Publish or Perish

I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird about as often as I change my air filters, so basically I haven’t read it since last summer, but one of my favorite chapters is the one on publication. She writes about how it seems like getting published is going to be the biggest day of your life, “You will wake up to your phone ringing off the hook and your publisher will be so excited that they will have hired the Blue Angels precision flying team to buzz your squalid little hovel.”

When in fact, as Lamott points out, and as I quickly realized, it is not like that at all. Getting published is sort of like dating. There is a lot of checking your phone because maybe the ringer is off or you went suddenly deaf and then being disappointed. Then telling yourself it is cool, and you know deep down that you are awesome, probably they just didn’t read your essay yet/actually like you as a person. It is fine. There are more words to write. Shorter skirts to wear.

One of my issues with dating is the difficulty in finding someone who likes me as much as I like myself. When my last boyfriend and I broke up, I said, “I just want to be with someone who is more into me.”

“You deserve that,” he said.

He gets credit for not saying, “Good luck,” which is probably what he meant, and what I said when he told me that he really wants to be with someone who is less smart than he is because that would make things less complicated.

Really—obviously—he wasn’t the problem. If I didn’t think I deserved the Blue Angels flyover every time I walked in the door or showed him my new panties, then it would be much easier for me to be happy in relationships, but it would probably make it much harder for me to be a writer. There is a lot of ego in writing. First, I have to assume that people want to know what I have to say enough to actually read. And I have to send my work to publishers and ask them to decide if they want me, and when they say, “No thanks,” I have to assume it is them, not me, and I have to keep on writing.

Sometimes, I might drink a bottle of wine and browse through their latest edition criticizing all the writers they did accept, even though I know deep down that those other writers are just as good, if not better, and it is really just about making some kind of genuine connection. Then I decide to open another bottle and dance around in my underwear to “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar and tell everyone to suck it.

And of course, Anne Lamott is talking about actually publishing a book. For me, it is just publishing short essays about living alone and being a remedial parent in a monthly humor newspaper. When my first piece ran I thought the phone would definitely ring. Dave Barry would probably call to discover the real identity of this fresh new American voice in humor. I would pretend that I didn’t believe it was really him, “Who is this really?”

“It’s really me, Dave!”

We would laugh. Then he would give me the name of his agent and then I would be on Dave Letterman, and he would flirt with me like he does with Julia Roberts, “Oh Dave!”

My dreams were really just a big Dave orgy, probably Dave Mathews was also there involved in some kind of endless jam that went on for so long that I had to take a nap in the middle. When I wake up, Sedaris is sitting in the corner autographing all his best-sellers with the inscription, “Welcome to the club,” and then at the end of it all, I find myself cuddled up with Dave the founder of Wendy’s as he spoon feeds me a Frosty.

In reality, nobody called me. I had to call to get a free copy sent to my mom just so I could get the adoration I knew I deserved. But then I knew I just had to get back to work. Not because I thought it would actually get me anywhere or allow me to quit my job and spend my days going on books tours or reading my essays as the opening act for The Foo Fighters and then letting Dave Grohl run his fingers through my hair backstage, “Oh Dave!” but because I actually like to write.

I like the process of starting with a blank screen and being terrified, and then feeling like I am going to die because I am not clever enough, and I barely understand how to use commas, and then saying, “Bitch, please,” and just starting to type. A few lines ticker back and forth across the top of my screen that are guarded and dishonest, and then I get up and go for a walk. Sometimes I cry when I walk but maybe because I walk through a local cemetery, and then I get an idea, type it in the notes on my phone, jam out to a few more Sturgill Simpson songs, and then come back to my computer and start the process all over again.

Writing is sort of like preparing an enormous, Thanksgiving meal before you know if you will even have any guests. And it gets messy. You have to stick your hand all the way up that turkey’s ass, even though it seems scary, and you are not sure what you will find or how it will make you feel, but then eventually you pull your hand out, get rid of all the junk, and cook that beast. Then you clean up, line it all up on the buffet, and hope—pray—that people will actually show up.

Your mom will be there, of course, and maybe a couple close friends, some of whom will tell you how great the food is even though they didn’t actually seem to eat anything, and you try not to quiz them too much. That random middle-aged guy from Sacramento. He is there. And maybe a writer you have heard of, at least after you look her up, and she has an actual Wikipedia page about her, so that is something. She shows up and tells you she likes your work, and you take that little leftover home and put it on the table next to the new computer that you don’t even know how to use, but you bought because you are a famous writer now, and you just sit down and keep typing.

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Waste it Wisely

This is terrifying.

This is terrifying.

Sometimes I have to use the men’s bathroom at the school where I work because I don’t have time to wait the 90 seconds it will take for the women’s bathroom to be free, and I feel like this could be a symptom of a larger problem in my life. When I was younger, I prided myself on always being punctual. I was usually even early because my life was empty and meaningless, and I was completely unsuccessful. Making time to go to the bathroom was not an issue. I remember I had a boyfriend who chose not to drink excess liquids before taking road trips because he did not want to waste time stopping to use the bathroom. He would tell me this as I slid into the passenger seat slurping the last sips of my 32 ounce diet coke.  Road trips, like legislation, are based on the lowest common denominator, which is often me, so really he was just delayed and thirsty.

I recently took an online quiz called “How Productive Are You?” demonstrating on its own—just by logging in—that I am not productive at all. One of the key areas that need improvement for me is that I have too many distractions. The website suggests I keep an interrupter’s log, which intrigues me, not because I think it will make me more productive but because it allows me to put the blame on others in writing and in chart form. The log asks for the name of the interrupter, the time, and a box for me to check if it was a valid interruption. I find this so exciting that I might quit my job just to spend all my time cataloging my daily interruptions. 6:34 p.m. the cat “jumped” in the bathtub with my son and then frantically skid across every dry surface in the house interrupting my game of Trivia Crack. Not valid. After a week of keeping the log, I am supposed to analyze and conquer my interruptions. One way to conquer interruptions is to pre-empt the interruption by holding routine meetings. This way instead of interrupting me, the people/cats will learn to save all non-urgent issues until this meeting.

I made all my students take the quiz, too, mainly because I did not have anything else planned for the day, and they all scored higher than me. I told them they are liars and they must have cheated, but then I realized that they just don’t have that many distractions. Mainly because I let them go to the bathroom in the middle of class. Sometimes I will ask a compelling question and then one of them will raise their hand, and I get excited thinking that an engaging discussion will ensue, but it is just a kid asking to go to the bathroom. They are extremely efficient. Also, I am not sure being in my class keeps them from accomplishing their life goals There are students who could be running multi-million dollar companies on their laptops (or from the bathroom) while I draw diagrams on the board of the two houses in Wuthering Heights.

There is a guy I work with who likes to say, “Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day,” and I usually try to do the math because I feel like I am wasting a significant amount of my 24 hours. For starters, I am asleep for at least six to eight of those hours, and then I am at work for another eight hours monitoring other people’s bathroom visits, and then I need to subtract the hours when I am drunk or on my phone, which leaves me with maybe five good hours a day. Then I have to find time to schedule meetings with my kids and the cat and then pray that there is enough time left after all the interruptions have been clearly checked as not valid so that I can watch Netflix while curled up on the couch crying about how nobody will ever love me.

The real issue—that leaves me in a general state of panic—is not the allotment of time per day, but the amount of days that I have left, divided by the number of things that I have yet to accomplish. I am not an expert mathematician, but I think this comes out to a negative number or a radical. In a few short months I will turn 40. At this point I have to make some important decisions, like how much of that precious time do I want to waste standing in line for the bathroom? I have to start thinking about my lowest common denominator. I have a job, two kids, and a bladder, so I have to figure out how to make all of these things fit in with my current life goals, which include finding a meaningful relationship, making something out of my writing career (like maybe a fleet of paper airplanes), and fulfilling my dream of going to a swim-up bar (which really takes care of the bladder issue on its own).

Another goal that I plan to accomplish on my 40th birthday is getting my first tattoo. My main reasons for not getting a tattoo up to this point were more related to commitment issues than preserving an image, but when I am 40 there is only so much forever left. I also apply this to my dating life. Commitment doesn’t seem quite so scary now because I don’t have to promise my whole life to someone, just what’s left of it. It is only like half of forever, and if we do the math . . .

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TGIF! June 6, 2014

Notes from my week in writing:

I received a rejection email from a publisher today three hours after I submitted. I like to think that is some kind of record! The standard these days is for publishers to send out responses by email at generally inappropriate times, like on a Friday night minutes after my date cancels so it is very clear that I am both professionally and personally unworthy. Also, it is usually after a long wait, sometimes six weeks or more, so I don’t remember that I even sent the submission out, and I didn’t know there was a possibility for someone to tell me that I am not good enough on that particular day. Most publishers have a standard email that states something along the lines of, “Due to the high volume of submissions we are unable to provide further feedback about your work at this time.” With this, the confident writer in me thinks the feedback could be that my submission was not the right length, off-topic, or the writing was just too funny, crass, or poetic. The non-confident writer in me assumes that they would tell me I am way out of my league, my writing is amateurish, and I am a sad little person. Also probably that I smell and my teeth  . . . they noticed my teeth.

At least with these rejections there is enough elapsed time to assume that people may have actually read what I wrote and even deliberated. I usually like to think that my work sat in the “maybe” pile for at least some duration, but with a three hour turnaround I can only assume that it was an instant diagnosis of: You Suck. The editor even signed the email with, “Thanks anyway” and then her name. I have read and reread this closing numerous times trying to make it sound better, even with different accents, like British, Jamaican, baby, robot, but it always comes across as condescending.

I have a theory about publishing and life: it is better to be rejected than to have regrets. Rejection is like pulling off a Band-Aid—it stings but just for an instant. The more exciting the possibility, the more it pulls at the tiny hairs. But regret is like a back ache, dull and debilitating, and it lingers. I would rather be covered in Band-Aids that are ready to be yanked off my flesh with an ambush of “thanks anyways” than to be immobilized on the couch with a heating pad.

So I keep writing. I am working on a non-funny memoir about my Dad with the working title: “Judge Judy.” I am also working on a humor piece about crying, and how I am constantly doing that (it is hilarious!) I have some submissions out, but I am terrible at keeping track, so at any minute I could be bombarded with rejection, and thanks to my phone, I can get that rejection anywhere, like while I am driving.

I wrote a poem  . .

Pilfering

I reach for gold coins as they fall from pockets with gaping holes.
I step into the night.
I brush past someone I used to love.
I’m transported by a swirling of words,
above yellow windows framing lives,
families, lovers—dishes clink, blue screens flicker.
I hover outside enviously narrating.
I plunge into steam.
I take the path from here. Always from here.

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Beet Salad Days

Last night I made a delicious salad with beets. The day after I eat beets there is usually one brief moment when I am positive I am going to die. Even if I tell myself, don’t forget you ate beets, the sight of the red pee in the toilet is hard to ignore, and I usually scream when I stand to pull up my underpants.

However, it is a great recipe. I peeled and quartered the beets and then roasted them for about an hour with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then I tossed the cooled beets with some quinoa, some fancy-ass raisins (I like this mix from Trader Joe’s that has raisins and dried berries), baby spinach, lemon juice and zest (I actually forgot to zest the lemon before I cut it, and they say it is difficult to zest a lemon after it has been cut, but screw those naysayers), olive oil, garlic, and a little bit of pomegranate vinegar. Then I added some crumbled goat cheese to the top. It was great. I ate it for dinner last night and lunch today.

I will probably have a moment tomorrow morning when I think I am going to die again, but it is worth it. I just try not to eat beets before I have to give a urine specimen, unless it is a drug test, then it seems like it would be funny.

I will also add that I am currently starving, and I ate this particular lunch less than two hours ago.

You should totally try this recipe!

I started writing about the beet salad because I am avoiding writing on a real project. I am currently working on a memoir, a not-at-all-funny memoir about a place where I grew up. It challenges me. I cannot hide behind my wit. I cannot be crude to diffuse the spotlight. I keep getting stuck, and then I abandon the project for days, but it is always lurking in the background, like a wave crashing at my door.

I was also rejected by a publisher this weekend. I received the email at five p.m. on a Sunday, which was not great timing because that is the time of the week when conditions are most favorable for an emotional tsunami as the uncertainty of my personal life and the disappointment of my career aspirations clash violently together, and I usually wind up in the bathtub, hugging my knees and crying long after all the water has drained out. I submitted an essay to a funny women column in an online magazine, and in the rejection email the editor said that even though they were passing on my column, I would still get bigger boobs just for submitting. As I read, I looked down and put my hand to my chest. They don’t seem bigger. Not yet.

Getting rejected is sort of like looking at my pee after eating beets. There is an instant when I am sure I am a goner. I am done for. I am not a writer. But then I pull up my big girl panties and get back to work.

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