I find it difficult to believe that India is a fictional character she has become such a part of my life. Once I had the outline for the plot, I created a Facebook page for her and within a few weeks she had more “friends” than I did. I had mixed feelings about this, but then she was single, young, beautiful, and funny so I had to get over myself. I lived vicariously through her, upgrading her status regularly; how it was going with Adam, the gorgeous hot perfectly sculpted actor she was dating. I posted photographs of them running along the beach or at a party at Chateau Marmont. My friends would ask “How’s India?” more often than they’d say, “How’s the writing going?”
Much of the story is visual and carried by dialogue:
Blowing on her coffee as she sat at the kitchen desk, India loaded Google onto the wide-screen Mac and typed in “Adam Brooks.”
“Shit!” she muttered, wiping hot coffee off Annie’s glasses case and turning back to the screen.
“Oh my God!” There was a photo of Adam striding out of the ocean like some sea god, toting a surfboard, his six-pack glistening in the sun, his wetsuit clinging to his thighs. Skimming through the info on his career, she read: “Born in 1965, film actor, best known for his portrayal of…” She moved ahead to “Personal Life.”
“Briefly married in 1993 to Chloe Depardu, the French TV presenter… FRENCH TV presenter?” she muttered. “This is bad … really bad.”
Yanking her phone out of her dressing-gown pocket, she speed-dialed Sarah.
“It’s me again. Okay, I’m online and I just found out Adam was married to some basket-carrying, scarf-tying French TV presenter. If she couldn’t hold on to him, what chance have I got?”
“Breathe,” Sarah said calmly. “Breathe.”
“Sarah, nobody loses out to a French woman. It’s just one of those rules.”
“Maybe she left him? Did you think of that?”
“That’s even worse. He’s probably still trying to get over her and listening to some Carla Bruni CD as we speak.”
“Hang on, India. I’m googling. Aha! Scroll down the page. See? It was EIGHT years ago. That’s practically the Paleolithic Age in Hollywood. I bet he doesn’t even remember what she looks like…”
“Oh my God! Check out her boobs,” India muttered. “He’ll remember those for sure. Shit. It’s almost ten o’clock and I’m not even dressed.”
“Go for it, girl.” Sarah laughed as they both clicked off.
India’s quest is driven by my belief in the importance of listening to the inner voice that tells us when it is time to make a shift; time to fight through our fears and take a leap.
India has spent sixteen years teaching grade school in London. She is desperate to reinvent herself but has no sense of direction. When she takes a literal leap across twenty feet of burning coals, it becomes a metaphor for her life:
FACEBOOK STATUS – If you can’t do it in high heels, I’m not interested.
The crowd was howling her name.
She was vaguely aware of an arm. Yes, it was definitely an arm. She could feel it steadying her, pushing her toward the searing heat. Then came the pounding beat of a medieval drum. She took a deep breath, a very deep breath. There was this weird tingling between her legs. And she was dizzy. Oh my God! The adrenaline. Like swallowing a Motorhead cocktail.
I can’t do this. I can’t do this, she thought.
Yes you can! YES! YES! shouted another inner voice. Focus … Focus.
What is it you really want? Think.
So she thought: tall, fit, rich, funny, a cross between Orlando Bloom and Hugh Jackman…
“Don’t look down! Don’t look down!”
Then she heard another voice. “What’s your name?”
“Are you ready?”
“Yes!” she yelled.
“Louder, I can’t hear you.”
“YES!” she screamed.
She was burning up. She was on fire.
Suddenly, as her feet were plunged in a bucket of ice-cold water, she was clinging to a volunteer like a koala on a gum tree. She had made it. And one by one, every member of her team charged across the bed of burning hot coals into the arms of other volunteers. And within minutes, it was over. Weeks and weeks of planning, and it was over.
For one brief moment she stood there: the very image of everything she wanted to be—a valedictorian, a woman in control of her destiny; her olive skin glowing, her dark eyes shining with intensity, her chestnut hair piled high on her head. Then, overwhelmed with emotion, India started leaping up and down, sobbing, hugging all the kids around her, and waving triumphantly at the cameras.
“We did it! We did it,” she cried, rivulets of mascara streaking her cheeks, sweat pouring down her long arms. “Amazing, unbelievable, and I am never, I repeat, never, doing that again!”
When I am at my most insecure, I can become critical and resentful of other people. Maybe it’s because they appear to have something I want. At these times, it takes me a while to work out why I am feeling so intense or angry. This is how India feels after a week surrounded by Hollywood’s A-list over achievers. Why is she never “enough?” Why was it so easy for her sister? How come she is still single? Why is everyone else so ‘ certain?’ India lets rip at her sister Annie, who responds:
“India… What is your problem, exactly? We make you feel at home in our house. We throw dinners to entertain you. We work bloody hard to get everything we have. Maybe I should give you the name of a good plastic surgeon. So he could operate on that enormous chip on your shoulder.”
India felt utterly deflated. She’d been tactless, graceless. Maybe it was jet lag; that eight-hour time difference finally hitting her. Maybe it was culture shock or PMS. Maybe she was just a jealous bitch.
India debated about whether to share her real feelings with her sister. If only she could slip into my skin, the way she does with all those characters on-screen, she thought, maybe she’d understand. There was no excuse for such a cruel outburst and certainly not in front of the children. But Annabelle knew nothing about how demoralizing teaching had become; the endless paperwork, all the testing-standard forms and how difficult it was; to be nearly forty and still unattached, to live from hand to mouth on a salary that made even the idea of buying a pair of Louboutins laughable…
Living life in the fast lane in Los Angeles, I learned quickly that nobody “has it all.” Behind the veneer of opulence and privilege is a world much like anywhere else. Many of our friends live their lives in the glare of the media. The reality is very different from how it is portrayed in the press. I wanted to write about my town in a way that shone a light on some of the universal issues that affect us all. I wanted to debunk the myth that this is simply Tinsel Town. One of the central characters who becomes close to India is her sister’s friend Lizzie:
Lizzie felt so defeated, so empty, after Fran’s luncheon with Stan that her head throbbed. When she’d seen him flirting shamelessly with yet another hot blonde starlet, she’d done something that was totally against her own rules. She left. She left without even saying goodbye. With the car windows wide open, she drove straight toward the ocean at Santa Monica and parked. Breathing in the sea air and watching the neon lights of the merry-go-round, she tried to put her thoughts and her feelings into some kind of order.
Lizzie had always known that Stan was driven, fiercely ambitious. He’d graduated cum laude from Harvard and wasted no time taking advantage of his contacts, building up a law practice so quickly and successfully, people were still stunned. She also knew that his first wife, Joan, had wasted no time in divorcing him. Especially after discovering his affair with her best friend and the godmother of her children. The divorce settlement became the talk of the town and was on record as the craziest payout in the history of Hollywood philandering.
Looking back now, Lizzie understood that Stan had set about finding himself a new wife the same way he might have bought a racehorse.
Ten years ago, on the last day of our family summer vacation, I walked alone along the ocean’s edge in Malibu. I waded ankle deep into the water and began to cry my heart out. I knew I didn’t want to go back to England. This was where I belonged. We flew back to London the next day, and within six months we had emigrated. It happened that fast.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I realize I came to California to be a writer. I began sending long e-mails to my friends back in England, and soon I had a wealth of true stories larger than life. I also had two culture-shocked teenagers, and writing kept me relatively sane. Many of the women in India’s Summer are struggling parents trying to do the best they can for their kids:
“You’re dealing with ‘millennials,’” she told the group. “There’s absolutely no way millennials think the way we do. Okay, I know, it’s California.” She smiled. “But even if we’re not owning up to our age, we are a different generation, mostly Gen Xers. It’s another world. We’re a long way from the days when you worried about your mom finding your diary or waited for your prints to come back from CVS.”
“That’s for sure,” A tiny thirty something woman with a spray-on tan agreed.
“Just look how the Internet’s changed everything,” India said. “These kids are their own brand, with their own fan clubs living in cyberspace. They’re communicating with each other at the speed of light but hardly communicating with us at all.”
A petite redhead in a plaid skirt and butter leather jacket murmured, “So true. My daughter, for instance, wouldn’t dream of ever answering her phone when I call. She texts, if I’m lucky.”
“They can create their own movies and star in them,” India added. “They can disappear into a labyrinth of untraceable connections. So how do we watch them? What can we do?” She paused. “And you know what’s the scariest part of all? We pretend that it isn’t happening and try to relate to them the same way our parents did with us.”
“We all feel so helpless inside and yet we pretend we’re doing great,” Farrah, volunteered. “We might be falling apart, but you’d never know it from the speeches at the bar mitzvahs or sweet-sixteen parties.”
I’ve always been intrigued by social mobility; how we dress to impress or to look “casual.” As I travel the world, my favorite pastime is people-watching; observing dress codes and guessing the hidden social signals. India’s internal dialogue probably betrays more about me than I would wish to share:
India splashed her face and straightened her hair in a bathroom. She had opted for a white linen shirt, black capri pants, and flat leather moccasins. This was working beautifully, or so she thought, until Annie reappeared in a heavily jeweled Tory Burch smock, meticulously ripped blue jeans, and high, gold, strappy Jimmy Choo sandals.
“Come on, darling. Joss and the girls are bursting to see you,” Annie said, grabbing her hand and leading India down the stairs and into the garden.
A woman passed by in a long sequined evening dress, also wearing emerald earrings and a choker of enormous black pearls. Obviously this “California Casual” look doesn’t come cheap, India thought, and began speculating on the total cost, starting with the woman’s highlighted hair, her makeup, manicure, pedicure, shoes, handbag, and jewelry. She’d reached a rough estimate of $5,500 and was about to start on Annie, when she was interrupted by a shout from Joss.
He raced across the garden and lifted her up off the ground for a hug as she threw her arms around him.
“My favorite, favorite sister-in-law,” he said, planting a kiss on her cheek.
“Your only sister-in law,” India replied. “Now unhand me or people will start tweeting about us.”
“Ah. Yes. The sign. Last time we had a party it was all over TMZ as it was happening! You can’t be too careful in this town, believe me.”
“Ha!” India replied. A woman in a low-cut, skintight mini dress and eight-inch platform heels teetered by. India whispered: “That’s some outfit for a barbecue! Annie said this was going to be really casual for just a few friends.”
Writing India’s Summer has been a labor of love for me. I miss her already. I wonder where she will spend next winter?