From Esperanza Enlaces' private journal entries,
February 13 – December 23, 2012
I got the weirdest email today. She wrote to ask if I would talk to her about a novel she is writing, to find out how journalism or a journalist would proceed if the events in her novel actually occurred and a Media Contact were to be established. I called her back and said I would talk with her, and she calls me right back. Well, What events? I asked. She hesitated, but only for a moment. Then, she tells me: suppose there is a local woman, middle-aged, living in Kirov, who has a doctorate, is not crazy, who contacts me to tell me she has been visited by, well, ALIENS.
I wait for the punch line, but there isn’t one. I really don’t know what to think. I ask some questions, and she is so calm and interesting. The story is unique and I get caught up in it. So, I think, “Why not?” and I play along. What does she need to know? She asks me great questions: what would convince me? How would I proceed? Whom would I contact first, why, what would I need to bring to convince them to put it into print, on TV, online? Which online outlets are most reputable and credible? What would entice me to be someone’s main Media Contact, even for this big a story, and continue in that role, for, well, 30 years?
That really stopped me. 30 years?!? I’ve never held a job for even 3 years, much less 30. I’m just 31, myself. I really think about that. I tell her I’m a scientist and interested in making the world a better place, so I would commit to a story or a job like this if I could be sure that people, the planet, would benefit. I realize, as I’m talking, that I’m starting to feel that it might really happen and this is really how I’d feel.
I get a bit creeped out. She hears my change in tone and hurries to reassure me: this is a fiction story, she emphasizes. She promises that no one will know my real name, tells me that I’m giving her exactly the kinds of information she needs for her novel. So, I relax. She’s not really asking me to do this, be some alien fanatic’s Media Contact, just to help her understand how it would work.
We continue to talk further, and we’re laughing and getting along. I like her. She’s smart, interesting, creative. I begin to want to hear more about the story. I tell her that. She’s delighted, she says. The aliens come to this woman, Clara, as holograms, she explains, and asks what kind of equipment I'd bring and who would come with me, if I were allowed to meet them, photograph and audio- or videotape them: what would I need? I think about it and tell that I do my own work, bring my own equipment, so it would just be me. Clara seems relieved by that. She goes on to explain that only she (the character, she hurries to remind me) and I (meaning, the journalist based on me, she explains) would be able to have contact with the aliens; no one else, for now.
What would it take to convince me that this is happening, she asks again? I wonder that myself. I just say, thinking out loud, that meeting them would probably do it, especially if I were allowed to document the meeting and hear what they say for myself. She is glad to hear that, she says. It makes the next parts of the story much easier to write if I’m not too difficult to convince, she explains.
Clara asks me some questions about my résumé, my background, my age, my heritage. I fill her in but she already knows a lot from my online posted information. She’s read some of my articles, she knows about the places I’ve worked and asks about each of them. She says she’s typing as we talk and apologizes for the noise. She types REALLY fast. Wow.
She asks about how something like this would go from local to national to global, and I explain what I know about all that from my various jobs and industry knowledge. She makes me feel like a real insider and I realize: I do know a lot. I am an insider.
She says that I must be wondering why I picked her. I am, so she explains that the aliens in the story tell her character that she has to consider that she will be spending a lot of time with this person, for over a thirty-year period, and that this person would need to want to do this kind of work. So, they suggested she pick someone somewhat early in her career, but far enough along to be credible and know what to do. Also, to pick someone local, so getting together, gathering evidence, etc., won’t be hard to arrange. She tells me that it was “my” idea, then says, “my character’s” idea… an interesting slip….to choose a woman of mixed culture, something about "righting the scales of work and women." An odd phrase, but I kind of get it. She asks if I’m Latina, but hurries to assure me she isn’t upset if I’m not. She tells me that she guessed, by my last name and places of work, and that I’m trilingual and two of the languages are from Hispanic cultures (Spanish and Portuguese). I tell her I am and she sounds relieved.
She says her son is about my age and that makes me laugh. I try to imagine my mom writing a book (my mom is a lawyer) or talking to aliens. I tell her that’s the reason I’m laughing and she laughs, also. Then she says that the main character's son, Zephyr (cool name, I tell her), is modeled after her own son. She says her son is one of her main advisors and is helping with the book. I think that’s great, I tell her. She sounds pleased to have my approval.
We chat a bit more about her schedule and hopes for completion. Turns out Clara has just started a few days ago but is writing every day and she says “it’s going fast.”
She promises to keep me posted, to give me a copy to review for errors before she submits it and to give me a published or ebook copy when it comes out. She seems so confident I get caught up in her excitement. I tell her yes, please, call again if she has more questions, and, yes, keep me posted. I agree to fact-check her chapters that include my character and she is very grateful. She keeps thanking me and then we hang up.
So, that was today. Can’t say it was just another day, right?
“Beware the Ides of March!” Whenever I write this date, I have to say that. Shades of my high school English teacher, who told us “Shakespeare really owns this date.” It’s the day Brutus kills Caesar, in his play, Julius Caesar. She put a question about that date in our test and I never forgot it.
Well, I should “beware” for sure. I haven’t written in a while because not much has happened and I don’t write every day. But last night…There must be an Ides of March Eve or something, right?
She called again. Clara emailed, I emailed back and then she called. The writer, with the aliens. I called her back, just now, since I was in up to my elbows in stuffed peppers when she called.
When she answers she sounds kind of excited. I ask how she is, and she says she is fine and happy. It’s hard not to get caught up in her feeling; she’s very compelling. I find I have to force myself to breathe more slowly to counteract her hyperventilating. She says that she always has time for me and thanks me effusively for calling her back. I feel pleased to be appreciated.
I ask what’s going on? She congratulates me on the cover story I just had about two weeks ago, in the local alternative newsweekly. I’m surprised she noticed. I thank her. She says it was “just in time” because she needed to “see my style” and know how to “write like me” for one of her Chapters. Now, I’m intrigued. We chat a while about writing styles. Then, she asks if I ever freelance for women’s magazines, like Oprah’s “O,” and I say, “not usually.” I don’t say what I usually say when anyone asks why I don’t write for these kinds of media: I wouldn’t waste my time with a superficial media conglomerate magazine read by a bunch of housewives. I am trying to become a real journalist here!
Then, she tells me she has finished the first draft of the book. The whole book. More than 20 Chapters, about 300 pages, she estimates. Clara just contacted me a little over a month ago and now it’s finished? I tell her that I’m impressed.
So, is she bipolar and this is from one of her manic phases? Can’t really ask that, can I? How does anyone write an entire book in 4 weeks? I hope she’s not one of those “channelers.” ¡PUAF! [YUCK!] Too many of those woo-woos in California, still. I have to check her out.
While we’re talking, I grab my tablet and Google her. Oh. She really has a Ph.D. There’s her dissertation. And, some of her ‘blogs, for nonprofits, about fundraising or grants. Seems normal enough. Still… something feels off, here. My antennae are UP. I will definitely ask around about this woman.
Here is another part of our conversation and what came after. I’m kind of quoting, here.
“They will come back,” she says. I am stumped.
“Who will come back, where?” I ask.
“The members of the Collective. They will come back several times after the first time, right away. They will tell the main character that she has to get back in touch with you and bring you ‘on board,’ as they say,” she explains.
I feel a cold tingle go down my spine. “Clara,” I say, tentatively, “I thought you were writing a novel?”
She tells me that, yes, she is writing a novel, but that a lot of it is true. “It’s nonfiction inside fiction,” she explains, “Kind of like In Cold Blood, you know? Truman Capote?”
I tell her I do know what she means, genre-wise, but not alien-wise. She is quiet for a while, and then she asks me, “If they come in December, for the first time, right near Christmas Day, are you around? How soon, or what day after Christmas, would you be able to come, with your equipment, meet them, to document and get the media connection started?”
I start to relax. “Oh,” I think, “she’s just doing some more fact-checking. Good.” I tell her that the paper where I freelance and my day job’s office (where I earn real money) are both closed from Saturday, December 23, 2012 – Tuesday, January 2, 2013, so I, or my character, really, could come on or after Wednesday, January 3, 2013. I explain that I’ll probably go to Mexico or Brazil for the holidays; I have family in both places, I tell her.
“Maybe the character can do that too?” she asks me.
I say, “Sure! Why not?” And we both laugh.
She says, “Perfect!” and talks excitedly about how far she’s come with the project, how many chapters she’s already written (she’s done with all the first drafts and revisions of many, which amazes me, I tell her), and all the research she’s been doing on various parts, but she is not specific and I don’t press for details. I’m just glad she’s not nuts.
She asks me how I’ve been, I tell her I’ve been fine and a bit busy. We chat a bit more and agree to talk again when she has more questions. She wants to send me some chapters, copy for me to review.
OK, I tell her. Send pieces by email? Sure. No problem. I’m kind of glad Clara called. I’m still interested in her book and kind of looking forward to reading it. But, she says she’s only sending me certain chapters, for now, the ones “my” character is involved in, or ones she says need my "journalistic eye" for facts/details checking. I’ll get on that right away, I imagine.
Wow! My character, Esperanza Enlaces, wins a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism next year. How fresh is that? Clara is really a good writer, I'm somewhat relieved to report. I enjoyed what she sent me so much I wished she had sent it all! I am eager to read the rest, now, but she wants me to wait until she either has an agent or publisher and it’s in a more final form. I’m a bit disappointed, but what can I do? I hope she finds a way to get this published. She told me she plans to tell the story across ten books, and other people might write parts or all of some of the books. Interesting concept.
Turns out we have some mutual friends. A writing buddy of mine is partnered with someone Clara is working with, a nonprofit she volunteers for, locally. Small world. I asked Mark about Clara. He said she’s "interesting," and he’s heard about her book. So, that’s good. I mean, another way to check: she’s not nuts. Mark’s partner, Angela, is the Executive Director of that nonprofit Clara volunteers for. Mark tells me Angela raves about how helpful Clara has been, that she’s quite experienced in nonprofit management, that Angela sees her as a mentor and really likes her. Stuff like that. I believe I can relax more, now. Clara seems to check out all right.
BTW: I don’t remember telling Clara that I keep a journal, or that I don’t write in it every day. So, Espe does; I was more than surprised to find that “Espe’s” journal style and entries are uncannily like mine. Or, like mine would be, if I were in that situation. She even has something like these last few entries in the Chapters she sent me.
I must have told her about it. My journal. I must have.
I wrote that last line today, December 23, 2012. This is my first entry since March. I meant it when I told her I don't write in my journal all that often.
I got an email from that Clara Branon today, the writer with the aliens novel. I check my email as I am waiting to board my flight to Rio for the holidays. In it, she writes,
“Hi, Espe! I hope you’re doing well and on your way to some well-earned time off and sun down south. I’m ready for our next call when you get back. Would you be willing to come over to my house, in Kirov, and bring your recording and documenting equipment, as we talked about, some time on January 3? That would be so great. I would really appreciate it. I could give you lunch or tea or something. It would take about two hours. It would really help me if I could see how it all would work and we can kind of do a ‘dry run,’ you know? What do you think?”
I get that cold tingle, again, as I read this. “Something is up with this woman,” I think. “What am I getting myself into?” I feel my antennae start to rise, again.
I am sitting here, feeling very weird, kind of hot, then cold, and not knowing how I want to respond to this request. On the one hand, I consider, she did tell me that some of her novel is “real,” so maybe my coming out there with equipment and doing a “dry run” is the “real” part. I mean, it’s not as if I’ll have anything actually to be recording or videotaping, right? Right? RIGHT????? SHIT!
No fucking way.
Even if this were happening, how would she have been able to call me about this, about the aliens’ coming to visit her, almost a year ago, and be writing about it all this time, before it actually happens? Or seems to happen. SHIT.
She must be nuts. But she seemed so not nuts. And, Mark and Angela know her…
Clara gave me those chapters to review months ago, like, in March. Not much to read, really, just a few chapters. I reviewed them and they all seemed fine. I emailed them back to her with comments, and she used all my suggestions, even quotes I gave her. I like how she takes my feedback! Very grateful, professional.
We met for coffee in April to have our first face-to-face. Clara is an Anglo, Jewish-Buddhist (she says “Jew-Boo,” and laughs), about my mom’s age, I guess. She laughs a LOT. Kind of fat (not to be unkind, but the woman is ROUND), very short. Light blue eyes, the kind that get very light as the person ages. Curly hair, blondish and brownish, mixed, not much gray. I tell her she doesn’t look as old as my mom, who is 55. She says, kind of proudly, that she’s almost 58.
She is very tan. I ask about that and she tells me she is an outdoor swimmer, year-round. I tell her that I am impressed.
Clara explains, “Not so impressive, really. The pool is heated and it’s mostly sunny here, every day.” She loves to swim, she tells me, but, also, she has a bad leg and can’t do much else for exercise.
Clara is easy to talk to, a good listener. She takes notes as we talk. I ask her what she’s writing down, and she says, “I’m trying to get the rhythm of your speech, the way you phrase things, so when I write conversations that my characters have, your part will be more realistic.” I smile and agree that speech is hard to capture and dialogue is hard to write. She asks if I’d say something in Spanish, then Portuguese, then English, so she can hear me in all three languages. I say:
“I’m thinking of getting my hair cut and colored.”
“Estoy pensando en cortary colorear el cabello.”
“Estou pensando em comecar e coloração el cabelo.”
She makes some more notes, and then says, “Cortarse el pelo más corto podría ser agradable. ¿De qué color?” [Cutting your hair shorter could be nice. What color?]
This surprises me, since she hadn’t told me she knew any Spanish. I respond, “Más rojo.” [redder]. She nods, approvingly.
I tell her that her vocabulary and grammar are good, but that her accent is weird, and she laughs: “Missouri and Southern Jewish!” She explains that she doesn’t really know much Spanish, anymore, but can speak and read, even write (with Google Translates’ help, she jokes), but doesn’t understand when people speak unless they speak very slowly and use words she happens to know. We talk a bit more about how I learned Portuguese (Brazilian relatives and many visits to Rio).
She said didn’t have the whole novel finished, yet, but she’s very close. She lets me know that the part that involves my character’s meeting the “members of the Collective” (that’s what she called them), has to “wait a while” so she will get back to me when she is “more ready.”
We chat for about half an hour and then I gather my things ‘cause I have to go back to work. She thanks me, again, touching my hand. She pays the check and leaves a nice tip. I notice these things. Very sweet, really.
Not at all nuts. No nutty vibes. I would know. I would.
Then, Clara lowers her voice, looks around to make sure no one can hear her, and says to me: “You’ll get to meet them. I promise!” She gives me her smile, again, lets me go and walks calmly out, as if all she said was “¡Hasta la vista!” I am so stunned, I can’t even reply.
She seemed fine, but then…. Maybe she’s just kidding with me. Sometimes you can’t tell with someone you don’t know that well, when they’re joking, right? She said it was a novel! Didn’t Mark say Clara was really funny? I think he did. I’m trying to remember.
I’m sitting here, writing this in the airport, and kind of freaking out a bit. I remind myself to breathe deeply.
They call my flight.
She’s getting “more ready” by having me come out there. That’s all, I tell myself. Research. That’s all it could be. Really. REALLY.
I just sit, thinking for a minute, and then shake my head. “’Chica,’” I tell myself, “you are so over the top, here.” I look around the airport, SFO. It all seems so, well, normal. It calms me. I get my head back in the game.
I write her back, a brief email:
“Hi, Clara, Good to hear from you. Yes, on my way to Rio. Will call when I get back. I can come January 3. Tea sounds great.
Happy New Year!
I press SEND, turn off my phone, finish this entry and go get in line to board my flight.
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