In the New York Times
Let’s face it, no one can claim that I’m not daring, chutzpah being my middle name. Since I can remember, and even before that, I always saw myself (voluntarily?) stuck in challenges, stressful situations, far beyond my ability to cope. And there’s trauma. My excuse is that such boldness “makes me grow.”
I remember to this day, for example, my first day at the school of architecture in Rio, after a painful transfer. Forget the glory of being a successful chronicler from Minas Gerais living in Rio de Janeiro. At the time, I didn’t know anything about that, just had “heart” to see myself as a perfect fool in the midst of the carioca avant-garde, and the reaction came soon.
One of the most charming men of our class, who soon after, of course, became my best friend (it may seem so, but I don’t play to lose), looked at me with that look of disgust, not exactly at me, but at the wide and flowered dress I was wearing. What a horror! What a hick!
I’m not even going to waste time telling you that, years later, there I was at the forefront in Rio, head half shaved (the tattoos only came later), dressed in black from head to toe. Without exaggeration, in my closet all you could see was this absence of color, and even today, except an orange or other, considering “orange is the new black”, not by chance my favorite color.
Now, imagine that not satisfied to have migrated from Minas to Rio, I found myself years later tempted to immigrate to the United States, imagine again, the center of the civilized world, where I had lived since adolescence in the life of fantasy, rocked by rock and roll and Hollywood movies like everyone else I knew. And not pleased to have moved, how daring of me, it is clear that in spite of all Alan’s attempts to the contrary, my husband being increasingly macho and angry, I wouldn’t restrict myself to keep quiet in my corner. Never! I wouldn’t mind the wrong dress or the wrong accent, frankly, I’ve dealt with this my whole life, if you know what I mean.
I like to think that my literary musing, despite its “regional” tone, has an universal tendency, if not, what would be the point of writing? And I decided to go straight to the top: I wanted to be published in the NY Times, as I’ve said before.
I started by the online comments. Everything was fine at the time of the World Cup, while I was writing (critically) about Brazil, I had even been awarded one or two “NYT Picks”, which, although not any literary merit badge, have a very specific graphic design to look like that. After all, this is America, land of meritocracy, more on that later.
But, friends, it sufficed to aim a bit higher to precipitate the dégringolade (between you and me, I wonder if the etymology of this word has something to do with “gringo”, Latino “foreigner”). I began to realize that my sagacious comments on international policy never appeared on the site. I got desperate.
Don’t get me wrong, but my opinions are very important to me. And on that particular subject, I really wanted to be heard, since in a way it affected my other dear fatherland — the survival of the State of Israel. And more, it was about the protection, at a world level in my opinion, against the abuses of terrorism, against the absurdities of radical Islamists which I won’t take my space to specify, they are right there for everyone to reject if you will. If I didn’t speak out properly, certainly the United States, and with them the world, would plunge without salvation into an era of complete obscurantism, god forbid that fatal fall.
I researched thoroughly to find out what was wrong, because, according to the newspaper, a real person moderates all comments. Would I be overstepping in language? Would I have had serious problems to express myself? Alan has already alerted me to certain expressions that I’m used to, kind of “truck driver’s” English — learned from movies, of course — and that should not, under any circumstances, be uttered in the middle of “educated” people, flowered dress, you know; a real danger.
I tried again, this time with extra care in the choice of words and revising everything very carefully, stuck to dictionary and to some online grammar checker (I’m a very good speller in English, by the way, kind of an “idiot savant”). It was when it occurred to me another idea: maybe I was being automatically “filtered” by the “dot.br” in my email. Flowered dress, you know, there for everyone to see.
I put hands to work; after all, I have a blog in English and a dot.com domain “for English audiences”. And not only that, I have been dedicating myself intensely to the translation of my chronicles with professional assistance, although it is true that the pursuit of my “voice in English” ends up imposing itself to the original translation, I mean, the blame for the mistakes I make is all mine. All this, imagine, under the regular shitstorm of criticism that I’m subjected to domestically, morally massacred on a daily basis, forced to “swallow frog” — attention, translator, to keep the irony intact in this passage, “swallow frog” should be translated literally as “eat crow” — and get real about the absurdity of my “claims”.
I went to my profile in the NYT Times — I’ve been a subscriber for a long time —, and changed the contact data, to my dot.com email and the current address in Greenville, after all, I’m a resident now. And without losing a second I went back to the article in question, to include my manifestation.
Disappointment. The comments section was already closed. But there blinking, “temptation”, was the invitation: “letters to the editor”. I wrote. I emailed it. And forgot all about it, I wouldn’t be anxious nor spend my time with this nonsense, my editing office crowded and late as usual and a thousand other things to do just to keep up. I didn’t expect anything, besides being redirected to the “basket” section — excellent term borrowed from a fellow writer that, honestly, does not make any sense in English, “basket” and “6th” having exactly the same sound in Portuguese. Especially considering the letter was critical enough of Obama foreign policy, which, as everyone knows, the NY Times supports unconditionally, doesn’t even bother with the possible radical consequences.
But, to my surprise … in less than two days I received an email from the Letters Editor of the NY Times! And so began an editorial adventure, friends, I couldn’t imagine the care and attention that a simple letter to the editor could give rise to, and I’m sure it’s not any “thirdworldness” on my part. I googled the editor, Sue Mermelstein, who, trust me, is not a simple ignorant intern as in other newspapers that we know, but a literature major from Yale. We exchanged three other e-mails discussing the meaning and need of a single word, that is, I changed “sides” temporarily, and man, it was delightful.
Don’t get me wrong. I know very well that to publish a letter on a newspaper does not make anyone a writer. These are just ordinary people who often don’t have anything better to do, no greater pleasure in life than reading their own name published in a major newspaper (any similarity to this writer is not just a coincidence), even if it is in the section “Letters from readers”. But for me, coming from Belo Horizonte, a small town in the middle of Brazil where I spent my childhood — it’s true, it’s been a while since I left there, but, as everyone knows, we can leave Minas Gerais, but Minas Gerais never leaves us — to be published in the NY Times, I confess, was the greatest glory. And it was not just online, it was also on paper, not to mention that I finally had the pleasure of putting my toothpick to test the texture of the sunken cake the world had turn itself into.
Nor I will confess that this minimal victory cheered me up beyond belief to continue sending my chronicles in English to the newspaper, and here comes crow down the throat every week as the translated version gets ready. I don’t care. What if one day someone slips in the basket and actually reads my email… From which, incidentally, I’ve eliminated forever all vestiges of “dot.br”, one can never be too careful, you know.
Have a nice week!
Ah, the content of the letter, with the edition highlighted:
Yes, the vitriolic attacks on President Obama are disturbing and hurtful to the presidency and to the American people. But having been forced to listen for years to Republican commentators who highly disturbed me, owing to a strong difference in opinion inside my own home and marriage, here is what I have to say:
There are many among us who strongly supported President Obama not once, but twice, and saw our hopes for change fall to the ground. It is not that we don’t love diplomacy and desire peace. Simply, we regard Mr. Obama’s diplomatic efforts and foreign policy as weak and misguided, his attitudes as dubious, and some of his decisions as dangerous, to the United States and the Western world.
We pray it is not the case, that we are just mistaken, deceived by appearances, and by the theatrical actions that largely characterize politics nowadays.