First, I guess, some business-adjacent things: For Lit Hub, I wrote an essay about doctors and masculinity, fear, and trauma. And then, Roxane Gay wrote this incredibly generous and smart review of Real Life over on Good Reads. I also had to pull out of Brooklyn Book Festival because I lost my debit card and the replacement won’t be here in time to travel, so welcome to my chaotic life.
The novel doesn’t come out for another five-ish months, which feels at the same time like an eternity and also like it’s happening tomorrow. People have been asking me what it feels like to be this close to publication, to have people reading the book and making their own minds about it, etc. I don’t really know how to answer that question because I don’t know how to feel, really. I think for a really long time, I survived my life by not expecting anything to happen, and when things did happen for me, I just pretended that they didn’t because they just as easily might be taken away. What does it feel like? It feels like desperately trying to start a fire and then rushing to snuff it out the minute it sparks to life. That’s what it feels like.
I think I just always expect the other shoe to drop so there’s no use in getting excited about things. I think I also always suspect other people of deception and platitude. At bottom, I think survivors are cynical. How else to make sense of the changeful nature of the world, how easily it all dissolves and slips away. I lived in two worlds simultaneously, two worlds that were mutually exclusive and which seemed to refute the existence of the other. There was my life at home and my life at school. My life as a victim of sexualized violence and my life as the kid who got the blue ribbon in jump rope at field day. I have always been adept at compartmentalization. Anyway, when good things happen to me, I just store them in a small, dark corner of my mind like so many unopened Christmas presents because it always seems like what’s the point when there could be snakes or scorpions hiding in them. People say, You must be so excited! And what I feel in that particular moment is the icy sting of their passive aggressive exclamation point, like my behavior is being corrected by way of a frigid spritz from a spray bottle. It’s not excitement exactly. It’s not.
What I feel in the greatest degree is a fear that I have become a person who experiences happiness at positive outcomes. It feels like some essential and necessary instinct has gone soft or faded entirely. I’m afraid that the minute I let my guard down and believe in a positive outcome, all of the consequences that have been waiting will rush in and fall upon me at once. All that back pay for fortune.
Which I know is not a healthy way to live, but it is a coping mechanism by which I have stayed alive. So, there you have it. Survival strategies make negotiating safety difficult because I never feel quite safe. I am safe now. I have been safe for years. And yet, and yet, and yet.
But I also feel great gratitude for the people who have read my work over the years and have supported it. I feel fortunate that people seem to enjoy this weird habit of mine. It means the world to me. I’m trying to be better about letting myself feel it, to take it in. What a ridiculously lucky thing to be able to sit down and share my thoughts with people and have them share back. After a lifetime of feeling lonely and strange and unwanted, it’s almost too much to bear. Like seeing the ocean for the first time. All that water.
I am trying and failing to work on another novel. It’s probably still too soon after finishing a manuscript to be trying to do another. But I really want to try, while I still have some time, before the pub cycle consumes my every waking thought. But it’s been so hard. I feel like I have no idea what I am doing, which of course is natural and normal. But this feels punitive. Like I’m locked out of my own mind. I feel like I must have abused it in somehow to have earned this kind of cold shoulder. I mean, there’s nothing up there. And I know what you will say: lie fallow, give it time, etc. etc. I mean, yes, obviously. But also, oh no. Writing is the thing that makes me happiest. For me, it’s not an act of self-invention so much as it is an act of self-erasure. When I’m writing, I’m not in myself. I’m not me. I exist outside of my body, my life. I miss living inside of a larger story. I miss being consumed by writing. Right now, it’s derailed me into not even being able to read. It’s just a bad situation all-around, and I am approaching toxic levels of misery. But those are the breaks, I guess. I’m not happy unless I have a project, and I just feel like there’s no real shape to my life. I mean, I find that I can’t even listen to Fleet Foxes, which is a real sign of dark times.
The answer is obviously to be patient with myself, kind, generous, forgiving. The answer is obviously that things come when they will come, and that if that means, it comes in the middle of the spring in the middle of pub season, then okay, that’s what it has to be. The answer is obviously that there are no answers. Even with ourselves, we’re just casting lots, guessing at what works best and when and how, and when our guesses only make things worse, we guess still more, guessing and checking until something clicks into place. It’s fine.
I hope that you are doing okay. I hope that your day and week go well. I hope that whatever thing you’re wrestling with finally decides to give you a little elbow room. I hope whatever you need finds its way to you. I hope you find yourself at ease. I hope that you are able to find peace within that ease. I hope that the waiting is the worst of it.