I realized today that my first book has now been out to publishers for over two years, which is an unthinkably long time to my writerly peers — most of whom had their first books picked up in under a week, or even under two days.
Listen to me read this piece here:
On the morning of my birthday, we tidied the house. People were coming over for brunch, and though we try to have small gatherings on a regular basis, we rarely have more than ten people at a time; this was an unusual occasion with plenty of moving parts, making it easy for us to become stressed about it.
And yet, pausing at the dining table forty-five minutes before guests were to arrive, I wasn’t panicked. C was anxious and pacing — literally pacing, as he can’t stay still when worried — and as he paced by me, I asked him what he was worrying about. He said, “Guests coming. Things not working out right.”
I told him that I had made an intentional choice to not worry. It was my birthday, and a particularly important event for me, having lived through the year when I’d thought I wouldn’t. I was not going to stress out on my birthday.
As it turned out, everything that I could have become stressed about… was not a problem. People that we were afraid would be late were, in fact, early. The food was extraordinary — my brother, who hates fennel, told me that the fennel-grapefuit-avocado salad was actually “pretty good,” and I couldn’t get over how crisp the apples were in the gluten-free sour cream apple pie I’d requested. Worrying, or the choice to not worry, didn’t change anything that happened. It only changed the amount of energy that I exerted on things that I wasn’t able to alter.
Since that day, I’ve wondered what it would be like to take that calm energy and bring it into every day — if I could take the beatific mood of a day that I considered important enough to let go of, and move it into all of the days afterward.
I realized today that my first book has now been out to publishers for over two years, which is an unthinkably long time to my writerly peers — most of whom had their first books picked up in under a week, or even under two days. I’ve spent heaps of energy worrying about what will happen to that book. It’s a strange experience to spend five years with your nose to the grindstone, and then to have no outcome. Or, rather, an outcome that has yet to be determined.
But I’ve been doing other things since that book began to make its rounds. I started my own business. I began advocacy work in earnest. I published my own book, a concise volume that contains multitudes, about life with mental illness, and about how that part of my life has changed how I experience hope.
And, while I was making the choice to move toward letting go, a heaven-sent message arrived. I was quoted, alongside astounding, best-selling folks such as Dani Shapiro, in a New York Times piece called “With ‘Stay Lit,’ Writers Peservere in a Hostile World.” The piece is about staying the course as a writer, with or without conventional permission. It’s about choosing the ridiculous path of being a writer, even if your most recent book earned you a two-figure advance. (Yes, that is in the article.)
Where do you go after two years of waiting?
You keep waiting.
You don’t stop what you’re doing.
You celebrate your birthday every single day.