Broken and Pathetic
My new book comes out a week from tomorrow. Everyone keeps saying, "You must be so excited!" I am, but that emotion is buried beneath fourteen feet of fear. What if people don't get it? What if people don't like it? What if people don't read it? What if people don't even know it exists and therefore can't read, like, or get it even if they were willing to? What if therefore I never get to write another book? What if I can't write another book because I'm just not smart, interesting, creative, talented, or rested enough?
Then underneath the fourteen feet of fear is another twelve feet of discomfort. I am maybe the 40 billionth writer to observe that the skills it takes to write good books (solitude, internality, sensitivity, and in my case -- because I write novels -- embracing of the long form) are the exact opposite of the ones it takes to market books (embracing of the 140 character form, the tweet and post form, the blog form even, plus lots of going out into the world to be the center of attention and talk about myself. I refused to walk down an aisle or otherwise make an entrance at my wedding for fear that everyone would be looking at me -- center of attention is not really my thing.)
So below those 26 feet is indeed the excitement. In fairness, one of the reasons it's so buried is it came first. I was very excited while I was writing it. I was excited when my agent read it and loved it. I was excited when it was the buzz of the Frankfurt Book Fair and started selling to country after country and there was an auction for the U.S. rights and the film rights, and I was excited when I met my wonderful editor and saw the gorgeous cover and the inside design and when I picked the epigraphs and wrote the dedication and acknowledgements. To everything there is a season, and the season for excitement is not, as it happens, when the book comes out but rather quite a bit earlier. At least for me. This here is the season of fear and anxiety.
All of that is preamble though, scene setting, mood establishment. All of that is to say that I've been in something of a crazed, frenetic, anxious, frazzled, weepy state for a couple months here and working 12 hour days and sleeping almost not at all. Then on Friday afternoon, my almost-four-year old broke her leg jumping on a trampoline. (Confidential to parents: she didn't fall off; she didn't knock into anything; she was just jumping one moment then wailing in pain the next; evidently, this is insanely common.)
We spent the evening in the ER. And have spent the time since carrying her screaming from sofa to our bed to hers, coaxing medicine into her, and letting her watch more television since Saturday morning than she had in her life to date so far. We've also been asking the big questions: How does a child used to spending six or so hours a day at a dead run sit still for the next six weeks? What does summer look like if it doesn't involve the beach and the pool and the park? How do you tell an almost four year old not to move for a month and a half? How do you do book tour and book promotion if you have no childcare?
We are blessed to ask these big questions instead of the other kind. We won't know much until we meet with the pediatric orthopedist, but seemingly, she doesn't need surgery. She will heal fine. She's only in pain when she moves, and that should get better soon. This will pass and heal, and soon, this will be only memory, warning. And perspective. This is the part where I say who cares if anyone reads or buys or likes the book as long as my kid is okay. This is the part where I say I thought I was stressed and busy and anxious before, but now I see what's important and what's not. But that would be a lie. I want it all: a healthy, happy, whole, mobile, active child AND a novel people buy, read, and enjoy. And I must do it all: care for the child, in sickness and in health (she's pretty demanding under the best of circumstances too; she is three after all) AND do my job (which is to write and promote books). How does all of that get done under less than ideal circumstances? I have no idea. But I'm taking suggestions.
I Heart Ichiro
Can I blog about baseball? I doubt it. It is something too ingrained in me to write about I think. I inherited it from my grandmother, and like other inborn, inherited traits, it's too much a part of me to really understand. Baseball was passed down to me. Not like china. More like being short. Do I have insights into being short? It makes it hard to buy pants. That's about it.
Once when one of my students found out I follow baseball, he remarked, surprised, "Huh. I never figured you for a sports fan." And I said, "I'm not a sports fan. I only like baseball."
Here are some reasons I don't like other sports:
Football is too cold. And there are only, like, a dozen games a year. Baseball is summer (warm) and there's a game every day. Every. Day. Sometimes two.
Then there's basketball. Listen, if I were nineteen feet tall, I could dunk a basketball too. It's just not impressive to me that people with legs taller than my entire person can run real fast and reach real high. Now baseball, in contrast, is nearly impossible, and any given pitch or swing is likely as not to end in failure. That's awesome. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in the history of the world, sucked at baseball. And more to the point, lots of body types excel at baseball. You never see really fat, out of shape basketball players. But there are lots of fat, out of shape baseball players. (There are lots of fat football players too, but that's different because baseball is not a sport where advantage is gained by sitting on someone.)
Then there's Ichiro. Ichiro is taller than I am and weighs more, but not by, like, that much given that he's a god of an athlete. He is funny and ridiculously gifted, seems to have a sense of humor about himself, does this great stretch on the field that I love when we do it in yoga, and generally managed to rally a whole city around a frankly subpar baseball team.
But my favorite thing about Ichiro is two pictures of him meeting Barack Obama at the All-Star Game. No question that Ichiro is a rock star. He goes by one name. He's wildly famous, wildly popular, wildly known and successful and swooned over and fit, best of the best at his profession which, p.s., is baseball (i.e. not an easy job). And his reactions to finding himself in the presence of Barack Obama are exactly what any mere mortal's would be: reverent respect and nervous awe followed by (when the object of his affection looked away) pure giddy glee. OHMYGODYOUGUYS!!!!!!!!!!!! BARACK OBAMA IS SIGNING A BASEBALL FOR ME!!!!!!!!!!!!! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!
If this man enters the Hall of Fame as a Yankee, I am never speaking to anyone ever again.
Last week, we returned Ernie Sings to the library before it made my head explode. Instead, we listened to Free To Be You and Me, the one kid CD that seems always to be in our car, about two dozen times in a row. It was a long time before I could listen to Free To Be without crying hysterically, so nostalgia-sodden was it for me. Three-hunded-some hours of Free To Be later, I can observe it with the exhaustive knowledge and academic remove of the world's foremost expert on the piece, which surely I must be.
For those of you who are uninitiated, it's an album (and book) of songs, stories, and poems whose point is generally: it's okay to be different, and specifically: gender stereotypes are a load of shit.
1) Whoever and however you are, Free To Be's thesis is: that's just great. Athletic girls, boys who like dolls, children who cry, dads who can't throw balls, kids without friends, congenitally confused school principals, young adults with no desire to marry, rude grandchildren, moms who drive vans(?), elementary school field trips to the jungles of Southeast Asia, and infant males whose life ambition is to be a cocktail waitress are all a-okay as far as Marlo Thomas is concerned. But prissy girls to whom matching clothes and well-coifed hair are important? Well, those bitches deserve to get eaten.
2) Though musically Free To Be just screams 1973, the year of its (and my) release, thematically, it remains heartbreakingly relevant. Spot the Free To Be message below that's no longer relevant, that kids today no longer need to hear:
a) Despite the fact that jobs tend to be gender stereotyped, you can grow up to do nearly any job you like.
b) It's okay for boys to cry. It's okay for boys to like dolls and generally to be nurturing and sensitive.
c) Housework is unpleasant and as a result should be shared equally among adult partners.
d) Women don't all want to get married. Marriage is not the end goal of all relationships. Permanent heterosexual partnership is not the ultimate dream of everyone.
e) Even if many of the boys you know are a certain way and like a certain thing, and even if many of the girls you know are a certain way and like a certain thing, you may not fall into those flawed categories and that's just fine.
f) Sometimes the gender you feel like and the sex your body is don't line up.
g) Parents are people.
h) Athletically gifted females are nonetheless desirable.
Answer: H. Even by the time Free To Be was relevant to me (i.e. eight years or so after its release), this felt dated to me. I was, myself, not athletically gifted and felt that this made me undesirable as a friend or romantic partner. All the popular girls at school were good at sports. All hail Title IX. Otherwise, these are all messages my daughter still needs to internalize because these inequities and stereotypes remain heart-sinkingly static. Nearly forty years on, the music sounds dated, but gender stereotypes and gender realities for children (boys shouldn't cry or have dolls) and adults (job/pay/marriage/childcare/housekeeping roles and responsibilities) remain strikingly, distressingly unbalanced.
The notion of vacation is a strange one when you work everyday but don't go to work any day and when work and not-work look so much alike. My husband, son, border collie, and I spent last week on Blakely Island with the wonderful writer Katherine Malmo and her family. On the one hand, it was vacation definitionally -- we were away from home. On the other hand, it was pretty home-like: same general topography if a much better view of it, same weather, same activities. In part, activities were the same of necessity. Small children will be entertained; they will leave the house; they will run about; otherwise, you will be sorry. Then they will nap during which you will try to accomplish something. Then they will need to be entertained out of the house whilst running again. In between, they'll need to eat. Blakely is not an island like, say, Oahu, with restaurants and such. It's the other kind. So another home-like activity on this vacation was the preperation of meals three times a day.
Meantime, one of the very best things about writing as one's job is the fairly legitimate justification of reading books as work. Do I learn how to write novels by reading novels? For sure. Still? Even after all the novels I've read and the couple I've written? Hell yes. Can I continue to write novels without constantly reading them? No. No way. Do I take notes and add marginalia and look things up and write small essays reflecting on what I've read, what I've learned from it, and how I might implement those lessons myself? I do, always, but a) that is fun as far as I'm concerned, b) I've been doing it so long that it's part of reading for me, so c) that's not what makes it work. Reading is work insofar as it's part of my current job description. But it looks an awful lot like reading for pleasure.
So on this vacation, while my kid was asleep, my husband and I sat out on the deck overlooking the sound, listening to ballgames on the radio, watching the sun set until about 11 o'clock every night, and reading books (and taking notes and writing about them -- well, I did that; my husband just read). It is indeed hard to overstate how amazing the view was and how different from the one off my own tiny deck. But is that enough to account for the difference in attitude? I'm not sure it is. Vacation reads are the best ones. And vacations just feel different from real life, even when you spend your days doing nearly the exact same things, even when you're blessed with a day job whose to-do list includes, "Read a new book."
My vacation backyard.
My actual backyard.
About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.