Two years later, every cent was gone, the majority of it collateral damage from the 9/11 attacks: €75,000 I'd never see again. Nobody's fault but mine for risking a loan to a good friend. This demolished my book project, which depended on several visits to the U.S. In short order, other dominos fell: the two American publications I'd done the highest-profile work for suddenly wanted nothing more to do with me, this time not my doing, but the result of office politics in newsrooms thousands of miles away. Other office politics ended my radio shows, which I loved doing despite the fact they didn't pay very well; all the deejays on the station were fired.
Over the next two years, I learned how to live on nothing. Literally. There was a year in which I did no work at all of any consequence, falling seriously behind on my rent, living from the deposit on bottles I collected on the streets and more than once taking food from the dumpster in front of my apartment. I did the occasional proof-reading and editing job, and lived off occasional gifts from friends. A relationship which seemed to actually be turning into one turned weird when the woman in question disappeared -- for three months. Welcome to extreme binge alcoholism. I'd never met one of those before. I started a blog because some well-meaning folks convinced me it would help me get work. It didn't, but I met some interesting folks through it.
Through a chance encounter which dovetailed with a fantasy I'd had of moving to France (but not to Paris), I started to think about moving to Montpellier. Then I visited and started to think harder. But how to raise the money? I got to work on a book based on my blog, which, after a year's development, got the angriest, nastiest rejection letter I've ever gotten, from the head of non-fiction at a major publisher, someone I'd always considered a friend. Literary agents looked at it and scratched their heads. I gave up. At the start of 2008 I moved to a cheaper apartment, which enabled me to save a little.
Then, that summer, a friend contacted me: would I be willing to ghostwrite a memoir for someone? I would, indeed, I replied, and contacted the guy. We soon set a fee of $30,000, which seemed fair because his dyslexia showed up plenty in what he was writing, to the point where I often had to guess at what he was trying to say. He explained at the beginning that he'd have to pay me in six installments, and I agreed to it. With the first one I moved to Montpellier, and with the second I opened a bank account, got a telephone, and all the other crapola which attends to a move to a new place.
The third never came. Three months of work, including hurry-up editing of six chapters he wanted to show to publishers, wasn't paid for. He announced he was going to sue me. I'd predicated the whole move on the fee for this book, and now I was dealing with a crazy person. Would I never learn? But, while my lawyer was writing letters, I was learning about life in France, and discovered that I enjoyed it. Then, in the spring, I caught a cold, which cut off my sense of smell and taste. The cold left, but the sense never really returned, except during the hours between approximately 11am and 7pm. I was surrounded by glorious food and wine which I couldn't taste.
The end of 2009 found me looking over the carnage of my profession, dreaming up a new way to do the Berlin book thanks to a fan letter from an expert on the city which came out of the blue via Facebook, happy that the tyranny the United States had endured for eight years was at an end, writing the Berlin book a bit at a time almost every day, and, on the last day, reading a letter from a lawyer saying that my former benefactor was filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and if I had any claims, I had to file them. So there's a little justice there, anyway.
I started the 00s flush with funds, clearing away my old life. I end them broke (but not poor) and ready to continue with my new one, having no expectations, neither optimistic nor pessimistic, just determined. There's a lot I need to get done, and not all of it is dependent on having the finances. I just take things a day at a time, which is, really, all any of us can do.
Thanks to one and all who've been reading. I hope this coming year will allow me to regain my faculties (the nose doctor has put me on a three-month drug regimen, the second month of which has just started, and yes, there's tiny improvement), and I intend to keep up those day-trips every time I get a check. Which, actually, I just have, from the Oxford American, so I'm headed off to Béziers sometime next week, weather permitting.
Will 2010 be better than 2009? Who can say? I hope not, but see above about expectations.