroes here mopping floors and cleaning contaminated fluids for 30 hours straight.
The good news is that today, after visiting hospitals and clinics in St. Nicolas, St. Marc, Bocozelle, Pierre Payen, Villard, and l'Artibonite valley (where the cholera started), the cholera is in a lull and has leveled off, and patient numbers have dropped. We will continue to monitor the situation and are working with pastors and leaders to educate villagers on cholera. Ted Steinhauer from Medical Teams International (who started the Quisqueya operation after the quake) is leading good teams and carefully studying the stats.
Haiti is a land of rumors and we need focused communications directly from the source. I have seen all these briefs and stats with my own blue eyes. I'm on my 24th Clif Bar and am craving seared tuna sushi with jalapeño from Nobu.
For more dispatches from Alison Thompson, follow her twitter feed at http://twitter.com/lightxxx
Two of Spiegel & Grau's authors, James Levine and Somaly Mam, are spearheading separate campaigns against the human trafficking industry.October 6, 2009
James Levine, who has been touring India and doing hands-on humanitarian work, has written The Blue Notebook, a powerful work of fiction about the life of a young prostitute in Mumbai. A haunting yet astonishingly hopeful novel about the power of storytelling, it shines a light on the devastating global issue of child prostitution. All of Levine's U.S. proceeds from the novel will be donated to the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Below is a recent Reuters article about Somaly Mam, a grassroots activist whose mission is rescuing and rehabilitating girls and young women sold into sexual slavery in Southeast Asia. Her courageous efforts to fight the sex-trafficking industry drew the attention of The Body Shop, who recently partnered with the Somaly Mam Foundation to raise awareness of the sex trade worldwide. Somaly's extraordinary memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, is now out in paperback.
We are proud to publish authors dedicated to making a difference in the world.
For more information, please visit www.icmec.org and www.somaly.org.
Former sex slave seeks help as 4-year-old found in brothel
Cambodian Somaly Mam, whose eponymous foundation is dedicated to fighting the $12 billion a year sex-trafficking industry, said a four-year-old girl was found last month at a brothel in Cambodia after being reported by a male client.
The youngster had been sold to the brothel by her mother, who is also a prostitute.
"You just have to hold her and stay with her and show her that you love her. Children can become children again," Mam told Reuters as she launched a joint venture with cosmetics retailer The Body Shop to raise awareness of sex trafficking.
"There is this belief that having sex with a virgin will cure you of HIV so there is an increasing market for younger and younger girls. In my time it was girls aged 15 or 16 but it has got younger and younger."
The United Nations estimates that two million women and children are trafficked every year, with 30 percent of these in Asia. Poor families sometimes sell a daughter to pay off debts.
Live from deepest space! Arika Okrent, author of IN THE LAND OF INVENTED LANGUAGES, reports from the Klingon realm in Kurt Andersons's Studio 360.July 16, 2009
NINE LIVES author, Dan Baum shares an especially peculiar moment in his experience of Post-Katrina New Orleans.February 12, 2009
Every now and then during Hurricane Katrina's immediate aftermath a ghostly apparation would move through my field of vision, and before I could get a purchase on it, it would be gone. Then one day as I was riding a stolen bike through the rubble, it pulled up alongside me. It was an old-fashioned Cadillac hearse, white, with big red crosses daubed on the doors and hood in house paint. Behind the wheel was a scowling, curly-haired young man who leaned across the street and demanded, "Who the fuck are you?"
He wouldn't shake hands. "All the infections going around? Fuck that. Get in." He said he used to be an emergency-room doctor at the Touro hospital, but that he "got tired of the politics and the insurance fraud. Ordering more bloodwork than necessary, ordering more chext x-rays than necessary, just to pump up the bills, you know?" I couldn't follow the story about how he'd acquired the hearse. "To get what I've got, you'd have to put yourself in the system to be evacuated, and a lot of people don't want to do that. This is the choice they give you: you want to get the medicine you need, you have to leave the city. So I'm driving around providing care. To get supplies, I loot. Do you think they'll ever be able to use anything that's in Touro ever again? After the filth and the dead bodies lying in there? They're going to have to throw away everything anyway, so why shouldn't I go in there and get it? And in the pharmacies, the people don't know what that stuff is and it's better off with me anyway so people don't use these things incorrectly. So yes, I'm a looter. Fine. You got me. But I have things even the ambulances don't have. You go to a first aid station or an ambulance and ask for Diavan. They'll say what the fuck is that. Ten minutes ago, you should have been here, the fucking FBI pulls up, like eight agents, and they surround the car. They're like, who the fuck are you? What are you doing with all these stuff? Is it stolen? Who do you think you are, driving around giving out medicine. I say, I'm a doctor. They ask for my license. But I don't carry my license with me because I don't want to lose it. I show them this, this old Tulane ID, which is expired, and they say, fuck, this is expired. Who the fuck are you? So we go round and round. One of them says, what are you some kind of weirdo? This is a car of death, and you paint a cross on it? What are you, sick? Then they find this" - he reached under the seat and came up with a huge Bulgarian army pistol - "and that was another whole go-around. It was just a big fucking hassle, like they don't want anybody freelancing - you know, helping people. They finally left me alone, though they took all the bullets." He took a breath and his eyes seemed to focus on me for the first time. "What do you need? Nothing? Then get out."
The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi CoatesJune 30, 2008
Karen Connelly explains how her travels in Burma and Thailand inspired her novel, The Lizard Cage.April 14, 2008
I was educated abroad.
Not in universities or private schools, but on the streets and in the markets of northern Thailand, in a shepherd’s hut on an island in the Aegean, in the refugee camps and cramped rooms of political exiles on the Thai-Burma border. Living abroad and writing a novel are very similar experiences. Both involve entering other realities, constructing new identities. If you want to have a profound experience of a new place, the mind has to be open, vulnerable, and spacious enough to undergo a violent invasion of the other.
I could not have started writing The Lizard Cage if not for my long education of trying to know the other, and, in all those foreign places, of being the other. Absorbing and living so much in a state of actual foreignness prepared me for the most galvanizing experiences of my life so far: events in Burma and on the Thai-Burmese border. Writing the novel was a continuation and a deepening, an internalization, of those experiences.
Contacts in Bangkok had given me the numbers of many people in Burma’s major centers: political activists, artists, writers, editors, musicians, doctors. On my first visit to the country, I met with them several times over a period of three weeks, and met other individuals through them. I had never heard people speak so passionately about freedom and art and political oppression. Burma was different than the other countries I knew: it was ruled by a dictatorship. It was an entire country flayed by its symbolic parents, its rulers. This was dysfunction and disaster on a national level, and that is exactly how the people described it to me.
Actively suffering the destruction of their human rights, my newfound Burmese friends were keenly aware that I had come from a place of great openness and wealth. They also knew that I was a writer. We discussed various painful and dangerous aspects of living in Burma under military rule. I learned much, and I asked many questions. But the one and key question Burmese people asked me was, “Will you write about this?”
Artists prohibited to exhibit their paintings, the famous writers whose works never pass the Press Scrutiny Board. Hundreds of people gunned down on the street, the school girls who were bayonetted in 1988. “Why don’t you write a book about that?” The children carrying loads of wet concrete at the construction sites of new hotels. Whole villages of women raped by soldiers. Men taken away, enslaved as weapon porters on the frontlines. “Will you write this story down?” The outspoken father, brother, sister, mother who disappears at night, and eventually is sentenced to seven, ten, twenty years in a prison infested with tuberculosis, dysentery, and rats.
Confronted with these stories, and with so much intelligence and indignation, the very least I could do, in my great freedom as a writer, was to reply Yes, I will write it down.
Of course I didn’t really understand what I was getting myself into. Writing The Lizard Cage was profoundly painful, just as researching the book was physically and spiritually exhausting. After I was denied a visa to reenter Burma, I sought out dissidents and revolutionaries who live on the Thai-Burma border. I could already feel the shape of the novel I was to write, but I needed to get the details right, and live longer with my subjects.
I spent almost all of my time with Burmese people who had left Burma for political reasons. The stories they most wanted to tell, it seemed, were the stories of how they became political, and then how they ended up and survived in prison. Metaphorically, the story of modern Burma is one of violence, incarceration, isolation. Living on the border, among Burmese people who had lived that story, who had the marks of it on their skin, I learned the questions I still ask myself: What am I willing to see? What am I willing to feel? How well can I know this world that I live in, this world that I love?
The real people I met in Burma and on the border enabled me to create characters who often surprised me, and who did things I could never do. So many of the people I met were so brave. So many of them had whimsical, zany senses of humor. On the heels of bad news, jokes rushed in, and laughter was a liberal, free-flowing tonic. Wherever I was—the military and refugee camps, them cramped and cluttered rooms of dissidents, the shantytowns of Shan migrant workers—I lived in the realm of their kindness.
But after my research was finished, I had to go into Teza’s prison and live there, alone, in my imagination. After I started writing the novel in earnest, I wrote in tears every day for two years, distraught by the process of internalization that would make my characters and their experiences authentic in writing. One must feel what one writes; at least, I have to feel what I write. But it is another thing entirely, a terrible, necessary act to enter the darkest places in the human world and to stay there for long periods of time, to commit to living there spiritually and mentally.
All people who live in prisons become at least partially, if not fully, invisible. Whether political or criminal prisoners, we do not see them; we do not look for them. To abuse their detainees, governments depend on our blindness. Working on a novel about a man who lives in prison, I had no choice but to look inside, to imagine the world of the prison as well as I could, and to spend a lot of time talking and listening to people who had lived there.
Slowly, I came to understand that the most useful thing I could do as a writer was contribute to the history of kindness. It may seem strange to look for kindness in a prison, but a prison is just a microcosm of the world we live in every day. The details are different, but the human struggles and needs are the same. To eat properly. To be clean and safe. To live with dignity. To live in choice, in truth. To love and to be loved. To die with grace.
I don’t know why some abused people become violent and cruel, while others manage to survive their experiences, even becoming kinder and more compassionate. In Burma and on the border, people who had been brutalized and hounded and violated repeatedly—sometimes for most of their lives—were still kind, and open, and hopeful. And if they were not quite hopeful, they were determined. Sometimes they were also very angry, but their anger did not obliterate their humanity. Every day I would meet such people and the mystery of their goodness seemed as great to me as the mystery of the very real evil of the interrogators and the imprisoners.
That is our mystery, the human mystery. That is also us, the possibility of us, if the wonderful accident of our birth had taken place elsewhere: you could be the refugee, I could be the torturer. To face that truth is also our burden. After all, each of us has been the bystander, the reasonable person who just happens not to hear, not to speak, not to see those people, the invisible ones, those who live on the other side of the border.
Liza Monroy, author of Mexican High, shares her experience returning Mexico City for the first time since high school.March 1, 2008
Revisiting the Past in Mexico City
I lived in Mexico City during high school, between 1994 and 1997, years when I was unconsciously researching my first novel, Mexican High. I wanted the book to accurately reflect this complicated, fascinating mystery of a city, a place where Rodeo Drive—like Avenida Masaryk represents a privileged microcosm within a largely developing nation. For a teenager—and my school more than slightly resembles the fictitious one my main character, Milagro Marquez, attends—Mexico City was a place full of temptations: classmates’ wealthy parents were often out of town, and drivers and bodyguards ensured safety but, as hired help, never refused to take us to nightclubs and bars, which were open all night. A common expression went, “If you’re old enough to see over the bar, you’re old enough to drink.” It was controlled chaos, a unique, surreal world I wanted to tell a story about ever since I moved back to the States.
At twenty-seven, I was revising the first draft of Mexican High and working as a freelance journalist in New York City when I read online that MTV and Frommer’s were collaborating on a guidebook series and seeking writers for the Mexico edition. I hadn’t been back to Mexico City; I was inventing the novel’s plot sitting in cafes in New York. I interviewed and several months later, I was hired.
1994, my first year in Mexico, had been a chaotic one in the country’s history: Zapatista revolutionaries in Chiapas, the peso’s devaluation from three to twelve to the dollar, the assassination of favored presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, and the volcano Popocatépetl’s near-eruption. How different would it be now? I wondered. It was an interesting time to return: the streets in the city center were shut down by protestors who’d flooded into Mexico City from all over the country to protest former mayor Manuel Lopez Obrador’s loss of the presidency to Felipe Calderon. My family was worried about my being down there while the protests were in full swing; news reports had described tear gas and riots in the plaza.
In the morning, I wandered alone through Lagunilla, a crowded outdoor market where vendors sell everything from clothing to art, antiques to puppies (!). As I strolled toward Plaza Garibaldi, even though I’d been warned to take a cab because it was peligroso, I revived some of the old rebellious adolescent spirit by sampling pulque (an ancient alcoholic Aztec beverage made from fermented maguey, an Agave plant) at ten in the morning. As I made my way further to the majestic Zócalo to revisit Casa de los Azulejos, the house of tiles, which now houses a Sanborn’s department store and restaurant, I realized I was coming up on the protest and prepared to run the other way if I needed to. But I encountered something completely different than I’d expected from the news reports—a political protest, Mexican-style. The atmosphere was that of a carnival, with kids’ rides, tents, the smell of outdoor cooking, songs, and music. There was no violence. People were everywhere, but the magnitude of the protests, other than in size, had been exaggerated by the media.
Protestors also shut down Reforma, one of Mexico City’s main avenues. This caused major traffic calamities—getting from one place to another became a baffling challenge for drivers. I walked in the middle of Reforma, taking in scenes from the protest (a soccer match, plentiful beer-drinking in lawn chairs), and was glad I hadn’t rented a car for my time in Mexico City.
I did drive to Valle de Bravo, a verdant lake town three hours outside Mexico City that’s a popular weekend retreat for the city’s elite, as well as adventure-seekers. It’s one of the paragliding capitals of the world. While staying at adventure-sporting eco-lodge Rodavento (www.rodavento.com), I reported on the best paragliding schools (www.flymexico.com), hikes (my favorite leads to Velo de Novia—“Bride’s Veil”—a waterfall), and spas (www.elsantuario.com), but my real mission was to rediscover the points of reference I’d written about in the chapter of the novel set in Valle de Bravo. The restaurants and clubs I’d gone to in high school were still there, repopulated by a new generation of cute young revelers in designer outfits. For the first time, ten years felt like a lifetime ago.
Back in Mexico City, the day before returning to New York, I rode the subway for an hour to UNAM, the largest university in the Americas. In the vast field known in my novel as “Las Islas,” which looked exactly the same as I remembered, I sat under a tree and watched students walking to and from classes, playing soccer, sitting in groups eating lunch and talking, and thought of my own experience attending school in sprawling, wild, often-overwhelming Mexico City, and how it ultimately had come to feel like home. I wrote in my journal of the “smells and sounds of a city no longer mine,” my amazement at revisiting places of my past, years later and far calmer. I found that as much as I had changed, the city that had been my obsession for years really hadn’t.
Check out Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, author of the forthcoming The Great Derangement, for his commentary on the presidential primary candidates, past and present.February 1, 2008
McCain’s Last Stand
Hill on Fire
Mike Huckabee, Our Favorite Right-Wing Nutjob
Mitt Romney: The Huckster
Catherine Sanderson, author of Petite Anglaise, writes from Paris about her Belleville neighborhood on the cusp of the New Year.January 1, 2008
Jours sombres à Belleville/Dark days in Belleville/Belleville rendez vous
I live in Belleville, a neighborhood northeast of the center of Paris, four kilometers as the crow flies from Nôtre Dame. Once upon a time, when Belleville was still a village outside the city limits, there were farms, vineyards and windmills on this hillside. Nowadays it’s a haphazard combination of old and new: charmless high-rise tenement blocks rub shoulders with century-old farmhouses.
One of the things I love most about my neighbourhood is its cultural diversity. Let me take you, for example, inside my four-year-old daughter, Tadpole’s, classroom. Dinah is Jewish. Lorène, Natalie, Jacques, Leo, Clarisse, and Hugo are Chinese (although, ironically, their names are the most traditionally French sounding of the bunch). Milan has a German father, Elimane’s parents are of Moroccan descent, and Rokia—whose mother wears a traditional batik print dress and headscarf—has beads in her braided hair which drive Tadpole wild with envy.
“Ni hao,” Tadpole calls out to Natalie when we pass her in the street. I’ve enrolled her in Mandarin lessons after school, and it’s one of the few phrases she’s mastered so far, along with a mysterious song, which I’m told is about a duck.
But when Tadpole returns to school after the holiday season, she may find empty chairs in her classroom, empty coat pegs in the hallway. And Natalie may be among the missing children, because, although she was born in France and has every right to live here and to attend Tadpole’s school, her parents are “sans papiers.” This is the catch-all term applied to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants—even to migrants who’ve arrived legally but haven’t quite managed to jump through the necessary administrative hoops. Although Natalie’s parents and others like them may have lived here for longer than I have, they could be rounded up and deported at any time. They’ll be grateful if they ring in the New Year without falling foul of a random ID check as they go about their daily business.
Throughout the chilly month of December, Belleville has been bathed in the light, not of Christmas decorations, but of convoys of police cars, as teams of uniformed policeman disappear inside buildings to carry out targeted searches. Earlier this year, the Ministre de l’Intérieur—a certain Mr. Sarkozy—set an ambitious deportation quota, vowing to send “home” no less than twenty-five thousand sans papiers before the year’s end. And as the police have fallen far short of this target—possibly because they have more important things to do than round up otherwise law-abiding civilians—activity has been stepped up noticeably in recent weeks. It’s a sinister race against the clock which has prompted comparisons with darker periods in France’s history.
Being British, a citizen of the EU, I require neither residence permit nor working papers in order to live and write in Paris. In the past I took this state of affairs for granted, but seeing Natalie’s parents dashing to school, head down, terrified of crossing the path of a zealous policeman, has given me pause.
2008, my thirteenth year in France, will be the year in which I bite the bullet and file an application for French nationality. Not because I fear for my future here in France. The procedure will be little more than a formality—albeit a torturously complex and time-consuming one. But after years of cheering and booing from the sidelines, the time is ripe to get involved: it’s time to make my vote count. For my neighbors’ sake.
Jessica Queller, author of Pretty Is What Changes, files a report from the WGA picket line in Los AngelesDecember 1, 2007
After a year spent writing a memoir about cancer and genetics, I welcomed the offer to fly to Hollywood and join the writing staff of the frothy new TV show Gossip Girl. Chronicling the antics of rich and racy Upper East Side girls seemed the perfect antidote to the months I’d spent chronicling illness. I’d previously written for shows like Felicity and The Gilmore Girls so I knew the ropes—I expected to be cooped up in a writers’ room day and night, inventing stories about cotillions and cat fights, boyfriends and Barneys shopping sprees. For five months, life went as expected. Then on November 5, 2007, I found myself carrying a picket sign under the hot sun, chanting, “We are the Union, the mighty, mighty Union,” like a regular Norma Rae.
I am not a group person, and I do not an allegiance toward any institution I’ve been a part of, such as my high school or college. However, I do have a passion for justice and a very loud, theater-trained voice. And I do—I discovered—feel immense pride in being a member of the Writers Guild of America. To my utter surprise, I’ve been like head-cheerleader on the picket line – jumping up and down, shouting at traffic, “Honk if you support the writers!” I’ve been flashing my biggest smile and waving like I’m Homecoming Queen at the cars and trucks as they honk and drive by. I’ve been expending all my charms to stir my fellow hot, tired writers into chanting, “Hey ho, hey ho, without the writers there ain’t no show!” rather than limply walking back and forth in silence. I never dreamed I’d be marching and picketing and chanting for any cause. And yet here I am—the picketing poster-girl.
The main issue at stake is a writer’s right to be compensated for the reuse of her work, whether it’s sold as a DVD or streamed from the Internet. Imagine writing a book and being told you will not be compensated when it is released in paperback. This month alone, Gossip Girl episodes have been streamed 1.2 million times from the CW network’s website. Victoria’s Secret handsomely pays the CW for ad space, but the writers do not get a cent.
The night the WGA contract expired, three thousand writers filled a hall in downtown L.A. to get briefed by our leaders on what was to come. The energy was electric. Gossip Girl writers sat in a row behind Bionic Woman writers and in front of the writers of Chuck. From Mad Men to Men in Trees, every television writing staff was present. Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning writer of the film Traffic sat on the dais representing feature film writers. In my experience this coming together was unparalleled; all of us amassed in one room made it abundantly clear that, though the work of a writer is often solitary and lonely, we are all a part of a collective enterprise, something much bigger. There was also the feeling that we were on the precipice of something historic. A veteran British film writer took the microphone, warned that strikes are ugly and that we should “gird our loins.” We laughed at the biblical invocation, but our applause was thunderous—we were united and ready for battle.
The first few days of the strike, we came out in droves, passions high. On day two, I joined a massive group of writers on a suburban street where Desperate Housewives was shooting. We marched in circles, shouting “Eva Longoria, who’s gonna write your storia?” until our voices grew hoarse. The racket finally forced production to shut down. Though we were steadfast in our cause, this demonstration felt counterintuitive. A lifetime of obeying, “Quiet on the set!” and suddenly you’re told to make as much noise as you possibly can to disrupt filming? It was like entering an upscale china shop and being told to grab Limoges plates and smash them on the floor.
Near the end of week two, the reality of a long strike began to set in. The writers at my location outside of Warner Brothers loyally held up their signs and ambled up and down the street, but the chanting had died down. The euphoria of battle had already turned into the drudgery of manning one’s post. Then on Friday John Edwards marched with the writers, cheering us on in our fight against the goliath corporate conglomerates, and by the end of the day the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers agreed to resume negotiations. With that little bit of progress, our spirits rose.
Tomorrow we march en masse on Hollywood Boulevard. Nobody knows whether we’ll be marching for another seven days or seven months. My friend Rebecca made T-shirts for us to wear that read, “I’m a striking writer.” We’re planning picketing performance art for week three to spice things up and entertain our comrades. But mostly, we members of the WGA will be girding our loins.
Novelist Steve Toltz gives us a view of New York through Australian eyesNovember 1, 2007
After several years of writing alone in a room, to get away from the ominous silences that are part of being alone, and to get away from the squeaky voices that tend to come in those ominous silences, I journeyed from Australia to spend a few months in New York in advance of the publication of my debut novel, A Fraction of the Whole. The trip had two aims: to meet my publishers, and to revisit the city where I lived for a six-month period ten years ago. Arriving in a smog of nostalgia, I spent the first few weeks wandering the city in frustration at not finding memory lane on the map. No matter how many streets I paced, I couldn’t find the café where I’d worked for two dollars an hour and where I’d once tried to clean a junkie’s blood off the toilet seat with a broom. Nor could I find the place where I lived with a songwriter who charged me extra for using his toaster.
I was, however, thrilled to find that three key things haven’t changed about New York: first, it is still the most obviously democratic city in the world, which means to me that I don’t feel like a slob wearing tracksuit pants out in a café (how can I when the guy next to me is wearing stained tracksuit pants?); second, I’m still constantly amazed at how people of all educational backgrounds instinctively know, without even looking at the sun, where the southwest corner of a street is; and third, it’s still the city where people furiously defend their neighborhoods against any form of attack, verbal or otherwise, including the unforgivable affront of living somewhere else (e.g., I have apparently, repeatedly, on a daily basis, insulted Brooklyn merely by living in Alphabet City). The neighborhoods that New Yorkers defend may have changed over the past decade, but their passion in defending them has not.
However, the one truly glaring difference between New York then and New York now is the me in it. I was twenty-three then. I’m thirty-five now. I smoked then. I only fantasize about rolling in a field of tobacco now. Back then, I thought a goatee had some redeeming aesthetic value. Now, I am increasingly sympathetic to the whole idea of the comb-over. Ten years ago, I was just starting a novel that was destined to go no further than the first two chapters and that now exists solely as a cringe-worthy relic of another era. Ten years and many other first chapters later, I have finished and will publish an actual, tangible object with printed words—which means I’ve gone from being “allegedly” a writer to being a writer beyond a reasonable doubt. It was back in my first New York days I learned a valuable lesson, one which was later re-taught to me in Australia, a lesson that I put into my novel, and that is: “If you dedicate your life to painting or writing poetry you’d better be holding down a job at a hamburger restaurant if you know what’s good for you.” I realized this because, unlike the European cities where I’ve lived in the time between my two New York stints, here you can’t just say you’re a writer without having some pretty solid evidence to back up this wild assertion. At the time, of course, I had no evidence at all. Now, finally, I have it, and I think: If only I could go back in time and tell myself not to be impatient, that I would one day be published in this amazing city! Of course, even if I could, I wouldn’t dare, because if I was told back then it would take me twelve more years to get published, I would have dropped my pen in terror and never picked it up again.
Now, just as the weather here is threatening to turn from brain-meltingly hot to bone-shatteringly cold, I'm heading back to Sydney until February, when I'll make my third trip to New York on publication of A Fraction of the Whole. I can't imagine the city will change in my absence this time, and at the very least I'll know, without searching, that my new, rezoned memory lane will lead into a bookstore.