License to drive

As an old Brazilian poet once said, “First and foremost, Brazilians are strong,” something like that.

Frankly, one can have no peace in this life. I spent all week gathering material to write a light, funny chronicle, with colorful victory tones, and behold, the rug was pulled out from underneath me with the news of mass layoffs in O Globo, “Brazil’s largest newspaper,” according to their own slogan.

Although feeling safe from such misfortunes, conveniently protected in a “foreign” land, I could not help being affected. I may not be the one who was fired, but I suffered (almost) the same.

(Incidentally, I apologize, but I need a mischievous parenthesis down here. Every time a person who once rejected me, or tried to act “superior” around me, suffers a setback for whatever reason, I tell myself very quietly: Right, John Doe has lost his job, he was ostracized, and I’m still here… Except in this case of O Globo I regarded the victims as friends, nice people.)

After all, I’m not simply lying around the house while waiting for this growing misery to hit me directly, in case, for example, the government decides to stop ordinary Brazilian citizens from publishing their books. The catastrophic currency devaluation is troubling enough, haunting me routinely even from this distance. So you can have an idea, since we moved to the United States, less than a year ago, our poor real had lost 70% of its value against the dollar, oh my.

Along with the sadness concerning the situation of my friends from Globo, my eternal dream of being a columnist there was also given a coup de grâce. So much emotion wasted on this project, and now it’s over.

Yes. I am far away. It is more than time to move on, and I’m on it. How else would I protect myself from turning into a pillar of salt?

This week, imagine, I was finally granted the status of “adult” in the United States. You might remember that shortly after my arrival, exactly 10 months and 14 days ago, I had failed a driving test in South Carolina, and, as a result, received a learner’s permit that allowed me to drive with an adult by my side — a deep humiliation I was forced to cope with, there was no way out.

It was so traumatizing that I barely approached a wheel during all this time, but the damn permit was only valid for a mere 12 months; I would soon have to face this new elephant in the room, what a fucked-up herd, I feel massacred all the time, not a relaxed second so far!

Anyway, this kind of torment was also about to end. I engaged in a driving school, had a two-hour intensive class and the next day, finally, I passed the test, my friends. From then on, it was a piece of cake; I had my picture taken at the local DMV and left the office with license in hand, chip and all. Technology! Did not have to wait another day!

Now, ironic as it may be, while O Globo was being reduced to rubble without my knowing, I was invited to be a columnist for a local quarterly magazine. In English!

As you well know, to become an American writer has been my latest bold dream, doomed to what I do not know, all I know is that I continuously force myself into dreaming, breaking my back in order to grow; and the only way to do it is that old-fashioned way I have shared before with my “editees” and fellow writers: Writing, writing, writing.

I was happy beyond measure. I quickly edited a chronicle to comply with the requirements — word count, subject, etc. — and emailed it just in time, as it is my style: Stick-in-the-mud.

Nevertheless, in a short while I was in for an unpleasant surprise, as the magazine’s editor forwarded to me her proofreader’s remarks. Seriously, I don’t recommend the risk of switching sides, for you can end up being deeply hurt.

I don’t know if the woman was going through PMS or what, but look what I had to endure, the endearing terms in which I was described: “She goes off on tangent after tangent and she does not link them together well. And her sentences are far too long.  She writes like she’s having a crazy conversation with a girlfriend.” That was not all: “Again this is very unprofessional. I don’t think she is a writer. This is a very difficult thing for me to edit, and it’s taking me a long time to try to make sense of it. It has nothing to do with the language — it is her incoherent thoughts all over the place.”

Caramba. Imagine where I would be if I treated my authors this way, with such warmth of heart.

One of the things that she did (not) understand was who was getting married to whom in my story; she thought it was me, therefore hurriedly labeling me as a “bigamist.” But here is how the chronicle began, I swear, without changing it a bit: “My son is getting married.”

What troubled me the most is the fact that Alan has been tense lately, and maybe because of that the proofreader’s criticism fitted him like a glove. That is (and here come those “incoherent thoughts” again), it fitted like a glove the daily criticism he delivers in a very loud voice, to say the least. For him, I am intrinsically “stupid and a failure,” my writing being a total waste; moreover, “I don’t speak English, let alone write,” among other things I’d rather keep to myself.

“What she said is exactly what I think of your chronicles,” he uttered.

Oh well. I’d better stop right now.

To make a long story short (I’ll cry a bit and will be right back): As soon as I was able to breathe and digest all that shit (pardon my French) shoved down my throat without mercy, I could finally read the proofreader’s “work.” There were few alterations, all quite acceptable, with the only exception, of course, of what she did to make it very clear to the dear reader that I was getting married to Alan — all this, 35 years ago, when I was finally about to “break the deadlock” and my mother recommended that I elope. Did you notice my efforts to make better sense?

Okay, never mind. I approved the chronicle right away and emailed it to the editor, bringing this painful chapter to a close. But not before searching on Facebook to find out that my latest archenemy is an “Obituary Editor,” and she does not mean beautiful obituaries of very special people — like the one of Oliver Sacks written by Gregory Cowles in the New York Times — but of meaningless, little people, plain domestic cadavers lacking any brilliance, buried discreetly in some forgotten little town in the United States. There. Revenge.

The good thing in all this mess is that, before acting like a licensed adult — accepting the criticism, packing it in and starting to work even more on improving myself — I reached the following conclusion: At this point in my life, I write exclusively out of love, not for money or fame, but to express something that insists on spilling out of my insane, fervently active mind. That’s all. This recent crazy idea of translating myself into English is just another step on my hard trajectory, in which I certainly do not try to avoid any challenge; on the contrary, I keep creating new ones and submitting myself to them with a joyful heart.

In short, I don’t give myself a break.

At any rate, now, more than ever, I envision myself as perfectly capable of driving my own life, be it in South Carolina or anywhere else in the world, I wonder if that sounds successful enough.


About the Author
Noga Sklar was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1952. She grew up in Belo Horizonte and lived for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, a city she left behind to take refuge in a paradise among the mountains of Petropolis. Noga met her American husband Alan Sklar in 2004, through the American Jewish dating site JDate. This meeting gave new impetus to her life and literary career, inspiring her first novel, “No degrees of separation” (to be published in English in 2016. She now lives in Greenville, SC, US, where she moved with her husband in October 2014.