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Jillian Lauren first caught my eye at a book launch party in Downtown Los Angeles. A mutual acquaintance introduced us, and the next thing I knew, we were in deep conversation about living and writing in LA, adoption, marriage and interfaith families. I felt an immediate kinship. Raised Jewish by a mother who had converted, I resonated with her story of adoption into a Jewish family and then marrying a Christian guy. The next day I told my sister in Chicago about our talk. She sensed my affinity for Jillian’s story and sent me her memoir.

Day tumbled into night tumbled into party time. I could barely change my shoes fast enough to keep up. When we dressed for the party, I chose my best suit because it was sexy and was actually the most expensive item of clothing I owned. I hoped it might inspire some confidence.

Destiny, Serena, and I waited for Ari in the foyer. As I grew accustomed to it, the house was looking less
like a palace and more like a banquet hall. I pictured a gaggle of bridesmaids posed on the staircase. But it was just the three of us, facing each other awkwardly, tallying up each other’s flaws and assets as we waited for Ari’s entrance. I figured that over Destiny and her acrylic claws, I had looks but not wildness. Over Serena and her china-doll eyes, I had smarts but not looks.

Serena leaned against a column opposite me. She was the blonde and I was the brunette. In the world of musical theater, she would be the soprano and I the alto. I was the one with the big ass who played her lines for laughs. Serena was the slender-waisted ingenue who got the guy in the end. I was Rizzo and she was Sandy. I was Ado Annie and she was what’s-her-name in the surrey. We faced off until, with a subtle shift in posture, she dismissed me as not much of a threat. One thing Sandy always forgets is that Rizzo has the best song in the show.

The palace was too far to walk, so we drove the golf carts that were parked in our carport. Ari drove with
Destiny and I hopped on with Serena, who silently steered through the winding, lit pathways, past the pools and tennis courts and palm trees. The air was humid and thick with the fragrance of tropical flowers. Not an hour out of the shower, I already felt sticky. My head raced with plans. I would make the best of my time here. I would improve my tennis game. I would get a tan. I would lose weight. And maybe I would even make a prince fall in love with me and my whole life would change in dazzling and unexpected ways. I longed for a magic pill to soothe the restlessness that prickled constantly under my skin. I’m not sure what made me think I’d find it in Brunei, but I wouldn’t be the first person who hoped to step off a plane on the other side of the world and discover their true self standing there waiting for them.

Up close the palace reminded me of a picture I had seen once of Hearst Castle, on the California Coast. There were gold domes, columns, and twin marble staircases that curved like ribbons up to the main entrance.

“We normally go in the side because it’s less of a hike, but I want you guys to see the entrance hall,” said
Ari. “I think you’ll like it.”

We were breathing hard when we reached the top of the stairs. We entered a cavernous cathedral of a room with a fountain at the center. I felt like I had walked onto the set of some 1930s MGM movie version of Salome. Surely a flock of harem-pants-clad showgirls was about to descend the stairs and launch into a Busby Berkeley dance number.

“It’s all real,” said Serena.

“Real what?”

“Like, the gold in the carpet is real gold. That ruby is a real ruby,” she said, pointing at a ceramic tiger that
stood near the fountain. The tiger held in its mouth a round, red stone the size of a tennis ball.

I spotted what looked like a Picasso directly across from the front door— also real, I assumed. We followed
Ari around a corner and there, where a hallway bisected the main foyer, a Degas ballerina sculpture stood on a pedestal, a little girl cast in bronze. She clasped her arms behind her back and pushed her chest out defiantly, her foot thrust in front of her in third position. It looked exactly like the one that I had loved visiting as a child, when my father would take me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on special Sundays to wander the wondrous galleries and then stuff ourselves with hot dogs on the steps. Each visit we chose a different gallery. We sat on a bench in front of a giant Jackson Pollock and looked for charging bulls and blooming irises and skywriters hiding in the paint splatter. We crossed our eyes and tried to reassemble the figures cut to pieces by Picasso. We stood washed in light next to the enormous wall of windows that faces
the Temple of Dendur and told stories of time travel. But at the end of the day we always visited my Degas ballerinas, numinous and frozen in time, pinned like butterflies to the wall.

When she caught me staring at the sculpture, Ari told me that Robin was an avid art collector. He had countless walls to decorate. Robin owned other palaces where he lived, still others where his three wives lived, whole office buildings where he conducted business, and hotels and estates in Singapore, London, and Los Angeles. But Ari informed me that some of his favorite art was right here. We were standing in the palace where he unwound every night, his sunny pleasure dome.

“Come on,” she said, with a hint of trepidation. “Let’s go in.”

We were so close I could have walked up and touched the Degas. In fact, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to do just that. I made a note to try to sneak back and do it sometime later. Like people touch the feet of Jesus on the Pietà and hope for a blessing, I would touch the feet of the dancer and hope for grace.

It sounds kind of loud where you are. What’s that music in the background?

I’m conducting this interview while waiting for an egregiously early flight from Kennedy to LAX. I believe that the song in the background is a smooth jazz version of Neil Young’s “Helpless, “ which may be one of the signals that the apocalypse is nigh, so this could be a short interview.

You’re right on the verge of the release of your first book. How does that feel?

It’s certainly exciting, but I’m a writer so I feel obliged to temper that excitement with equal parts anxiety and depressive defeatism. Mostly, it’s an extraordinary relief. I feel like I’m coming to the end of a particular cycle and I look forward to seeing what the next installment is going to be like.

Wow, that was a long awkward silence.

Sorry. Interviewing myself makes me feel put on the spot. I fell pressed to come up with deep and insightful questions. Instead my brain is making a noise that resembles the buzz of the lighting fixture in the crappy hotel I stayed at in NY.

How about just asking the question that you think interviewers are skirting around half the time? The one that goes like this: With your memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, aren’t you just a narcissistic opportunist who is exploiting not only your experiences as an international teenage prostitute but also your relationship with everyone you’ve ever known?

Not everyone I’ve ever known. But seriously, I think that’s a question I asked myself many times throughout the process of writing this memoir. What are my intentions? Am I telling this story in an effort to get to the heart of something more universal, or am I just splattering salacious details across the page? It was a question I asked and then eventually it was a question I had to discard, because too much introspection about purpose can be paralyzing. In the end, I just had to sit down and tell the story in the most honest way I knew how. I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide if the product of my efforts is meaningful or exploitative.

You talked with an impressively bright group of journalism students last night. What was the most difficult question they asked you?

It’s interesting that the stickiest part of the evening for me wasn’t their questions about sexually transmitted diseases or even about my strained relationship with my family as a result of this book’s imminent release. Rather, the most uncomfortable moment for me came when I was talking about the real narrative drive of the book being my struggle to love myself.  I told them that I felt confident saying that I’m a beautiful woman today. As I was saying it, I realized that, in fact, I didn’t feel at all confident. Self-acceptance remains an ongoing struggle in my life. I think that when reading a contemporary confessional memoir, the tendency is to expect some big lesson will be learned. A sense of resolution is important, but it can also be a reductive demand to make on a narrative. In Some Girls, I tried to clarify some questions rather than offer answers.

What is the significance of Patti Smith in Some Girls?

In Some Girls, I call Patti Smith “the barometer of all things cool and right.” Throughout the book, when confronted with difficult decisions, I ask the question, “What would Patti Smith do? But Patti Smith plays a larger role than a just being a moral compass; she’s also the vehicle for forgiveness when I ignore that moral compass and go way off the rails. I refer to her as my fairy godmother, but she’s more of a shaman figure- an interlocutor between the known and the unknown, the possible and the impossible.

What was the coolest thing that happened to you yesterday?

I picked up a copy of Bust magazine and saw that Some Girls is written up in back to back articles with Patti Smith’s new memoir Just Kids. What are the chances? It was freaky. It actually brought tears to my eyes.

Did someone actually ask you yesterday in an interview if you thought you were as cool as Patti Smith?

It might be the most hilarious question I’ve been asked yet (and that includes the “sex tips to please a prince” kind of questions I got from German Cosmo). But I suppose if I had really learned the self-love lesson, I would have answered, yes. Yes, I am.  But I’m not there yet. It’s a work in progress.