Friday, October 3, 2008

On Writing--Part 1

I've always wanted to be a writer. For me, there is no higher calling.

When I was a child in Paris, kids my age played cowboys and Indians, small Gallic Roy Rogers and Gene Autrys. I copied the poems of Minou Drouet and claimed them as my own.

You probably haven't heard of Drouet. In 1955, she astounded France--and a good part of Europe--by writing charmingly adult poems. A brouhaha followed. Was she for real? Were the verses penned by adults?

Charles Templeton, a CBS reporter, recalls: "Minou Drouet's mother was a prostitute and her father a field hand. As an infant she was taken into the home of a middle-aged woman, whose ambition to write well exceeded her talent. She adopted the child and raised her with love, surrounding her with music in a home dedicated to literature. It appeared that Minou was retarded. At six she hadn't spoken a word. The judgment of four doctors was that she would never be normal.
"One day, her mother played a recording of a Brahms symphony for her. Minou swooned. When she was revived, she spoke perfect French in complex sentences. Shortly thereafter she began to write poetry. Some of the poems were published and immediately provoked debate. It was said that no child of six could possibly have such thoughts, much less express them so profoundly. It was argued that, unlike music, poetry demands an experience of life, experience that no child so young could have had. It was charged that her adoptive mother - a poet herself who aspired to recognition but had been judged second-rate - was the author of the verses.
"The controversy became a cause celebre. The French Academy of Arts and Sciences decided on an experiment to validate or to dismiss the claims made for the child. Minou was placed in a room behind one-way glass. She was provided with paper and pencil, and after she was alone and incommunicado, given three subjects to write about. She did as she was instructed and the results were scrutinized. There could be no question; the poems were the product of a prodigious talent. Jean Cocteau, the eminent writer and film-maker, commented: "She's not an eight-year-old child, she's an eight-year-old dwarf.”

I copied some of Minou's poems in longhand onto my cahier d' ecole and showed them to my mother who, herself an author, thought she too had a genius on her hands. She called her friends, who called their friends. Could there be another Minou Drouet in the Sagnier household?

Things were getting out of hand. I confessed the truth. It was possibly the hardest thing I ever had to do, and I decided there and then that, no matter what, from then on whatever I wrote would be my own.

Here's installment 47 of Wasted Miracles.
Catherine said, “I talked to my sponsor. Don’t worry, I didn’t mention any names.”
Her voice was calm and dry on the phone. “I’m still furious, but I don’t want to kill you anymore. That’s what I felt like, Colin, killing you. But then I thought that out of this bizarre situation, there’s something good coming. And that’s that I was beginning to care too much about you, and now I don’t. Now I’m just angry, and sad, and repulsed.”
Colin listened, phone cradled against a shoulder.
“And I don’t want any explanations from you. Really, I don’t, it wouldn’t help, it would make things worse. And when we find Josie, I won’t ask her about it because that won’t help either.”
Colin heard the “we.” He said, “You still want me to help?”
Catherine hesitated. “Yeah. I don’t feel good about it, and if I could think of another way, I would. But I don’t have much choice in the matter. So you can call it your atonement, for lack of a better word.”
“No. I’m serious, Colin. There’s no winning here. It’s not a game. Whatever you have to say about it is going to be wrong.”
She took a deep breath that carried her into Colin’s room. “If you just fucked her--God, I hate that word, it’s ugliness in four letters--if you just fucked her then I can’t forgive that. I picture you and her and my stomach knots. It’s an image from hell. And if there was something else, something more... serious, then it’s just as bad.” Her voice broke, she reached deep inside to control it. “Because then, what am I supposed to do then, Colin? What am I supposed to ask? Whether Josie was better than me? My own daughter?”
Colin stayed silent. The seconds stretched until he heard Catherine take a deep breath. “God. Do you see what I mean, Colin? Do you understand?”
He closed his eyes, nodded. “Yes.”
“Just help me find her.”
There wasn’t much of anything more to say. “I’ll do all I can.”
“I hope so.”
There was another long uncomfortable silence. Colin’s palms felt clammy. Eventually, he said, “I’ve got some information, nothing solid but it’s a start.”

1 comment:

  1. When our daughter was 4 she told her dad shes loved him as much as the universe but not as much as GOd.

    I am a Minou believer too.