Writer M. Leona Godin’s piece “A Paris Wasting” was featured in Issue #7 of Newtown Literary. Here, she discusses the story. You can read more from Leona at DrMLGodin.com, and follow her on Twitter @DrMLGodin.
The Detective Story Behind “A Paris Wasting”
I’d heard from my mother years ago that my childhood friend had died young, causes unknown. When the news struck me, googling hadn’t risen to ubiquitous, so the hearsay sufficed. But recently, having thought of her randomly one day, I finally typed her name into the search box. The details of the two online obits were intriguing with respect to her life and virtually nonexistent with regards to her death. She died, apparently alone, in a German city “with many projects left in progress.”
When I’d first heard of her death, I’d assumed rather offhandedly that it must have been suicide. How else would a 30-year-old who had everything die? But it didn’t feel right. Drugs crossed my mind, but were quickly dismissed, as being just too far-afield from her personality–the one I remembered from when we were little playing horsey games, and also from the one glimpsed in the obit, lovingly and respectfully written by her parents on two coasts. She had, after a youthful stellar career in horse jumping, moved on to a worldly, writerly academic life. She was, no doubt, an overachiever, a winner from a winning family.
We’d made friends early in my long career at an all-girl private school in San Francisco. I was a scholarship child whose mother wisely told her upon her entrance in first grade, “You will be going to school with people who have much more than we do, but never be jealous. Just enjoy the experience.” My friend, who we will call Catherine as in my story but not real life, was among the richest of the rich. My mother dropped me off every weekend to play at her walled mansion where the living room, or rather I must call it a drawing room for its old-world appearance, likely boasted a greater square footage than our entire apartment.
My mother’s advice proved prophetic when Catherine invited me to visit Disneyland. Flying in the family’s private plane and staying at a villa was almost more amazing than the amusement park and I remember chattering away about it excitedly, having no feelings of jealousy tainting the wonder of it. But I hadn’t seen her since 4th grade, when she’d left our school to attend one closer to the family ranch with its horses she rode competitively.
The sparse but loving obituaries referred to her early success in that austere competitive world, and then of an equally stellar academic career. Also mentioned were her two publications, which turned out to provide the overwhelming fodder for my fictionalized snapshot. I’ve no idea what actually happened to her in that lonely death, but her short story published in a highly respected literary journal a year or two before her death, and an academic paper published a couple years earlier still, offered clues to a life. The picture emerged, colored by intense solitude and keen sense of particularity.
Thus “A Paris Wasting” is a wild amalgamation of Catherine’s published writing and my memories, as well as a few news clippings. There is also one more line of inquiry pursued as a result of reading her academic paper on Catherine of Siena but, for fear of spoiling the story, I will leave that thread unspoken…
The methodology of juxtaposing Memories with research represents a new approach to writing for me. I’m so proud to have it appear in Newtown Literary. There are others from this collection, both written and planned, so I will take this happy publication as encouragement to continue!
Readers, mark your calendars:
- Join the Q-Boro Lit Crawl on April 7 at 6:30 p.m. on Vernon Boulevard for a night of literary festivities — including a chance to match wits with the staff of Astoria Bookshop and some alumnae of the LIC Reading Series. Reserve your tickets now.
- Join the Risk of Discovery Reading Series on April 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Astoria Coffee for a writing workshop followed by a poetry open mic and show led by Micah Zevin and featuring Luis “Storyteller” Cordova, Joanna C. Valente, Matthew Yeager, and Chelsea Whitton. There is a $10 cover charge, which will serve as credit toward food or drink.
- The Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning is calling for artists to apply for a free one-month residency. For more information, and to apply, check out the JCAL website. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.