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.