Usually when I sit down to prepare my thoughts for broad-spectrum dispersal, I have an intention in mind, an idea of what I wish to impart. Not today. Today my brain is a slagheap. A cheerful slagheap, but nonetheless. Today my brain feels like mush—florid and soupy, incapable of achieving aspic, much less thought. Today all that stands between my soup-bowl of a head and oncoming traffic are the twin pleasures of sun noodling through the window and coffee traveling at breakneck speed through my veins. Words have not so much failed me as they have hurled themselves willy-nilly into the raging pandemonium that is my anxiety-riddled carcass.
And what started that pandemonium in the first place? Words.
It’s been almost two months since my last entry to the land of WordPress. In that time 18,000 things have happened, some of them actually beyond the boney confines of my skull. Many were small and inconsequential. Some were large, and if I’m honest, equally inconsequential. There were a few exceptions: dinners with friends—old and new, a whirlwind visit with the amazing and dear Celina Mincey, the return of my daughter from England (with an MA in religion, no job, and a broken heart), and the mini-launching into the world of my first book, Please Kill Me and Other Life Lessons. I say mini because I’ve neither publisher nor agent nor even plans for an ebook. What I do have, after three years of writing and perfecting and rewriting and scrapping and cursing the gods of language, is an editor. No big deal to most, perhaps, but huge for the woman who has so far shared this book with no more than five people. There are, I know, many people out there who can relate to the following.
For years, I wanted to be a writer. Me and about 4.2 billion other people. After one decade of obsessively recording every detail of my life bisected by 2.5 decades of working, raising a child, leaving my husband and then returning to my husband—all while staunchly ignoring the siren-call of the pen—I decided to act on this desire. I wrote a book. The catalyst was, as it is for so many, a miserable death suffered by someone I love. Writing kept the grief at bay and gave me purpose. Three years later, the book was complete. Knowing it (I) wasn’t quite ready for the bestseller list, I went back to school to get an MFA. Twenty-three months later, degree in hand, I gave myself two months to clear my head and process. That actually took six months. Then I spent another month at my alma mater trying to simultaneously learn even more and say goodbye. By mid-August, I was ready; for eight weeks, I immersed myself in words.
And then I did what so many of you have done before me: I contacted an editor. Following a conversation to set goals and parameters, I sat down at my computer and willed myself to hit send.
But first, I considered not hitting send. Then I considered hitting send but immediately throwing myself in traffic (a thought that hasn’t yet left me, as evidenced above). I considered going to bed (it was 3 in the afternoon), I considered vomiting, I considered applying for a job—something simple involving numbers or fried chicken, no heart necessary. I played solitaire and bubble buster. I gave the cat water. I made dinner, didn’t eat, and looked at shoes on Zappos.
Twenty-four hours later, I finally hit send.
My editor promptly responded that she had received said tome, adding that she was “impressed.” In the absence of further elucidation, I promised myself she meant impressed with the words themselves rather than the fact that I had somehow managed to string 88,695 of them together in one document. Following that initial vote of quasi-confidence: silence. Not complete silence, for she did email again, quite promptly and in a tone balanced perfectly between warmth and professionalism, to ask when we could schedule a phone conference. But within this email, there was no further mention of the book, of the words, of what, dear reader, has become my life.
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea—I’m not in any way bashing my editor. She’s a great writer, someone I respect and, most importantly, someone I trust. I chose her carefully among half a dozen qualified individuals. And the silence didn’t last weeks, only days. I am instead trying to relate the anxiety that is a writer. The anxiety that is, perhaps, anyone who puts her or his dreams on the line.
I replied. Yes! A phone conference would be perfect. (Though, really? I’m a writer, allergic to human contact but especially that which lacks alcohol and includes the spoken word—email was invented for people like me.) Then I tacked on a plea; if the book sucked she must not hesitate to tell me. Not, I promised, because I was tough, but because I needed to know. Exercising a modicum of control, I refrained from adding that there wasn’t enough anti-anxiety medication in the world to prevent me from ripping the skin from my eyeballs if I didn’t know soon.
Seeing her name in my inbox the next day, I held my breath and hit open.
“Annie,” it read, the book “does not suck”
Ah, relief! I’d get to live!!
But wait! There was more. Fast on the heels of “suck” sprang a comma! And a but! Like this:
“does not suck, but…”
But? BUT? I screamed at the computer. There are no buts in such circumstances! There are “in fact”s. There are “at all”s. There are even “period”s–as in “the book does not suck, PERIOD”–but there are no buts!
And yet, there it was. Followed by a few more words of… I don’t even know. Caution? Reassurance?
“The book does not suck, but don’t worry, I will tell you what I think next week.”
My brain exploded! Again, not in anger, but in self-generated, no outside help required apprehension. Next week?! Don’t tell me next week! Tell me NOW, damn you! Tell me I suck (because this isn’t just a book we’re talking about). Tell me I am an abject failure. Tell me you think you love it, even if you aren’t yet ready to fully comment. TELL ME SOMETHING.
I was so nervous, I couldn’t even calculate the two hour difference between us. Three times I emailed to change our appointment before finally realizing my mistake and settling on the original time.
Which brings us to today.
I’ve spent the last hour smacking at my computer with all of the pent up frustration of a writer who cannot for the life of her decide if writing is a tenable pastime. One I can perform without succumbing to the desire to open a vein or run beneath a falling piano or pay a hit man to sneak up on me in an alley. This could be the tipping point. Will it be words, or a career at Walmart?