About exactly a year ago today, I flew to New York to visit my best friend on the same day that Longreads published a piece I wrote about a nanny I had when I was thirteen. By the time I got off the plane, I was informed that I was getting a crazy number of reads, which was shocking. I didn’t think the piece was that special, but strangers seemed to love it.
Three days later, when I sat drinking coffee with a stack of brand new NYRB classics in the Brooklyn Center for Fiction, I received an email from my editor, Katie, letting me know that she’d been contacted by a movie producer looking to buy film rights for the piece. We did the requisite vetting. He was legit. I went outside to stand on a sidewalk in downtown Brooklyn to scream and do a little “Holy Shit, I’ve made it!” jig, even though I knew better. Who knew what would come of any of it? I’d been on the precipice of success before, close enough to taste it, and the floor had crumbled beneath me. Why would this time be any different? Why was this any more real?
It felt for real. The next six weeks were a fizzy, discombobulating journey as I was approached by two more producers, two agents (one literary) and a publisher. I spent a lot of time reviewing contracts and researching life rights (because it was memoir), film licensing and whether or not I wanted to be involved with the screenplay (one of the producers thought I should be). I took hours-long calls with people in New York and LA and filled notebooks with questions and answers. And even though, it probably wouldn’t have been much money and who knows how anything would have actually done out there, I had a moment or two of feeling like everything I’d ever done was actually leading to something real and tangible. That I could introduce myself as an writer and have it, for once, not feel like bullshit.
Anyway, the deals fell through for a host of depressing reasons (I don’t have a celebrity-followed Twitter account/Influencers aren’t into me/I don’t have 500K people reading my blog every day/ I’m old and not sexy/I overshare/I don’t share enough/I don’t have a unique enough story/I’m too much of a boring, white middle class white woman/I’m too southern/ “But it would be better if you had more of a regional flavor? What happened to your accent? Are you possibly from an obscure religious tradition? Is there any particular hardship in your life that would make you more interesting/marketable?” Also “Booksmart” evidently flopped at the box office because people don’t want stories about quirky young women, etc. etc. etc.).
The end came as swiftly as the whole thing had begun. The wave I’d been riding washed out behind me and I was left exactly as I started: hollering into the void, not really interesting enough to interest people, feeling pretty stupid, as a theoretically world-wise middle-aged aged woman, that I’d actually believed it might work out again, that finally –FINALLY—the bullshit would have been worth it.
I knew—I know—the whole deal. What you write, what you play, what you create—it’s not supposed to be for someone else. You should be perfectly happy to toil quietly, taking pleasure only in the act of creation. But, like, I know I’m not the only insecure grandstander out there, right? I mean, I don’t know if it was a childhood spent freebasing (metaphorical) greasepaint doing a bunch of marginal local theatre or just the natural result of being part of a family full of loud-mouthed, larger-than-life creative types all jostling for the spotlight all the time. I do know that I’ve never achieved that sort of DGAF attitude about success or attention that we’re all supposed to strive for. I shouldn’t need that to make me happy. I know the healthy thing would be to stop trying so hard and settle into the way things are. Because things are fine.
But when everything fell apart, I fell a little bit apart. Normal enough, I guess, but I felt embarrassed talking about it. Because in the grand scheme of disappointments, not having a book with my name on it or an unexpected movie deal feels about as crass and ridiculous a complaint as you can imagine. I’d hate the version of me that complained about it. I kind of hate the version of me complaining about it now.
I know you’re waiting for me to turn this around and tell you that (a year later) in the throes of the pandemic, I’ve recognized the truly important parts of life have nothing do with book publishers or literary agents and I have learned to be happy with merely the suggestion of sunlight on my face and air in my lungs. I haven’t. I still think back on a year ago and I wish I had a different ending for that story. I still put on Edie Sedgwick eye make-up and glitter sneakers and dance around my deck in the middle of the night dancing to “Fame” (Irene Cara, special UK 12” mix, icyi), and God help me if I ever stop, because I honestly don’t know what else I’d do.
Anyway, virus, Trump, etc. Pretend I just spent 800 words on something relevant. Picture today is of the Flamingo in Las Vegas on Halloween 2018, because crass and ridiculous.
As of this writing, 775, 578 people have recovered from COVID-19