I’ll be reading at the Barnes & Noble in Kingston, New York, at 2 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, February 27. I’m writing this from down in the city and I’ll be traveling up in the morning… but I will be there. Though the snowpocalpyse has put a damper on my travel plans and will surely keep some people away, I’m looking forward to returning to the pages of this novel I wrote what feels so long ago, even for one day.
I’m older today. That’s right, the dreaded birthday has arrived.
I was recently at a tax appointment with my first grown-up accountant (not that I used children to do my taxes before, only that this is the first time I am being a grown-up and using a pro accountant to do my taxes) and as she plugged in our info, she noticed that our birthdays were approaching. E’s was Sunday, and mine is today. We’re the same age, and we’ve been together since we were technically teenagers, so sometimes it’s like watching your childhood disintegrate before your eyes. I remember him when he was young. I remember being young with him. Sometimes I look in the mirror and am shocked that we’re not who we were when we first fell for each other and became inseparable. It’s quite strange.
Unfortunately, E drank some magical potion when he was younger or something because he barely shows his age. Me, I’ve been dyeing my hair since I was 22. I blame stress. Anyway, our accountant said happily that it was almost our birthdays and we groaned involuntarily, couldn’t help it. This wasn’t the best of reactions, because though we may feel old—and maybe there are things we wanted untangled in our lives that are still in tangles and we really hoped we’d have it all figured out by now—we are not as old as we could be, and we have each other, and, as our accountant pointed out, we are alive. And every year you are still alive is a great thing. Many people don’t make it this far.
Hearing that when you are groaning about your upcoming birthday puts things into perspective, for sure. Maybe I am not where I thought I’d be at this age, but I’ve stopped running the race only I was in. My life unfolded, is unfolding, at a pace I can’t control, but every year I get closer to the dreams I’ve held since I was a kid… dreams that I confessed to E when we first met and fell in love, in fact. I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as he’s known me—longer.
So, here I am, one year older. The book I think of as my true debut—my real self on those pages—won’t be out for a year and a half, so I’ll be even older then. And you know what? The number just can’t matter. It can’t. I want to stop counting.
For those who wonder if they will ever reach the goals and dreams they long for, who measure their accomplishments in years and think they failed if the arbitrary year marker passed them by, I want to show you how much things can change.
Wait. That’s not for you—it’s for me. I want to remind myself how much things have changed.
This is from a blog post I wrote four years ago today, on my birthday in 2006:
Today… is my birthday. Today is also the day I received (via email, via the account of her assistant) a rejection for my novel from a prominent agent who I had tangled myself up in hope thinking perhaps-maybe-you-never-know-i-could-be-lucky that she might like the thing this time. Email said no: my revisions were not enough. My heart sort of cracked open at the timing though. Birthdays are notoriously awful days that remind me of everything I didn’t do right the year before and I suppose the email this afternoon was the final door slam of last year and there’s nothing much I can do about it now. This agent, btw, is a complete other person from the editor I was talking so much about in months past. The editor has never ever (ever) responded and I’ve pretty much given up on that whole thing, but there was a part of me that expected the No from her today, too. It’s my birthday; fate is cruel like that. But one rejection was certainly enough, thank you. So after the rejection we went to see a movie (Brokeback Mountain) and afterward in the lobby I was crying and it wasn’t over the movie and I couldn’t get my eyes to stop leaking and made a gallant effort in a bathroom stall that didn’t stick with me when I left the bathroom and E saw me and he felt helpless I know, for all these faceless people breaking my heart over and over again and he can do nothing to stop it. But really he is what is keeping me upright. I couldn’t take all this without him. (written 2/23/06)
That’s how much your life can change in four years.
So I’m older today, fine. But I’m here together alive with E—and though HE DOESN’T AGE, I SWEAR IT’S CRAZY HOW YOUNG HE LOOKS, we’ll be fine.
Happy one more year to me.
I have not been all here, ever since finishing my novel and turning it in earlier this month. I thought I would be. I thought the day after I hit Send would be this great, calm day where all the rest of life would fall completely into place. That I’d have a real handle on my life by now. My apartment would be cleaned out, my years’ worth of old papers sorted and weeded out and shredded and recycled so we can move, my schedule lock-tight, where my hours of freelance work alternate easily with my hours of creative work, and there’s still time for dishes in between. I didn’t accomplish that. We won’t be moving just yet, for one, and I have a lot left to organize. And I feel like I’m in this high state of anxiety at most points of the day—and having freelance work to focus on is actually a solid, much-needed distraction.
How can I not be together by now? I wrote the novel. I sent it in. I should be okay by this point, don’t you think?
I’m not sure if I’ll reach that together stage this month. My birthday is approaching on a day I won’t mention, and I know I should celebrate, but it’s hard to not let that day be the worst day of the year. E’s birthday is tomorrow, and I love his birthday! So that’s what I’m looking forward to (and we’ll be married we think four years Monday). Then on Saturday, like I said below, I’ll be doing a reading in the Hudson Valley, so I won’t be home. Then I get home and it’s March, and I have three freelance projects due, one after another after another. Then it’s mid-March and I basically have two weeks before I leave for a month at Yaddo. How will I get my head straight at any point between now and then? Maybe Yaddo will do it. Being away from TV and internet and city noise—and missing my E terribly—being so far removed from my regular life for four entire weeks, only me and the other artists and the trees up there and whichever novel I’m working on, and I don’t even know which one it’ll be yet… Maybe.
Or maybe I won’t be together until I get home in May.
Where I’ll be next Saturday, February 27:
I haven’t been writing. I haven’t chosen the two books I’ll be working on this year yet—but I will say that one dire, shining possibility is staring me in the face now, and my agent has met this possibility, and he made me happy (don’t be coy: thrilled) by liking it too, and if I hear the word, “Go!” I’m leaping. That would be our #1 contender for YA. I’m hopeful, but not sure if it’ll stick just yet.
The second book for my Big Year of I Want to Write Two Books Let’s See if I Can Do It (even if it overlaps a couple months into the next year, it will still count, won’t it?) aspires to be a tween/middle-grade novel and I spent all morning piecing together the idea for a contender who surprised me by a swirling twist of inspiration in a cab ride down in TriBeCa with a seat of Little Pie Company pies beside me and I am wondering now… is she the one? I’m not sure. Though maybe she could be.
So, though I was protesting the idea of taking a break between finishing Imaginary Girls and starting my next book—the idea of not-writing bristling me, the idea of not-writing making me feel like a big Fail Whale—I guess my brain took over and made me listen to this wisdom anyway.
I haven’t been writing. But I’ve been flooded with ideas, gearing myself up for the writing.
I had lunch with a publishing friend, and she mentioned how one particular comment from my “Bye-bye, Novel. What’s Next?” post seemed like such wise advice. And, ever since she brought it up, I’ve been coming back to that comment too:
And if a story is building up inside your head, make it wait.
Write inside your head until you can’t stand it anymore, and then the story will burst out.
L.K. Madigan, you are a wise woman.
Yes, she gives great advice. And it’s happening. Because, truth is, I haven’t had the time to write. I’ve been juggling freelance deadlines, and to-do lists, (and a bout of anxiety over finishing a book maybe), and worry, and I just took another freelance project, and I’m getting our taxes ready for our appointment next week… and it’s funny how, when you can’t write, you NEED to more than ever.
Tonight I needed a break, so I read. I had to stop reading YA novels while writing Imaginary Girls because I needed Chloe’s voice to be crystal-clear in my mind, without any intrusion, but I’ve decided it’s okay to read now.
Imagine me on the couch, picking up a book I’ve been telling myself I wasn’t allowed to read for months. It’s called If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Fast-forward two hours or however long it took to reach the final pages when I am choking on sobs, tears running down my cheeks, eyes glued to the page, riveted with emotion by what was happening. I reached the last page. A certain line on that page broke me open and out loud I gasped in surprise. I finished. I closed the book. My eyes had so filled up with tears I couldn’t see the room through the blur.
E had fallen asleep on the couch beside me, but all of a sudden I was leaping away, leaving the book on the table and getting some distance from it—so affected by its pages I couldn’t touch the book anymore.
E sat up, alarmed. Did something happen? he said all bleary. What’s wrong?
I just read an incredible book, I said. That’s what happened.
How lucky we are to be writers. To get this chance to reach—with these words we’ve got jumbled up in us, the ones we scribble in cabs or street corners or stairwells or between jobs and life and taxes—to reach toward that moment of having someone leap up off the couch, disturbing her partner, hands to her chest so her heart stops thumping, almost choking, and say, “I just read an incredible book.”
Imagine the possibility of that.
Say one day you get an idea. You’re delusional enough to think it could be a book or something. So you gather up the stamina, drive, inspiration, guts needed to write it, you dig yourself out pockets of time, you bang your head against the wall, you let go of your grip of reality, you lose friends because you’re always at your writing spot writing, you let yourself think you should be allowed to do something this extravagant like be a novelist or something and… somehow… you complete that novel. That’s the most satisfying moment in the world, isn’t it?
So fast-forward past readers and revisions and crying over revisions and agents and more revisions and writing and writing, in whatever order you’ve done all that in, and fast-forward past book deals, because yes, let’s shove a book deal in there, and wow your editor took you out to lunch, and wow you have a deadline because the novel’s not done yet, and soon here it is, the deadline, IT IS FAST APPROACHING you are minutes away from it oh wow you got a few more days… and then, before you realize it, YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR BOOK. And then, taking a deep breath, you have hit Send.
The manuscript is now in your editor’s hands.
This is where I am right now. My editor will do her job, and one day I’ll get an editorial letter and I’ll start revising, and I can’t wait, I’m so excited, but until then I am not touching the novel. I actually think it would be a bad idea to get my hands on it before my editor’s had her say. Maybe I’m not even allowed to. So I won’t. I won’t touch it. Not till it’s time to revise.
So here I am. Novel-less. I know I should start my next one; everyone says that. I am working up ideas to show my agent. I just…
I feel strange. Thursday was the day after I’d turned in the novel, and in the morning I was so happy and loopy and practically floating on air, but by afternoon, I felt… it’s weird to admit, but… almost sad. It was just an ordinary Thursday. How could it be an ordinary Thursday!
But it was.
I realized it was over. I’d finished the book. And I missed it terribly.
I felt—I still feel—like I have no purpose. Like what’s the point of me? Like, I’m walking down Broadway and I’m… what? A writer not writing.
I have to fix this immediately. I need a new novel to write and I need it NOW. So why is it so slow in coming?
So, other writers, how do you switch gears? What helps cleanse your palate for the next book? I had rice pudding last night, but it didn’t help.
Imaginary Girls is with my editor as of last night. Yes. I am done. I AM DONE! (Well, until it’s time for revisions… heh.)
What a week. Last week at this time you would have found me staring at the pages of the novel, wary of how I’d ever finish editing and revising it in time to turn in to my editor, and maybe also a little wary of the moment I’d turn in to my editor, since I know how amazing she is, and how intimidating is that, and would I ever finish, and how, and would anyone like it, and, and, and???