I'm still trying to figure out if I think it's fun and magical to write. That's my ideal. But a lot of times it's work. Why is it that every time I go back to something I've written, I think it needs more polishing? Today I'm feeling that writing is very hard, and you have to keep your wits about you with every word you put down. My story is one of reinvention, and as I tell my story of self-reinvention, I keep reshaping what it is I'm trying to say. Here is how I currently describe what my book's about:
Born and bred in Chicago, I was a nice Midwestern girl—a good girl—who had always followed the rules and listened to what my family and friends told me to do. Even as a fun-loving single woman pursuing a career in New York, I had diligently paid my dues and waited patiently for recognition from both men and my employers. Where did this leave me? Forty years old—I wasn’t so young anymore—and grappling with the misfortunes of a discontented heart. The end of my loveless marriage had left me with no man, no child, no job and no home. In the sweepstakes of American life on the cusp of a new millennium, I was a loser, a big zero—less than zero, actually, when you count in my credit card debt.
But I radically turned my life around and regained my lost happiness. How? By running away to England and France and studying the lives of the most notorious women in history. Bad girls. Specifically, I was looking for the most rebellious, independent, sexy, adventurous, egotistical, charming, manipulative, self-sufficient and promiscuous women I could possibly find. After an extensive search, here's who I found:
Original bad girl the Empress Theodora of Constantinople
Courtesan extraordinaire Ninon de Lenclos
Proudly bigamous Duchess Elizabeth Chudleigh
Whip-cracking gold-digger Lola Montez
Free-loving and first-ever female candidate for US President Victoria Woodhull
Celebrated Victorian whore Catherine Walters
Hashish-smoking war correspondent Isabelle Eberhardt
Booze-swilling, bar-fighting blues diva Bessie Smith
Iconic actress and hell-raiser Mae West
Swedish actress and hell-raiser Mai Zetterling
And, of course, Catherine the Great
Becoming a Bad Girl: My Pursuit of Wicked Women is a book only I could write. It’s the story of what happened to me as I traveled in England and France, and how I tussled with the lives and loves of eleven truly outrageous women from the past. I immerse myself in their stories and try to live like them for a while—sometimes learning essential lessons and sometimes making ridiculous mistakes—and I emerge healed and full of spirit.Not only does the drama play off me, it has the added advantage of being true. During the time my story takes place, I reclaim my inner bad girl as I get a divorce, cry my eyes out, travel alone and restlessly, live out of a suitcase, lose twenty pounds, curse a lot, drink too much, improve my French, become financially independent, accept my child-free existence, call myself an artist, flirt for the fun of it, and fall in love with a man seventeen years younger than me.
Part memoir, part biography, my book features me as the main character during the last five years of my life, with each bad girl making an appearance as an unconventional teacher and idiosyncratic guide over the course of my narrative. I ask myself, “What if?” and “What would the bad girls do?” I explore each life and try to learn from it, thinking about what a bad girl is and how she got that way, and then I turn the same questions on myself.