I was told I should document everything about this experience as it happens, so here we go.
For those just tuning in, I wrote this article that came out on Thursday, 11/08. In short order, it went viral. Before it came out, I accidentally wrote about 3,000 words (2,995, to be exact), which was then cut to a little less than half. Back to the viral: I was overwhelmed with people telling me they finally felt seen, finally felt like they weren’t alone, finally felt like they had a term to define their experiences and a touchstone to explain it to others. To say this was extremely affirming and empowering would be an understatement.
The next day, I received an email. From a literary agent. Asking if I had any “longer projects in the works” and if I’d be interested in having lunch. My response was friendly, because I’m a friendly person! And I said pretty straightforward: If you’re asking if I’m repped or anything like that, I’m not!
My instinct told me to be totally transparent and cautious: I’ve had people reach out before, always offering some sort of inside track or deal or opportunity but always full of dubious, ulterior motives. The most common one I get is something along the lines of: “I’d love to work with you on this project of mine.” It always means: “I hope to use your notoriety to expand my visibility, and I don’t plan to pay you for it.” It doesn’t take long to learn to identify these, to cut back on optimistically believing what they’re selling. But this one felt a little different. Still breezy and still fully expecting this to evaporate, I laid it all out. I gave my availability. I gave a brief of the idea I’ve been babysitting for an entire year. The agent said: “Sounds fantastic, and right up my alley.” and then she asked: How’s lunch at 1pm on Monday? I said: Sounds great!
Before “Sounds great!” I started to write a response stating that I had no interest in meeting if this was an effort for a “fan” to meet by using their job to make me think this could be something more — something that could actually help me. I sat on that for a minute and opted to delete it. Instead I said — because I once met with a friend’s agent who told me I had overdressed — that I would wear something businessy because it’s an excuse to not wear dirty work clothes. What I was really saying is: I’m perceiving this to be what I think it is so now is the chance to clarify whether or not I’m mistaken.
We met for lunch.
It was a lot of talking. A lot of rambling. A lot of choosing to redirect the conversation so we could order, so she could eat while I talked and so I could eat while she talked. It was rhythmic, clear, and easy — if anything that happens after you’ve spent all morning with bubble gut could ever be called easy.
Toward the end of the meal, she says it: I want to send you an agency agreement to sign and some sample proposals so you can see what yours should look like.
A puzzle piece slides neatly into place. The last digit of the code to a safe latches on and the handle clicks open.
At one point, after I finished saying something I don’t remember, she lightly smacked the table with both hands and said “that’s going in the book.” I hope she took mental notes. I’m having deja vu of writing this. In my quasi-memory, I made the joke “Does Ann Coulter’s agent take notes when they meet or do they just throw words in a bowl and keep pulling until they’ve got the basic components of a sentence?” I opted not to use it because Ann Coulter didn’t seem like a fitting reference, but that was before I wrote (rewrote) the punchline. Maybe remembering a joke you made and then editing its delivery before it ever happens isn’t deja vu, but something more mystical.
We parted ways. It is at this point that my head is simultaneously calm and foggy. I wander over to Sephora to pick out a gift for my roommate. I somehow find myself getting a free facial. Apparently that happens when you buy $75 or more. I hadn’t planned on doing that, but my shopping habits (pile everything you want in your bag, carry them around with you until you’ve talked yourself out of them, leave with just the thing you came to get) signaled to a woman on the floor that I was a customer who deserved a free facial. Immediately. My dry pores demanded it, she said.
So there I was, in the blazer my roommate gave me the day before, getting all the makeup I’d put over my pores for this meeting, sucked out in front of customers gawking that this is something that happens, in the Sephora in the middle of Union Square. Maybe they were gawking that someone would do that. I know I would. I didn’t feel uncomfortable, which should have told me that I was not thinking clearly.
I give the woman with the soft hands who used the magic stick to suck everything out of my pores one email address. I give the guy at the makeshift checkout line a different email address. I discover the error (they need the same email to get credit for the facial) and spend twenty minutes having it corrected. I think it is good that I am here, in this store, where my pores can calm down before heading outside.
I am thinking rationally, but it feels almost forced to the surface, a sort of urgency in the need to be rational. I end up buying the gift for my roommate, a perfume of the sample bottle I used up on days I needed to feel brave, and a micellar water because I’d seen women I admire rave about the magic of micellar water and I felt like today, maybe I am going to be their peer and we will soon talk about micellar water over cocktails together. I also get a free birthday gift because they needed to register my incorrect email address as a new account. It seems like things are going too well, like I’ve fallen into a pit of goodness that I can’t quite see. It was like life was pummeling me forward and I, in my stupefied daze, graciously went along for the ride.
I get home. I am rational. I remove my items from my bag — save the gift — to show my roommate. I tell her about the facial. She asks me “How was lunch?” I am quiet. I don’t know why. The words seem stifled, like I’m a child confessing to breaking a dish. I say, “Good.” A long pause. “She’s sending an agency agreement.” A pause. I repeat myself, because my roommate says she couldn’t quite hear me the first time. “She’s sending an agency agreement that she wants me to sign and she wants me to write a book proposal.”
I turn to walk into my room to put away the items. As I turn, I spot a book I ordered that arrived the day before sitting on the ottoman in the living room. Carrying the glimpse of that book in my mind, I walk to my room. It is then that it hits me.
I am possessed now, detached. I come back to the living room and I sit down. I say out loud: I am going to have a book. I am going to be an author before I am 30. The words feel like someone else is saying them.
My roommate says: The only thing standing in your way now is yourself.
It is the worst possible thing to say and yet somehow exactly the right thing. To receive excitement and bounding enthusiasm in this moment, I would retreat further into myself. Instead I am thrown back up into reality. I am doubled over with laughter, because wow that’s the worst thing you could possibly say! The laughter settles. I resume my shock.
I don’t know how long it lasted, but I had to keep saying it, over and over again. I am going to have a book. I will be an author. I will have a book. I’ll be an author before I’m 30. A book. Me. Author. I become restless, overwhelmed. I announce that now we should swap armchairs with our upstairs neighbors (an arrangement made the night before because we love theirs and hate ours, and vice versa). I’m still in the blazer. I drag our armchair over to the door, open the door, and tell our neighbors the news. Edit: The neighbor, and their friend who is visiting, who apologizes for intruding on the apparently intimate share. I am full of restless energy and pick up our armchair on my own to begin carrying it up the stairs. My neighbor grabs the other end to help. I have to stop halfway up the stairs because it consumes me again. I’m going to have a book. They say: Uh huh. I realize: We’re still carrying a chair up a flight of stairs and I should probably keep going.
This is something I dreamed of as a child. I’d gaze at book covers, tracing the outline of the title and name, imaging that maybe someday that would be me. I think of the professor I had in college who, on our first day, asked us whether we like books or we like reading. The difference to him being that liking a book means to like the image of reading and to like reading is to like the process of consumption. I resented him for this and never could quite articulate why. A combination of the physical presence of a book always being my anchor, the opportunity of a visible escape, and the elitism of sneering at anyone who might like books because it solely means they like the appearance of being well-read. Maybe. But I always fantasized about holding in my hands something I created from my mind. I fantasized about creating something that someone else can hold, can have as their anchor. It was my dream to have something impossible made tangible.
Shortly thereafter, a text with a friend — an author who has lived the path I am walking down — and we decide to have a phone call. It’s still processing. The phone call is a lot of verbal indicators that I understand what is being said. I end it asking if she can email me everything she’s said, because “processing things is not something that my brain is capable of doing right now.” I said it less articulately than that. We spoke for 40 minutes. I retained three things: Her advice to reach out to others and ask the agent some questions, her advice to celebrate, and “It’s happening for you. It’s starting. Your life, from this point forward, is changing.” The future tense becomes present.
I think about how I have to get up for work tomorrow. I tell her: I still have to finish working on my food handler’s license. We laugh. My laugh lasts longer and becomes tinged with hysteria. I cannot stop laughing. I make myself stop laughing.
I return to my roommate and tell her we need to celebrate, can we please go to the bar around the corner for a drink and some food. I insist on paying. I don’t remember the conversation. I tell the bartender, who is an acquaintance of mine, the news. He makes us very large, very strong drinks. I tip 100%. That was my celebration, the tip. I’ve spent too much money in one day and I’ll be feeling it very soon. But for now, it’s what feels right. Poor person brain. Walking home, around the corner, feels normal. I feel normal. My feet hitting pavement both feel normal in their weight. We head up the stairs to our apartment, satisfied in the brief adventure. I don’t remember what happened after. The drinks weren’t that strong — and it was just one, with a meal. But I can’t remember. Did we sit and watch TV? Did we part ways and go to bed? I woke up wearing pajamas, so I know I got ready for bed.
I wake up and am focused on going to work. I go to work. It’s oddly well-staffed. I had anticipated a large paper delivery that would require dividing my time between the staff and sweating my guts out putting away the delivery. Instead, I spend most of my shift in the office, fixing the drawers from their desolation over the long holiday weekend. A holiday weekend means three days worth of deposits to process and two cash drawers desperately short on change. I count four thousand dollars in just 20s alone.
My coworkers talk shit about how long I am gone, despite my asking if everything was okay and despite communicating: I have to go to the bank now to get change. Please message me if you need me. I have to count the deposit. Please message me if you need me. I have to take the deposit to the bank. Please message me if you need me. At each point, I’m told it’s fine, everything is fine. What it really was, and what I knew it was, was them having proof that I’m not doing my job and that they had to suffer (well-staffed on a slow day) without me. I find it hard to care because I am doing my job. I’m split between two places, communicating clearly what I’m doing and that if there’s a problem, I’ll be there. Their desire to feel superior by insisting they don’t need my help, followed by irritation that I am not there to help because they’ve told me they’re fine without, is not my problem. Later I’m told some of the comments that were made in my absence. I tell a coworker who I’m particularly comfortable with: I don’t care about whatever small brain nonsense they need to get off on. An article I wrote went viral, I met with a literary agent, and I’m putting together a book proposal. Their drama is not important.
My coworker laughs. Then, when I’m silent: Oh. You’re serious?!
I say yes. I’m almost monotone, withdrawn. My coworker is excited, happy for me, proud and confident in me. A stark contrast to the negativity portraying itself as kindness elsewhere. We finish up. Before I can go clock out, I’m hit with a coworker concerned about another worker ‘stealing time’ by taking too long to clock out, when that was not the case — a seed planted by a bad apple. I say: Watch out for the snakes in the grass. I assist with some things. I note: This is why I don’t clock out right away, because I’m inevitably kept behind dealing with something important. I’m not the type who will stick around fixing things off the clock. Every penny matters. I share this as a way to reflect on the misplaced criticism against the coworker allegedly ‘stealing time’. I give this helpful tidbit, despite knowing it is inconsequential — the well is already poisoned. The poisoned well is not my problem, but it is still a problem for the team. Even if I had to drop everything and leave tomorrow, I still want to ensure that the poison doesn’t get a chance to destroy the team. The people I would be leaving behind.
I leave to go to the train. I find myself wandering, aimlessly, before correcting myself and heading home. I fall asleep on the train. I wake up one stop before my own, like I always do. Everything is so normal. I make chicken that is too dry with onions and carrots cut the French way and potatoes that are beginning to sprout. I’m irritated to find the four chicken breasts I purchased for $6.97 still has bones, adding unnecessary weight to elevate the cost. Regardless, I’m excited for the chance to practice my knife skills. Sans celery, I make up my own version of mirepoix using Old Bay seasoning, grinning with self-satisfaction. It’s all so normal.
But it’s not. I’m in the middle of scheduling a podcast recording. I have a book proposal due. I probably won’t get the writing job I am so certain I’d be perfect doing, despite going viral. Despite being headhunted. Despite all of the raw potential begging to be sucked out of my pores. I need to revise the sample chapter I already wrote and begin laying the groundwork for a more thorough outline. I need to submit an invoice. I need to read the invoice instructions. I need to finish quizzes so I can schedule to take my food handler’s test. I need to schedule to take time off so I can work on the proposal, but I can’t take so much time off that I can’t make rent, and anyway my schedule for the week it’s due is already set, so I need to mentally prepare for pulling several all-nighters ahead of my scheduled shifts. I managed to get in a little less than a week of only having one job, but now it’s back to What are you doing after work? I’ve got work. Work?! Mhm. Oh, that’s right-. I need to go to bed so I wake up on time for work.
This is my normal now: On the precipice of a total life shift, stuck between the urgent needs of right now and the demands of my future. I am making the impossible tangible. I will be. But until will, I am still just what I am.