Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker


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Monday, November 8, 2010

My Friend, M.

I've been thinking about my friend, M. She's a one-time best-selling novelist, just turned 72. She's  alone, not in good health, and doesn't have enough money saved to keep the cat fed. Her tiny house, worth little in this economy, has a bad roof. She has one friend whom she counts on in emergencies. She has a sister, but they don't speak.

M's last novel, a feel good story about resilient southern women, was released to small fanfare about seven years ago. Since then, she has been battling alcoholism, a poorly functioning respiratory system, and is becoming increasingly isolated. She was teaching at a local community college for awhile, but I get the impression she was not popular. Nor is she beloved by the locals. She talks about moving sometimes, but doesn't have anywhere to go. It seems she has burned every bridge she built.

She called me a couple weeks ago. She sounded pretty good, but whenever I asked about her health or circumstances, she made some macabre joke, then asked me how my book was selling. Her best selling novel came out in 1993. The Book of the Month Club picked it up, and that lifted sales of her previous books, which were also decent. Subsequent books have sold in the fair-to-middling range. When I told her Ashes to Water was not reviewed by anyone who mattered and was, therefore, dead in the water, she took proper umbrage and cursed the fates on my behalf. We shared complaints about the publishing industry and spat a few tacks. Then she told me she quit drinking.

I was heartened. The last time M visited, she came to see me perform the role of Sr. Aloysius in Doubt, a play she greatly admired. M had been an actress, and still gets residual checks for her role in the movie, My Fair Lady. She's one of the maids in the chorus. (She said she got the gig because she knew the musical had been based on Pygmalion.) When I watch the movie, I see in her young, heart-shaped face the funny, whip-smart woman I wish I'd known way back when. The night she came to see me in Doubt was a disaster. Falling-down drunk before she even got inside the theater, she was removed eight minutes into act one, which I witnessed from the stage. What followed was a series of events I won't go into here, but parking lots and policemen were involved. She didn't remember anything the next day. She was upset with herself, but even more upset about having missed the play.

I talked with M again the other day, and she told me she was still sober, and had found a therapist she liked. (She never likes her therapists.) She said she was going to write another book because she needed money. "I don't know if I can do it," she said. She was afraid she'd lost her momentum, the habit, not to mention the necessary braincells. I thought it was very brave of her. Here she is, attempting to put the brakes on a serious downward slide by writing a book! (The only thing scarier would be turning to acting.) Even if she completes this book, there is no guarantee it will be published. I don't know if her agent still represents her, or if her readers are still out there. But you have to love that she's clear-headed and driven, albeit not so much by the need to create, but by the need to eat.

My husband is a roofing contractor, so I know where I can get some left-over shingles. In January, maybe I can get G to drive down there with me, and get her roof squared away. She's going to need a clean, well lighted place in which to write. She's going to need encouragement.

She's going to need me.

3 comments:

  1. You're a good friend. And your M. is brave. I hope you write a story about her one day; this blog post was captivating.

    RP

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  2. Your heart is good.

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  3. sounds like the groundwork for a good story, I really like your sentencing and pace. Look forward to reading your work.

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