The Unstuck Story of THE WALLS AROUND US

Paperback Release Day! The Walls Around Us available in paperback March 22!


THE WALLS AROUND US is now available in paperback! Here we are in the woods of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California.
THE WALLS AROUND US is now available in paperback! Here we are in the woods of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California, where I’m away leading writing workshops the day this post goes up!

Once upon a time, there was a writer who was filled with doubt and questioning her every move. She was stuck. She had published three books, but now that she was facing what would be the fourth she didn’t know what to write or how to write it. She thought for sure she should try to be more commercial and relevant and give people what they wanted from her, if only she could figure out what that might be (???!!!???). She worried about all of these things until she worried herself into a stupor. And before her, staring back with ugly intensity, was a blank white page.

That writer was me. That blank page was my next novel.

I got out of this slump because The Walls Around Us pulled me up by the throat.

But how did I get from the death glare of the blank white page to the beautiful book object that is The Walls Around Us with its gorgeous and sinister vine-covered jacket?

I think we’re all hoping for a formula or a trick of the trade that will unglue us from that awful stupor. I don’t have a formula. I don’t have a good trick. Being stuck is not usually something that you can wave away with a nice nap and a walk around the block to clear your head. (I tried.)

There are those who say that writer’s block does not truly exist and that you must simply do the work and stop making excuses—you must sit yourself down in a chair every day and write, and that’s how you get unblocked. But forcing yourself to write when you’re not feeling it can be a waste of time and energy… and heart. The answer to being blocked isn’t flooding the room with random words and trying to choke your way through making them worthy.

Sometimes the answer is putting your novel aside for a while and writing something else. Yes, a whole new novel, even if you want to smack me for saying it. Sometimes the answer is some other creative pursuit that has nothing to do with books or writing.

Sometimes the answer is not thinking so hard about what everyone else wants of me.. That’s what happened when I was facing my fourth book. I was thinking of reviews I’d read of my previous books. I was thinking about how my books often confuse readers, because the explanations are left open to interpretation, and I was thinking that I needed to be more plain and clear. I was thinking about how my language and style don’t grab everyone. I was thinking that I really should add a romance. I was thinking of what a YA book is—what the most popular YA books are—and I was thinking to myself: OKAY, DO THAT.

And as I thought all these things, the blank page gazed back at me and sneered.

I was trying to be someone I’m not. And I did that for years, when I was writing under different names and mimicking voices for a paycheck, before I ever published under my own name. I didn’t want to do that anymore.

So this is how I got unstuck. I’ll warn you—it’s kind of ugly: I reached a breaking point. I banged my head against my desk and maybe I cried and maybe I had a series of really bad days as I warred with myself, stomping around my apartment and my life. Then something in me snapped. I realized I’d come to a place where I cared way too much about what everyone else thought of my books (lines from reviews swimming in my head, questions buzzing in my ears) and I’d hit a wall. All that caring flipped over and turned into CARING NOT AT ALL. I stopped reading reviews, of course, but there’s more to it. I stopped weighing myself against those reviews.

I would never be able to write a book for everyone, so the best I could do was write a book solely and completely for myself. And maybe someone else would see themselves in it, the way I have in books, again and again.

If I wrote a book for myself, what would it include?

Surreal, strange happenings that aren’t fully explained? Check.

“Unlikable” girl characters careening through the pages free and as alive as they’ll ever be? Check and check and check.

Voicey writing flooding my paragraphs. Oh my yes, check.

No romantic subplot. No easy commercial handle. No fear of being weird. In fact, I was embracing all the weirdness and rolling around in it and streaking through the forest with a crown of weirdness on my head.

paperback_800This is The Walls Around Us: my weird and wild book about killer ballerinas and a ghostly prison. It’s everything I wanted to write and then some. And, because of that, I had no idea if anyone else on the planet would even like it.

Anyone who attended the New York launch event for The Walls Around Us will remember I was interviewed by a writer I love and admire, Libba Bray, whose books are daring and true and wonderfully strange and completely her. She called The Walls Around Us my “middle fingers book.” Let me explain.

This comes with a possibly offensive visual. I was writing with Libba in a café here in New York and I was somewhere deep in the wilds of The Walls Around Us, and I said that I had stopped caring what anyone might think of me or what I was writing. I told her I was writing this book for myself and putting in every single thing I wanted and reactions be damned.

Then, to illustrate how I felt about the publishing world and my own place in it at that defiant moment, I lifted my arms and raised my middle fingers in the air and waved them around like a maniac. Sorry. But there it is.

That came to illustrate this book for me: not so much my two middle fingers and acting ridiculous in a public café, but being defiant. Being myself no matter what. Not caring one iota about what was presentable and serviceable and… commercial.

So it was that The Walls Around Us came to be.

In a (weird? wild?) turn of events, this book that was my strangest… this book that didn’t even try to be likable or easy… this book that didn’t care what anyone thought of it… this book has found its readers. In fact, it has become the most well-received book I’ve ever published. If you scroll to the bottom of this post, you’ll see some of the amazing things that have happened to this book and, thanks to the book, to me.

What’s the lesson in this? I’m a better writer when I’m not trying so hard to make everyone else happy. I’m more free on the page. More daring. I go deeper. And all that shows. And maybe, just maybe, readers respond all the more to a book that feels unique and specific to the writer in all its strange glory. Maybe they recognize the honesty in there, and that honesty is compelling. I think they do.

When I work with other writers on their novels, privately and in workshops and classes, I like to push the writers to go deeper. To not just do the easy thing. Even if it means tearing up what you have and starting over… Even if it means getting stuck first until you unstick yourself and break through that wall.

Because the writing on the other side of the wall is so very worth it.

I look back at my career and all the pages I’ve written over the years—pages that include unpublished novels and unfinished scraps of novels and of course the novels I have published. I look at all I’ve written and I know that the best writing came out when I was not trying to fit a mold or write toward a trend or appease an audience.

It came when I was alone in a dark room with only my book and me. When I was scared. When I had no worldly idea what might happen. When I took the biggest risk of my life and made a leap.

It wasn’t just the writing of The Walls Around Us that changed me—it ended up changing the trajectory of my career. I decided to leave the Big Five publisher I was with and I took this book proposal elsewhere, finding a home at a smaller, more boutique house. I landed happily at Algonquin Young Readers, a fledgling imprint at that time just about to launch its own first season of YA and children’s titles when I signed with them. This was the best decision I could have made for myself, for the book, for my career. But at the time, it was scary to go somewhere new and start over.

Once upon a time, in the future, I’m sure I’ll be facing new struggles. Writing is never a snap of the fingers and a word count from the gods. But I found something during my time with The Walls Around Us and I’ve been carrying it with me ever since: Confidence.

Simply put, I trust myself more now. I know I’ll find it. I know how.

If you’re struggling with what you’re writing—if you’re afraid to be your true self on the page—I dare you to stop listening to the outside voices and try listening only to yourself this one time. Write the book you most want to write. Write as if your fingers will fall off tomorrow. Write as if a ship of aliens is about to land on Earth and ask for one manuscript out of all the piles of pages on our planet that would communicate who you are to them, and this is that book.

Write the book that is the most unapologetically YOU, no matter how long it takes.

And know this: I want to read it. Let me know when it’s time and I’ll be there beaming at you from the front row, lifting my middle fingers if it comes to that, clapping my hands if it comes to that, or just simply grabbing your book off the shelf and drinking in every word.


Suma_WallsAroundUs_jkt_pbk_72dpiThe paperback edition of The Walls Around Us is available March 22. In the past year since the hardcover released, The Walls Around Us became a #1 New York Times Best Seller and garnered seven starred reviews from trade journals including Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist. It was named the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Pick for Spring 2015, a 2015 Edgar Award Nominee for Best Young Adult, a 2016 YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, the winner of the 2016 Cybils Award in Speculative YA Fiction, and a Best Book of 2015 by The Boston Globe, NPR, School Library Journal, the Chicago Public Library, The Horn Book, and Book Riot.

Its author is shocked and very grateful. Now she’s hard at work on her next novel with Algonquin Young Readers, and whenever she feels stuck, she recalls her own advice to be daring and true, and she pushes that much harder.

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What THE WALLS AROUND US Means to Me

The Walls Around UsMy new book, The Walls Around Us, was published today! I would be so thrilled and honored if you considered buying it this week from your favorite independent bookstore or ordering it through your local library—first-week sales do help authors so much, that’s the truth. But most of all, however you may get your hands on it, from a good friend, from an enemy, from an amazon, or from a Dumpster, I do hope it speaks to you somehow. I hope you like it.

This is a book that I wrote for myself, wholly and completely. I wrote it for the girl I was, back some time ago, and the person I am today. I wrote it because I needed to.

I wrote it because I reached an ugly place inside myself full of itching doubts that made me question every single idea I was having and every single line I was writing, and I wanted to free myself somehow. How ironic, then, to write a book that takes place mostly inside a prison to make yourself feel free. But it did. It shook something loose in me.

Last night, if you happened to be at my launch event at my favorite local bookstore McNally Jackson, where I was being interviewed by one of my favorite authors and people, Libba Bray—damn, am I lucky, damn—you may have heard Libba call this my “middle fingers book.” She says this because she witnessed me at the café table talking about writing whatever the hell I wanted without boundaries or censors and raising my middle fingers high to the ceiling while saying so, a funny image, yes. But also, it’s true. That’s what this book is for me.

me and libba
(Libba Bray and me at the launch of THE WALLS AROUND US on March 23 at McNally Jackson)

Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself in the face of all that doubt and so-called expectation and write the book you most want to write. Even if—especially if—you’re scared to do it.

The book you’d go out with in a flash of fire and smoke if you could.

The book that has no regrets.

The book that is as weird and wild and yourself as can be.

That’s The Walls Around Us for me.

I risked a lot—and now here I am, with it out in the world and no take-backs, and I feel good, I feel proud, I feel pretty OK.

One of the strangest things to realize is: When I gave myself permission to write simply for myself… When I told myself to go wild, go crazy, go all-out and see what happens, THIS is the book that seems to get more attention than my previous books. It was named the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Pick by the American Booksellers Association for Spring 2015! An Amazon Best YA Book of the Month for March! It has gotten five starred reviews!

???

Isn’t that some kind of life lesson, you think? That we should be honest and brave and so completely ourselves with the novels we’re putting out in the world. That we shouldn’t try to write what we think other people want us to write, what the industry is looking for, what readers supposedly want from us, what the world at large says. We should tell our own stories, with conviction. We should be fearless and risky and wild and true.

Even when we’re scared.

I’m so grateful for everything that’s happened with The Walls Around Us so far. (And stunned. And flummoxed. And thrilled. And… and… and I could go on!)

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(My publisher shared this wall of WALLS today!)

 

For more about the book

Thank you so much to all the wonderful, wonderful people who have been so very supportive of me and this book. I will not forget. I am so thankful.

In another post, once I have more photos, I will share with you how my first-ever-ever launch event with special guest Libba Bray went! (SPOILER: IT WAS AMAZING.) But for now, I will breathe. And be grateful for every last moment.

And try to be brave again with my next book.

cookie and pillow 610
(At my launch event with one of the cookies my publisher surprised me with, and a pillow my mom made for me!)

 

When You Start Writing (Again) Only for You

Something happens when you publish a novel for the first time. And I mean after the shock and thrill of selling the book and all those glorious and dazed dream-worthy moments leading up to when the book hits shelves, all tangled up with your hopes and expectations and the promises you may have been led to believe… I mean after, when people outside your writer friends and your agent and editor and significant other and the people who work at your publisher start to read the book. When you see how it performs in the world. How it’s taken, remembered or forgotten. How it’s interpreted, or misinterpreted.

All these other voices start seeping in. Critics. Reviewers. Bloggers. Readers. Goodreads-enthusiasts. Tweeters. Screamers. Whisperers. People at events who ask kind of odd questions. People who sound disappointed. People who seem confused. People who say beautiful things—even and especially the people who say beautiful things.

Maybe this is just me, but I started hearing a lot of voices after Imaginary Girls was published. When I was writing the next book, 17 & Gone, I was hearing them. During every draft, on every page, I was hearing these outside voices, considering their expectations and their confusions and their hopes and their dislikes and likes and food preferences. The little cocoon I used to write in was burst open and slashed by fingernails. I was never alone. My mind was never quiet, even at a writers colony. I couldn’t stop hearing all the things I would do wrong, would screw up.

I fought this and finished the book and it was published… But the experience changed me. I vowed to never put myself in that place again.

When I was writing The Walls Around Us, I decided to be simply and only myself. This led to me choosing a new publisher: Algonquin Young Readers. And this led me also to be honest with myself about what I wanted to do this time. I wasn’t writing for recognition. I wasn’t writing for commercial success, or should I say “success” because the idea of that changes with every new hoop I jump through. I stopped caring so much—honestly, I began to not care much at all—what would be expected of me from my next book or wanted from me or what would disappoint. I wanted to write this story the best way I could, and nothing more.

Like I’ve said before, I wrote this book for me. Completely and entirely for myself, in the way I wanted it to be. And in these past months while I’ve stayed quiet on this blog, I was revising and working with my brilliant editor who helped me reach my vision, and the book was finished, polished, sent off, and copyedited. Next there will be ARCs.

The other week, while I was reviewing the copyedits, I allowed myself one last read-through of the manuscript. A close, careful read. A scrutinizing read. A chance to pick myself apart and be honest about how I felt about what I’d written.

I kept my ears open for those voices I remembered flooding me during the writing of 17 & Gone.

…But there was a clearer voice. Mine. And I finished my last read of my book with this strange, new, itchy feeling inside me.

Satisfaction.

I’ve never felt so content with anything I’ve written—EVER.

I found this note on the last page of the copyedited manuscript:

Note_from_CE_large

 

It was wonderful to see that, and I will never forget it.

But the best feeling was knowing I stayed true to myself… and after a whole ton of work, because yes I did work hard on this, I was able to make the book into everything I’d wanted it to be. I stood there on the creaky, slanted, wooden floor in my living room, and I felt myself in my own skin, the weight of my well-read pages in my hands, and I told myself to remember this moment.

No matter what happens after (after the book comes out, after, after, after), I have this.

Remember the good things, writer friends. Hold them close. Keep them safe. Try not to let the outside voices drown them out.

This Is the Week Your Book Comes Out: A Haunting Blog Series, a Giveaway, a Frenzied Whisper in Your (My) Head

It’s bright and early on a Monday morning and I can hear this low little whisper in the back cobwebbed corner of my brain. Psst, it goes, trying to get my undistracted attention. This is the week your book comes out.

The voice isn’t taunting me as some voices do: This is the week my book comes out!

17 & Gone comes out on Thursday.

THIS Thursday! March 21. I can see the date on my calendar!

Since this is the 17 & Gone release week, I wanted to do something to mark the moment. To celebrate. And what is one thing I like doing, as many of my blog readers will attest to? Running a little blog series and inviting guest authors to take part.

17 & Gone is the story of Lauren, a girl haunted by a host of missing girls. All she knows is the girls are all 17—like she is—and they’re all gone without a trace. It’s this haunting that consumes Lauren and propels the story, as she races to find out why these lost girls are contacting her, and if this means she could be next.

In keeping with the idea of hauntings, I’ve asked some YA authors I know to share posts answering this question:

What haunted YOU when you were 17?

Starting today, I’ll be featuring some of these posts here on my blog—and some of the authors will be responding to this question on their own blogs. I’ll be sure to share those links here, too! And of course I’ll reveal my own disturbed psyche when I was 17, because how could I ask other authors to if I won’t? (To make sure I was being true to my 17-year-old self, I even dug out my old typewritten poems and stories from that year… they are… gutting, embarrassing, and more revealing than I ever imagined.) A peek:

(An untitled poem I wrote about a boy who didn’t deserve a poem, circa 1992.)
(An untitled poem I wrote about a boy who didn’t deserve a poem, circa 1992.)

I also want to open the question up to you, if you feel inspired to reveal what haunted (obsessed, bothered, consumed) you when you were 17. 

And by “you,” I mean everyone and anyone—my writer friends and my other creative friends. I mean readers and book bloggers and people who’ve lived through that year of being 17, which is probably most of you, and who see this post and think you may want to respond to the question. What haunted YOU at 17? If you write a response to this prompt, share the link with me by commenting here or by tweeting at me and I’ll include it in my round-up of all the posts later this week. And in thanks, I’ll also send you some 17 & Gone swag if you’d like some!

The first post in the series will be up today, and it’s by an author who sure knows how to unsettle her readers: Libba Bray. She’s away in Italy this week (my breath caught as I typed those words! Away in Italy!), but she kindly gave me this post before she left so I could share it with you for 17 & Gone’s release. Thank you so much, Libba!

And thank you in advance to all the other generous YA authors who will be taking part in revealing pieces of their haunted pasts.


THE VOICE IN MY HEAD SAYS I SHOULDN’T LEAVE YOU WITHOUT A GIVEAWAY:

Okay, I won’t. Do you want to win a signed hardcover of 17 & Gone, some swag, and a hardcover of Imaginary Girls to keep it company? Every commenter on the “Haunted at 17” guest posts here on this site this week will be entered to win.

…And you can also enter by filling out this entry form.

The giveaway is international. The giveaway opens right now, this second, and closes 11:59 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 28. I’ll pick two winners from among the commenters and the form entries.


 17&Gone_thumbMORE 17 & GONE NEWS:

  • If you’ll be in New York City for the NYC Teen Author Festival, come see me and get a signed copy of the book! Full schedule here—look out for me on Friday, March 22 at the Union Square Barnes & Noble or Saturday, March 23 at McNally Jackson or Sunday, March 24 at Books of Wonder!
  • The YA blog WORD for Teens has interviewed me about 17 & Gone. Here’s what I think about blogging as an author, why boy characters are so tricky for me to name, and moving to Mars (random, but I really do think about it).
  • I shared the places where I wrote 17 & Gone—with photos!—including a cluttered corner of my apartment, two artist colonies, my favorite café, and my beautiful writing space overlooking lower Broadway. Check out my In Search of the Write Space post on Meagan Spooner’s site, and be sure to enter the giveaway… I think you have just one day left to enter!
  • I’m touched and honored to say that Courtney Summers is holding a giveaway for 17 & Gone right now—she’s been so kind and supportive, which means extra-much to me because I admire her like whoa! She’s giving away 17 & Gone (along with an ARC of the anthology Defy the Dark). Enter her Facebook giveaway.
  • If you’ve pre-ordered 17 & Gone or plan to buy it this week (thank you so much for your support! it means the world to me!) and can’t be in New York City to get it signed, I have a way to sign your book from afar. Leave a comment on this photo on my Facebook author page and I may just mail you a signed and personalized bookplate.

NEXT UP…

What haunted Libba Bray when she was 17?

All About the Writing

motherfuckerLet me just start off by saying I hope this doesn’t sound morbid.

But I was reading up on a medical test I am having next week, and what the test is looking for, and realized there is a very slim chance it could be something serious, and of course being who I am my imagination ran off wild with the possibilities, and then I guess I found myself thinking of my life. Of what I’ve accomplished and what I still want to do. Mainly: what I still want to write.

I thought how I wish I could infuse my usual life with that sense of urgency. Because none of us know how much time we have left. And all these things I find myself distracted by worry over (book-and-career-related things; future-related things; debt-related things), I wish all of that could step aside so I could think only about the writing. And, really, why not shove it all aside? Why not make it so? (In pockets, where I can make time for it.)

Also, symbolically, my birthday is next week. This may or may not have something to do with these Big Thoughts I’ve been having.

So what am I waiting for?

If you’re holding back on something—saying you’ll write it later, you’ll do it later—what happens if later is right now?

In Which I Fail (Most of) My Resolutions… But End 2012 on a Good Note (Really)

Fair warning: This post will be tinged with a sheen of failure—even though I do feel kind of hopeful right now, and I’ll explain why at the end.

How many of us made resolutions for 2012 that we didn’t keep? How many of us said we’d do things this year—write certain things, cease bad habits, start new ones?—and here we are, days from the end of the year, realizing how little we became the people we wanted to be?

I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. I always have high, lofty goals for myself and I rarely measure up to them.

So, hi. Want some honesty? Want to see into my pathetic little brain during one of its more idealistic tantrums? Well, here you go.

Readers of this blog may remember that at the end of 2011, I wrote myself seven (I like sevens) writing resolutions that I kept secret and said I would reveal at the end of 2012. And I photographed them, promising I’d open them up in a year and tell you if I met them?

1 closed res2 closed res3 closed res4 closed res5 closed res6 closed res7 closed res

If you were curious what writing resolutions I had for this past year, here they are… and their outcomes:

Resolution #1: A vow to not distract myself by the internet in the mornings…

2012 resolution 1

Did I meet resolution #1? Let’s be honest here. Let’s lay it bare. I did not follow this at all. Ever. I checked my email first thing in the morning—and my Twitter, and my Facebook—and though I occasionally walked out of my way to the writing café that doesn’t have wifi on purpose, I didn’t do that as often as I should have. I failed at this. I failed. And I have to say: I think most of my problems this year stem from not meeting this personal goal. If I want 2013 to be a better year, I think I should revisit this.

Resolution #2: Finish a draft of a new novel by, like, MONDAY????

2012 resolution 2

Resolution #2—are you kidding?? I am really upset and angry at myself for not meeting this. Imagine if I’d completed the draft of a new novel by the end of this year, which would technically be Monday! Maybe I’d have a new book deal by now, a new contract and chance to keep up this career, a new book coming out soon enough… I mean, yeah, it would have been all kinds of amazing if I’d been able to meet this. I didn’t. I didn’t at all. But, by the end of the year, I will have a new draft of some new proposal pages and synopsis ready for my agent to see… so that’s… well, it’s something. I need to be content with that something or else I’ll be too down on myself to even finish this post.

Resolution #3: Write short stories again!

2012 resolution 3

Resolution #3—how’d I do? Well, I kind of made some progress on this, halfway, anyway. Secretly, on the side, I revised and reworked some short stories, and realized how many I think are worthy of keeping and being made new. Short stories are what I started writing—they’re the reason I fell in love with writing fiction. And I may not have met this goal this year, but I am not done with this yet. Not done.

Resolution #4: Try for something big.

2012 resolution 4

Did I accomplish resolution #4? Surprisingly, I think I can say I did. I applied for some things this year. I got rejected. But the point is, I TRIED. And that’s all I can control when it comes to making a resolution: only what I can do, not how the world responds to me. So, yes, I did this, and I’m proud of myself.

(Edited to say: Now that I remember, I got a couple yeses, too!)

Resolution #5: Hahahahahahahah write every day ha.

2012 resolution 5

What, is the absurdity of resolution #5 showing? I didn’t write every day. Some days I had to work. Some days I was too depressed to write. Some days I made excuses. I kind of sucked at this, what more do you want me to say?

Resolution #6: Stop comparing yourself to other writers and being so negative!

2012 resolution 6 final

Is it humanly possible to really meet resolution #6? OK, this may shock you. But guess what? I think I have finally begun to tackle this issue in myself—this flaw of comparing myself to other writers and what they can do, what they’ve accomplished, what book deals and foreign sales and movie options and awards lists they’ve reached—really. I spent most of the year trying to get away from this squishy, icky part of myself, and here I am, sitting at the end of 2012, and I feel… okay. I’ve stopped searching out the negativity and dwelling on bad comparisons. I’m myself. I write what I write. This was the biggest war inside me during 2012, and I’ve come out of it stronger and more sure of myself. Maybe it doesn’t matter that I failed most of my other resolutions, if I made this one.

Resolution #7: Start the book I’m afraid to start.

2012 resolution 7

And the last resolution of them all, lucky #7, did I reach it? Well… no. I didn’t. I know exactly what book I mean when I say the book I’m afraid to write. It’s not a YA novel. And I didn’t allow myself to embrace working on it yet. But you know what? I did embrace working on a novel that does feel BIG in a different way. It’s unapologetic. It’s all me. And I want to write it first. So lucky #7, you’ll have to wait. I’ll write you someday.

How do I not feel like a big, old failure?

Here I am, revealing to you my goals and aspirations a whole year after I set them down on paper and photographed them for future shaming purposes, admitting I failed at most of them, and yet… I don’t feel all bad about this year, either. I am ending on a good note. I am writing something I love. And we writers know how delicious that feels. I am closing out 2012 on that high feeling.

…And maybe I’ll carry over some of these resolutions into 2013.

Tell me: Did you reach your 2012 writing resolutions? 

On Chasing Ambition and Being a Girl and a Woman

I sometimes look around and realize I’m living a strange life—well, “strange” by the standards of what a woman in her thirties (I refuse to say the number out loud or write it down) might be living. I haven’t given my mom grandchildren. Every time I see her and I think of her with her friends who all have grandchildren, I feel a pang of guilt—even though she assures me she wants me just the way I am and that I’ve given her two “grandchildren” so far: Dani Noir and Imaginary Girls, with a third on the way this coming winter.

I don’t feel the need or desire to have children. It’s just not in me to be someone’s mother; there’s no biological clock in there, and I’ve tried to listen for it. No ticking. I say I don’t want children every single time I go to doctor visits, because they keep asking. But I also know they’ll stop asking me soon. My window is soon closing, and I’m fine with that.

I’m not such a successful grown-up either. I haven’t bought a house or an apartment—and I will never be able to do that. In fact, I own nothing of value at all. I’m married, but I don’t fit the standard definition of “wife” —I don’t cook; I barely clean; I don’t even do my own laundry. In fact, sit down because you might find this too romantic—I got married to give my boyfriend health insurance after he finished grad school. I took a personal day from work, we went to City Hall, and the next day I went to work and signed him up for my insurance with HR. We’d never intended to marry before, even though we love each other and have been together since we were eighteen. But I insisted. For health insurance, I told myself. Ironically, I no longer have that job. So it goes.

I don’t have a work career anymore, beyond freelancing. I don’t have many friends—I lost touch with so many of them over the years—and the only ones I do still have are writers too. I don’t like holidays. I don’t understand why people stay close with family just because you share blood. I keep close with certain members of my family, a tiny circle who I love, and I don’t need anyone else. I don’t have a social life. I don’t have hobbies. I don’t have savings. I enjoy spending time alone, with only myself. Very much. I look around lately—with so many people I know having children, and moving out of Manhattan, if they ever lived here to begin with, and doing things with family and going to weddings and going on vacations—and I see how odd I am. I am writing this alone at a café table on a beautiful weekend morning when most people seem to be outdoors, and I’m perfectly content staying right here.

I have and want one thing, and I’ve been single-minded about it since high school: I write. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, to the detriment of everything else.

When the writing is going well, I’m happy, I’m alive, I’m more pleasant to be with—and when the writing isn’t going well, I’m destruction on short legs. I’m a nightmare. I’m all or nothing. I’m that self-centered, temperamental artist no one wants to live with. When I want to go away for a month at a time for an artist colony, I jet off and go. When I want to stay home for days at a time revising and not cleaning or doing dishes or picking up things I drop on the floor, I do it.

I’m everything I always wanted to be—because I only ever wanted this one thing. And I’m also a bit of a monster, because when you have only one thing, you have quite a lot to lose.

I’m thinking of all this now because of this beautiful post I came across last night, “What I Did the Summer After I Graduated” by the Rejectionist. It’s this quote that resonates with me, this one I shared on Tumblr last night:

“When you are a woman or a girl or female no one says to you Look, artists who are great take without asking and take and take and do not apologize because when you are a woman or a girl or female the only thing you are supposed to take is a lot of other people’s shit. No one says to you Be sure you are strong enough to take and not apologize and keep going when the taking leaves you nothing to go back to. Be sure you are strong enough to steal and live alone with what you’ve chosen to make yours.” —The Rejectionist

You see, that post speaks to me. It speaks to me about ambition. About having this kind of larger-than-life ambition as a girl and now a woman. I know so many of us have it, but I also know it’s all I have. It’s all I want. My life is made up of this and nothing else.

Which is dangerous.

That beautiful post makes me think of all I let go and thought I didn’t want and so lost, over the years. About being this strange kind of creature who’s filled with only this WANTING to become something she may never get to be because it’s never good enough, where I am, it’s never the best I can do. What will be left of me if I never reach the heights I see in my dreams? And does it even matter if I know I’ll never stop reaching?

Recently, on Twitter, I asked, cryptically, if it ever ends. If, for authors, you ever stop and think what you’ve done is good enough. Authors said no, so I must not be alone in this.

I know in my heart it won’t ever be enough. I will never have written enough. Having aspiration this enormous means it can never be fed.

I have a memory of being eighteen, the summer before I left for college and met the boy I dragged to City Hall. It was night. We were in the woods, some boys, some girls, and of the friends I was with that night, I was the only one headed off to college in a week or two. Three of them would go on to become heroin addicts and one would be murdered over a drug dispute before she turned thirty. But at that moment, the summer nights smoking innocent bowls and running naked into the reservoir and hanging our arms out the open windows of speeding cars down long, dark roads seemed to be the only thing worth having in the world. A friend was talking of all I’d miss. All we had here. How much he wanted to stay and how he couldn’t fathom how anyone would want to leave. And it was a beautiful town, yes, where people still go on vacations. But it was so not enough for me.

We were on the edge of a cliff, looking off into the dark night and there was no way to know how far we’d fall if we jumped. I remember looking into the darkness of my hometown and feeling it in my bones, this thought: I have to get the fuck out of here. I couldn’t stay. I had so much more to do. I’d barely written anything beyond amateur poems and stories at that point, and I didn’t even know what being a “Writer” even entailed, but I knew I had to be one. I was going to be a writer. Somehow I felt sure I had to give up everything and anything to do that. I looked into the darkness and swore to myself I would.

It’s a promise I kept. I did go off to college. And I never did look back, though I mourned my friend who died, who was so talented, she should have gotten out, and away from drugs, herself. She would have become an artist whose name you would have known.

I’d miss my chances at trying heroin with my friends—I thank the universe for this every day—and I’d move to the city, where I always wanted to live, and I’d stay far away from drugs and I guess I’d become this thing I wanted to become. An artist. A writer. A cold-hearted person who cares for nothing else. Somehow I got it in my head that this is how I had to be and I whittled down my life to only this.

This is a strange life, the kind of life—decades ago—only men were supposed to live.

Ambition. Why did I let go of so much while chasing after it to get here? And if I hadn’t, would I have made it anyway?

Is this where I thought I’d end up when I looked off the cliff into the darkness?

Complicated questions I ask myself. Complicated answers I can’t ever hope to know.