Sunday, September 11, 2011
How to be a Homeless Frenchman (Part 1 of 2) by Paula Lee
-From How to Be a Homeless Frenchman, 2011
Everybody has a story. Even boring people have tales to tell. In times of quiet, confessions spill. “I’m afraid of giraffes.” “My wedding dress was a rental.” “I hoard lentils.” “I used to be homeless.” Excuse me? Not ‘homeless’ in an angst-ridden teenager way, but actually out on your ass and living hard in the street? On the one hand, it’s extraordinary that so many Americans have homes to lose in the first place. A testimony to modern laws that make it possible for ordinary citizens to own real estate. On the other hand, the loss of a house to debt, foreclosure, or random acts of God prompts few to celebrate the end of feudalism. But this is silly, you say. Homelessness isn’t about losing a house. It’s really about having no place to live.
“I’m homeless” is a statement of individual loss. “I have no place to live” is a confession of a deep and terrible truth. For it is true of all of us, going straight to the heart of what we like to claim is the “human difference,” a difference insisted upon for hundreds of years as the bedrock concept of civilization. We are the opposite of nature. We conquer and subdue. For we are superior to nature, and here is the iPod as proof! When humans become homeless on this engineered earth, they are as holes poking through the lovely fictions that make electric dreams come true.
I hear the phrase, “I used to be homeless” a lot: pearls falling from the most unlikely mouths. The stock boy. The stock broker. The socialite and her son. Listen, and you will hear tales of troubles fallen upon your nice neighbor and, maybe, the pretty girl sitting next to you as you wait for your teeth to be cleaned. In my case, it was my brother-in-law who’d lived on the streets, and his story was so uncommon, so surprising that it turned itself into a book. How to Be a Homeless Frenchman hopes to change the dialogue on homelessness by insisting that joy is not a commodity, and that laughter is everywhere, even in a homeless shelter. Strange times call for stranger solutions. So let me tell you a story that begins once upon a time and ends the way all stories do – not with a happy ending, but when we close the book.
How to Be a Homeless Frenchman by Paula Lee is now available to order online at www.harvardbooks.com, and a www.wellesleybooksmith.com via special order/phone only, 781-431-1160. An e-book Kindle version is currently available on www.amazon.com. Part II of this blog entry by Paula will appear shortly.