On the night before your book launches

Men yell at you in emails about atheism

This morning, I woke up to emails from people who had read an excerpt of my book in The Guardian. My book is about religion in the Midwest. And okay, its memoir about my life and faith falling apart, but its also political. And so many of the emails were like, “HAVE YOU CONSIDERED BEING AN ATHEIST?!”

Wow, thanks, never heard of it, tell me more.

Or explaining to me what exactly the Bible means. My favorite was one that was very long and asked me if I had ever read the Bible.

Bitches, that shit is memorized.

I looked at those emails, deleted them and thought: Okay, we are doing this.

This is a small book (178 pages), from a small press. At this point, I’ve exceeded expectations. But it still doesn’t feel like enough. I want to be honest with you. Last week I was on vacation and the whole time, I thought, “WHAT HAVE I WRITTEN LATELY!?” The answer of course, is A FUCKING BOOK, YOU IDIOT!?

But do you ever do that thing where you just need to do more and more. I want to do more. I think this is okay. Ambition is okay. No, it’s great. But how, as a woman do you speak it? Do you live it?

I took a phone call on vacation with my kids. I took that trip with my kids last week as a time to focus on them before things got crazy, but one afternoon we were sitting in the AC watching Sponge Bob and the phone rang. I have a rule: Always answer your phone, unless it’s my mom. (Just kidding, Ellen!) But seriously, answer your phone, you don’t know who it will be.

So I answered and it was a story calling. And I am very excited about it. I’ll tell you more on a later date.

But it made me feel weird. Like here I was, supposed to be enjoying my kids (and I was, dear reader, they are weird little weirdos and I adore them), but I had the adrenaline rush of a story. And I thought two things: I love what I do. I love my kids. I want to work.

So I went for it. Doing interviews on the floor of the hotel room. Sending emails from the pool.

So much of my work and life is like this. There is no separation. I write and hand out snacks. I cook and take phone calls. Men believe in great ideas of the lofty separation of life and art, women live in the dissonance of sticky floors and 30 minutes to write in the school pick up lane.

So many of the essays and stories I’ve written have been at the dining room table, while my kids fought in the other room. Or finished while I shouted, “TWO MORE MINUTES!” and they ate contraband cheetos, that I pretended I didn’t know about, but oh, I knew.

Life is never one thing or another. Joy pain. Celebration stress. It’s always all together. A chowder of emotions. A curry of emotions. A paella of emotions. (I’m hungry.) And I think as women, we contain it all. I grew up being told men can compartmentalize better, but I wonder if that’s not just a privilege? Like they don’t have to contain the universe in them, so they don’t. (Don’t, #NotAllMen me, I am sure you do, but you don’t express it as often because of how patriarchy fucks us up, so fight it, okay? Don’t fight me, fight the SYSTEM!)

Life isn’t easy and I don’t want it to be. I hate yoga. I don’t like peace. I thrive in this chaos. But tonight, I am drinking champagne sent by a friend who is a BEST-SELLING AUTHOR (omg!), and I had a small book party, and then drinks after with someone who is lovely and a friend. And we shouted and yelled and were so happy. I am also behind on assignments. I feel overwhelmed and stressed out. I actually pre-apologized to people. Like pre-gaming, but for feelings. And was told that was not a thing.

But it is where I come from, and anyway, whatever happens thank you for being on this email list. I don’t know why you are here, and I don’t know who raised you to think this was okay, but I’m happy we are doing this.

Okay, I’m a Sagittarius so that’s fucking enough of these feelings.

This time the yelling is a good thing

Tim Ferriss yells at me by proxy

On Friday, I got an email that told me that pre-orders for my book were at over 3,000. I immediately texted my friend Sarah Weinman, who knows everything about publishing and is an amazing writer and was like, “Is this good idk idk?”

And she was like, “Yeah you dummy!” [Note: She actually said, “holy shit! yes!”]

I was on a trip at the time. So, I mentioned this bit of news to my friend and her husband. We were at a fundraiser and I was interviewing people. Upon hearing the news, my friend’s husband turned to look at me and said in no uncertain terms, “YOU HAVE TO DO WHAT TIM FERRISS WOULD DO! THIS IS YOUR TIME!”

I nodded and pretended like I knew who Tim Ferriss is. I was homeschooled and often have to play catch up. So, I’m very good at faking being smart. In fact, faking being smart is my spiritual gift.

Apparently, Tim Ferriss emailed every single one of his friends and family and acquaintances and asked them to order his book. AND THAT’S HOW TIM FERRISS BECAME A SUCCESS DIDN’T I KNOW THIS?!

I had to do this. I had to tell everyone, everyone, absolutely everyone. Now was my time. I could best-seller JUST LIKE TIM FERRISS. I MUST BE LIKE TIM FERRISS. I MUST CHANNEL FERRIS I MUST BECOME ONE WITH THE FERRISS!! THIS WAS HOW TO BE A SUCCESS!

A lot of people like to tell me how to become successful. One of these people is my father (hi, dad!), who is adamant that when the time comes he will manufacture situation of extreme public humiliation just to up the sales of my book. He’s been promising me this since I was 10 and wrote a book called “Messy Lou.” (The whole plot of messy Lou, is a little girl named Lou who hates cleaning her room, even at 10 I was into non-fiction.) And look, I’m not for this idea, but Carl, NOW IS THE TIME.

Other tips for success I’ve been given:

  1. Have you ever written anything like Nicolas Sparks? Do that

  2. Have you talked to Oprah? Do that

  3. Wear more lipstick [an actual comment on an actual judges ballot from a round of college debate]

Only after getting yelled at to become one with Ferriss, did I realize, I actually do know a little about Tim Ferriss. He’s one of the many many many many many many many many many *deep breath* many men who have a podcast. Last April, a friend of mine had me listen to Tim Ferriss interview the owner of a million different very hip restaurants, Nick Kokonas.

I had a very bad attitude when this suggestion was made. You want me to listen to MEN talk about BOOKS and I’m sorry, oh also, SUCCESS? Like, hi, do you know me?

But I was cleaning my floor one day and out of true crime podcasts, so fine, I listened and fine it was interesting. Actually, more than interesting. It was fascinating. I’m obsessed with the Aviary (one of Kokonas’ restaurants) and have spent a lot of time in the past two months just flipping through the Aviary cocktail book astounded at how everything in it seems more like alchemy than alcohol. I love the language of the book, how scents are fumigated into the drinks, drinks with ingredients like huckleberry and xanthan gum. Liquid and smoke bleed off the pages, each one full color, and almost impossible. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a book of sorcery.

It’s also self-published. Because Kokonas and his business partner were just like, fuck it, we are doing this and doing it our way.

The most amazing thing about the podcast, was the breezy way men talked about success and just doing things. There was no fear of gatekeepers, no doubt about vision. They were at ease talking about their strengths, giving advice. Kokonas particularly was just like yeah I’m good at things in this nonchalant so what kind of a way. Like he was saying the sky was blue. Or that sometimes it rains. That informal tone of success felt like a foreign language. Like I needed a Google translate to tell me what this meant in anxious femalespeak.

Whenever another Democratic man enters the presidential field I wonder at the audacity. Like did no one ever tell you not to do it? Did no one every say, “This is a bad idea?” No, no one did. Which is incredible to me a human who is still often told that writing is a bad idea.

How can they do this? How can they just talk about success like this without apologizing without hesitating? And I wondered what it would be like to just live in a world where everyone just expected your success? Where you could just as for $4-a-word and not even blink?

Once I told someone I was dating that I got paid $1-a-word for one article and he told me I was overpaid. “Wow what a scam!” He said. I don’t talk to him any more.

But here at this fundraiser, I was being told TO BE TIM FERRISS TO BE UNAPOLOGETIC. COULD I BE TIM FERRISS?

I don’t know. It seems a little annoying. But maybe I’ll try.

In sum, please pre-order my book. I won’t ask you individually, because that’s annoying. And I won’t be mad if you don’t or do and don’t read it. Life is a journey and you have kids and a life or cats and a life and anyway, I love you. Have a great day.

Translated to Ferriss:

BUY MY FUCKING BOOK!

(sorry)

I motherfucking did it

Here's your ROI

For the first time since 2016, I am not working on a draft of a book. It’s hard to describe exactly how this feels. But let me give it a shot…

I signed my first book contract on December 19, 2016. It was for a book that is now called God Land. I signed a second contract months later for a book that is now called Belabored (out in the spring). I celebrated both contracts by buying myself whiskey and cake. I didn’t have anyone to toast with. My ex wasn’t exactly happy about the news. So, it was a weird place to be. Achieving a career dream and having to celebrate alone in after you put the kids to bed, but in the kitchen eating cake with a plastic fork, drinking whiskey straight out of the bottle, because you already did the dishes, because someone else is sulking in the living room watching Star Trek.

I remember December 19, because that is my birthday. I also remember it because that day I had a meeting to plan a local protest event, where a woman, a neighbor, someone I know in town, said, “selling a book is okay if you seek commercial success.” She said that to my face at the meeting after I said, “I JUST SIGNED MY FIRST BOOK CONTRACT!!”

And then, for the next couple of years as I wrote the books and my life fell apart, I’d get emails, weekly at one point, from someone who had once said they loved me, telling me that everything I was doing was bad and horrible. It’s so impossibly lonely to write, to do a thing, when you are being told that everything you do is bad.

On July 3, 2019, I turned in a first draft of my second book. I was in a co-working space. I screamed. I jumped up and down and then laid on the floor, where my friend Cavan told me how excited he was for me. Then, I had coffee with my friend Rachel who is finishing her novel and she gave me a big hug and bought me a cookie as big as my big old face. I thought for a moment how this was so much better than hiding bites of cake in the kitchen alone.

That night, I went out on a date. I hadn’t planned it like that, but it happened. And it was miserable. The man spent the night talking about which celebrity women were the hottest. Told me I was overpaid. Told me he was going to write his book and make $400,000. Told me my town was stupid. Told me he wanted to kill people. When I told him to stop, he said, “It’s a joke, can’t you take a joke?”

But it’s been a very long four years. And I’m tired. So, I said. “I’m miserable and I’m having a terrible time. I don’t want this. I want you to go.”

And he went.

I spent the next four days going to bed by 10pm, eating vegetables, drinking water, hanging out with friends, taking my kids to the pool. It’s truly amazing to wake up in the morning not feeling like you got hit by a truck. It’s truly amazing to think that in just four years everything could be so much the same and still so different.

Today, I am typing this from an airport, where I am going to Austin to report out a story. Can you believe that? Can you believe that people want me to write things? Can you believe I have a book coming out? TWO BOOKS!? Can you believe that I have friends who are planning me a little book launch party? Can you believe anything that happens in this weird wild life?

On July 15, 2015, I crawled through the woods of Reed College in Portland, OR carrying two six packs of beer for my new friend Kristen. We were at the Tin House summer writers conference and I had fallen in love with her almost immediately. She had been buying me so much beer that week, I demanded to return the favor. So I walked over to 7-11 and bought the beer she had instructed. On the walk back, I took a short cut through the woods. I was a little drunk, and the bottles in my hands rattled and clanged. Eventually, I heard the sound of someone talking. The evening readings had started, and famous writer Charles D’Ambrosio was giving a reading in the outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the woods. I recognized his voice because he was my workshop leader. I knew everyone at the reading could hear the bottles. Or maybe they couldn’t and I just thought they could because I’d been day drinking. Anyway, it made perfect sense for me to fall to the ground on my stomach and push the six packs forward and army crawl, while I frantically texted Kristen to come meet me in the woods.

“OMG I AM AT THE READING AND I CAN HEAR YOU!” she wrote back. “WAIT UNTIL YOU HEAR THE APPLAUSE!”

When the applause came I stood up and ran to the nearest bench where Kristen met me and we drank every last one of those beers.

(This summer, Kristen’s book debuted on the New York Times best sellers list. She’s a queen.)

I remember that day specifically because it was my son’s 2nd birthday and I was gone. When I came back I’d throw him a spectacular party with a bounce house and a DIY waffle bar that he would never remember. But I remember it so specifically because I was told then too what a horrible mother I was to leave. What a horrible person I was to spend all that money. To do all of that and for what? What was the ROI?

So many of these good days are buffeted by these darker shadows. When I teach I tell students about light and dark, about chiaroscuro. About how to put it on the page. About laughter through tears. And about how bad people get the good lines sometimes and how good people get the bad days, years, months.

But, all that aside, I motherfucking did it. And I can’t wait to start on the next big thing. In fact, I already have.

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