I’ve been in a funk the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out why for the longest time. Was it my birthday, which by the way was last Friday? Nah. Nothing is more anticlimactic than turning 41. There is no more boring age on Earth. 41? Who thought of such a ridiculous number? Can’t we pretend it never happened? Ignore the prime-numbered years? 41. Bah.
It wasn’t the birthday, but the birthday didn’t help. I was not in the mood to celebrate. This is unlike me. My family was alarmed. Scott insisted that surely I wanted to do something, and in response I shouted “STOP ASKING ME” and ran to my room, weeping. Then my mom called to demand to know what I wanted to do and I said “Nothing” and she said, “Well, but SOMETHING” and I wailed “NOTHING” and “NO ONE GETS ME” and braces sprouted back onto my teeth and no one asked me to the prom, again. This birthday was complicated!
My actual birthday day was actually nice. (That is the best sentence I have ever written. History, take note.) Henry wrote me an amazing poem, and I just asked him if I could share it with you all and he said no, so you’ll have to take my word for it. It was stellar, and worth turning 41 for. Scott got me a beautiful piece of art. We had a nice dinner. I sure am writing the word “nice” a lot.
Anyway, then my birthday was over, which happens, as we know, and my funk returned, and I figured out the cause of it: post-book-turning-in blues. Eden and I have been hunkered down for so long, focused on getting pages churned out, and then getting those churned-out pages to not suck, and then to suck even less, and then adding images to said pages, and now it’s…done. And you know what? It’s kind of a bummer. I felt relief and accomplishment for, uh, a few minutes, and then I missed that bastard manuscript that’s kept me so involved for so long.
The thing is, when you write a book, nothing feels as good as writing it. Not finishing it; not getting it published; not (I think) getting good reviews (which we would like, please, thank you). Even when it feels awful, writing is the best part of the process— because even when it’s difficult and every word you come up with is laughably bad, you know you did it anyway. You did it. And that can’t be taken away. (It can be laughed at, sure, but you’re not going to show anyone that draft, are you.)
The publications that, if you’re lucky, occur along the way—and believe me, I realize how lucky I am—don’t mean all that much. They don’t do a thing for your soul. That pesky soul. It is not at all assuaged with advances or praise or any of that nonsense. It wants you to work. The work is the whole point.
A novelist friend of mine once told me this. He outlined for me exactly what happens. He said that when you get your first article published, you worry about when you’re going to get another one published. And once you’ve had a few pieces published, you worry about when you’re going to get a book. And once you get a book, you stress out about the publication of the book, and will it sell enough. And then you worry about the reviews. And then you worry about the chances of getting your next book published. And on and on.
I ignored him. I knew that when I had my first accepted anything I would bask in my newfound glory and everyone would love me and also my complexion would clear up and I would never be sad again.
Well. You were right, Gary, you jerk. Here I am, sure that nothing is going to make me feel better except starting the next book. Which, I guess, is good news. And cause for celebration or whatever. Damn it.