This year. Holy crap. This year.
Last year was so awful, by the way. I checked my journal from exactly a year ago, when I was slinking out of town to New Orleans, my tail between my legs, soiled and trampled, humbled by New York City. I wrote a lot about how whatever I was doing wasn’t working, nothing in my life was working, and I was throwing all in with this new plan. I needed a perspective shift. It felt like my life depended on it.
And when I actually left town – a few days in advance of my planned exit, saying goodbye to no one, because that’s how awful I felt – I wrote down this weird little story. I had gone to get a bagel at six in the morning before I hit the road, where I witnessed the tail end of a conflict between the store manager and a customer. He wanted her to smile, and she wouldn’t. “Come on smile for me,” he said. She stood there, polite and quiet, her lips flatlined. A thin veneer of hassled. I thought: Oh god, New York, I must leave you immediately.
After the man left she told me he was a troublemaker, he pestered all the men who worked there, he cursed and complained, and she would never, ever smile for him. But of course she smiled for me. And then I was extra nice to her just so she wouldn’t hate humanity all day long. But stuff those tip jars when you can, that’s all I’m saying. You never know what you missed right before you walked in the door.
Anyway, now it’s today, now I’m going to go walk downstairs in my pajamas and flip flops and pick up my copy of The New York Times sitting bound in blue plastic in the lobby of my apartment building. Now I’ve got the cover review of The New York Times Book Review. Julie Orringer, an amazing, amazing writer, wrote it, and it is beautiful and thoughtful and more than I could have ever wanted. Holy crap! Holy crap.
I don’t know what I did to deserve this year. Not all of it was easy. There was definitely a strong finish. I can tell you that I now feel a sense of completion with this creative project. I got to write what I wanted to write, and I received professional recognition for it. There was a precise beginning, middle, and happy ending. A story to my story. It was deeply satisfying.
I can also tell you that it is not always like this. I had three books that did not do well before this book. The last one did so poorly that my publisher dropped me. And I am grateful every day that Helen Atsma and Grand Central Publishing picked me up, dusted me off, and said, “We’ll take her.”
Every writer I know, even the most successful, will tell you that it is up and down over the course of your career. But they will also tell you to enjoy it when it works. So I am enjoying it. And I am glad I get to do it with all the wonderful, supportive people in my life.
As for the lady on the cover of the Book Review, god, isn’t she gorgeous? Sad, beautiful, wise. I like what they did there, those editors, putting her front and center. I like that they made you look at her. I like that they made you think about it.
OK, so think about it a little bit. And I’ll see you next year, when I start writing the new book.