Every other writer I know works a hell of a lot harder than my lazy ass and if you judge by effort, I do not deserve what I’ve garnered in my 2 and a half year career.
The other night I got to talk on late night radio about a little listicle I wrote…WGN in Chicago…they have a range of 38 states plus Canada, plus podcasts and internetty stuff. You can hear me here. You will find you’ve been reading my name wrong in your head.
It’s short, meant for fun. It was my first radio interview but I was out of adrenaline by then. Sunk into that thick lull that comes after. Because three hours before that interview request came, I landed a genuine New York literary agent. I have queried 11 agents. In my life. And that “query” was basically written by a sweet editor who came to me last year, wanted to publish me, but couldn’t convince her little publishing house that I wasn’t too crazy.
The woman who is now my agent wrote back within 7 minutes of my email. That does not happen.
I researched her thoroughly…she’s real…best-selling clients and junk. Big firm. I picked her randomly from a list someone put on line of agents who liked humor and history. I just signed the contract. She is ready to start shopping my book proposal around to her twenty years worth of literary contacts at places like Penguin, Little,Brown, Random House…the castles that set the rules for the modern melee of knowledge and culture.
I stomped around my shed shooting “BOOM! I’M A BOOM!” after talking to her. Agents aren’t easy to get. An writer pitching without one is a Jehovah’s Witness knocking on doors looking for a single wobbly soul to save. Agents are the UPS guys. The richest houses in town quickly and happily accept what they have to offer.
No matter how arrogant this makes me sound, I had to puzzle this out. Unfair success again in my career, with minimal effort. Why me? What makes me different?
The writers I know works so hard. They have set hours. They get up early and stay up late. They send out queries and proposals non stop. Because that’s how the game is played.
Most things in my life that require hard work…fitness, cleanliness, standard of living, money management….I am an utter failure at and it shows. Everything directly Therese is just…junkier and sloppier than everyone else’s (except my kids and my shed and my husband. Top shelf, all round) I can’t have nice things. I don’t worry about attracting ants if I spill something in a place where no one can see it, like behind the couch cuz the ants around here are totally small and mind their own business and in a way, they clean the spill. I don’t pay bills until I’m denied service. I DO take my children to their swim classes every day but I bitch nonstop incessantly to everyone while I do it. Even strangers. Cuz it’s too goddamn hot in the parent aquarium. And I’m BORRRRRED.
But then I write (when I feel like it, which fortunately is often). I write good. My career has risen fast, two or three times the speed it should.
I’m no idiot savant, replicating Rachmaninoff on water glasses after hearing it once in the aisles of the grocery store. And I’m no better at putting words together than any other writer. I just had different life. Kinda shitty, but in such a perfectly, particular way, that it made me good at putting those words together differently than other writers.
Here was my childhood. Wake up..try to make Dad not scream. Then a two room schoolhouse in the mountains controlled by two seriously angry should-not-work-with-children teachers. Try not to make them scream. Recess, say the right things to make people play with me, whether it be presenting my tubby clumsy self for their amusement or trying to really make a friend. Home. Try to make siblings talk to me but not pick on me. Nighttime…Dad. Also…lots of intense reading thrown in there and endless games of pretend…I didn’t stop playing pretend until my late teens. So much to escape from.
Oh not every day was like that, not at all. But I was always prepared for it to be. Rigid, scanning each person for weapons, fumbling in a toolbox of words to try and defuse awful things before they happen.
This pattern shifted a bit as I grew…but I believed into my late 20s that I was one wrong word away from triggering disgust of anyone who knew me.
And so I become a prima donna ballerina of “the right words.” What will get your attention, sibling? What will make you say ‘good job’ and not take away my lunch, teacher? What will make you laugh, boy who I don’t want to make fun of me or throw ice balls at me? How shall I keep your attention? How can I make you love me? Pirouette, arabesque, contretemps.
Hardworking writers had dates in high school. They had adventures on sweet summer nights. They were in girl scouts, churches, soccer. They earned prizes and badges that they worked for. They weren’t alone all the time. Their parents were terribly imperfect because that’s how it is, but they didn’t usually fear them. Their lives are balanced and successful. They write for themselves first! They. Have. Confidence.
And I have a desire so strong to be liked that even the bevy of real friends I have now isn’t enough. The husband who…well I don’t even have words for the depth and breadth of his love and loyalty, isn’t enough. I need strangers, thousands, maybe millions of them, to like me.
My theory is that’s the reason I don’t have to work til it hurts anymore. Because though my career has been terribly short, I’ve been training for so long. I started like those little girls at the Vaganova School in Russia, learning over years to deform my sinew and not notice the blood dripping into the metal toes of my slippers. One day they’ll lead the ballet company. They’ll work, but they won’t notice it, so much has it become their life now. All that pain and time transformed into a leap that defies gravity. That’s how I feel today.
And I want more.