A Day in the Life of a (Self-published) Book Tour — San Francisco
Cars, coffee, adderall, tech companies, cars, lunch, coffee, happiness, cars, online reviews, cars, tech companies, a reading, failure, cars, goodnight.
6:46am: I can’t remember if Max or I wake up first but soon his erection is between my legs as he presses against me from behind and I tell him, “I love your big fat dick” in a syrupy girl voice, like a joke, except I mean it. He comes on my stomach and when he wipes it up with his underwear, he scrapes some right into my bellybutton—that happens often.
I remember cleaning my bellybutton for the first time after I started work at the massage incall, where I’d slide my naked torso up and down a guy’s back after coating it with baby oil: the weird plug of congealed fat and sweat I scraped out then, the awful smell as I dug and dug and dug with the end of a blackhead extraction tool. It’d never occurred to me before, that I should regularly wet a Q-tip with alcohol and swipe inside my navel until it came out clean. All the nastiness packed in there for who knows how many days.
7:15am: Our hosts are still asleep. I try to wash their dishes, to be nice, but I loudly drop two heavy plates in the ceramic sink and then I have to stifle my (loud) laughter at my own ineptitude. It’s so much quieter here than it is in New York. It took me months and months to learn how to sleep with the sound there.
7:37am: I’m eating mango, and hummus and tomatoes on toast for breakfast. And two big cookies, but not by myself. Max tells a story about seeing a high school girl at last night’s reading; she called her mom after it was over and said, “you need to come pick me up and buy me this book.” “You can get the books signed before you buy them,” Max says Stephen said, and then many people reached to grab a copy from the stack.
8:10am: Max knows so many young couples with pictures of themselves all over their home. I don’t know anyone like that. Or if I do, I never visit them where they live. I can’t imagine putting a picture of myself on any physical surface.
At the reading in New York on Monday, a sweet young woman approached me, giddy, and told me she knew I was me even before I read, because of a line in N.B. about not having a pretty face but having a kind face. I’m appalled that I called my own face “kind.” But maybe when I was younger, it was.
Last night at dinner, I relayed her remark to Jenny. The look Jenny gave me seemed to indicate…something? Perhaps just the banality of my insecurities. I’m so afraid of being ugly, and increasingly convinced I am. I try not to talk about it too much though. Who would I talk about it with?
8:25am: We’re in the backseat of an Uber pool and about to pick up a fourth person. Max says he will be in the middle, but I push him away when he tries to scoot in toward me. He’s 6'5'’.
“Always having to sit in the middle is women’s lot,” I tell him as I move in. “It’s part of our punishment for eating the apple.”
“I hope it was worth it,” he says.
8:28am: “What the hell is GitHub?” I whisper to Max, hoping to antagonize the other passengers.
“It’s like Tinder, but for hubs,” he says, helping me.
8:31am: A woman I used to teach with is in my pilates class. That’s why I went to that studio—I checked online and saw she taught there, but couldn’t attend any of her usual times. When I walk in and see her, and call her name, she responds with exaggerated shock and joy, which is validating.
After class she tells me her car was stolen recently, apparently it happens to everyone around here. Proposition 47. Other women overhear us and weigh in with their broken windows and car theft stories. None of them seem angry. They act like they’re discussing bad weather.
9:38am: I didn’t do well in class, probably because I’d taken a little adderall beforehand in a desperate bid to shit. I’m still praying for it but when I meet Max at a nearby coffee house, I can only pee. I think of our friend who works at Google and who says tensions are high regarding the bathrooms. There are an equal number of stalls dedicated to men and women, but many more men than women work there, and the men shit constantly. (Due to coffee, probably adderall, all the free food in the dozen of cafeterias.) The men’s bathroom are in high demand and they always smell. Google men are mad about it.
10:15am: When we get back to the apartment, I realize I left my notebook on the kitchen table and I wonder if our host peeked at it. I worry about her having seen “big fat dick” but when I flip open the top I see that I’d abbreviated it to “bfd” and only written out: “second boob surgery (?); bellybutton smells.”
I had my boobs “done” again since the first surgery, the one I write about in Prostitute Laundry. They weren’t right the first time and they’re still not right now, so I’ll have another operation later this year. But I saw them from the side early this morning, in the mirror on the closet door, while I was lying on my back as Max wiped up the come. They looked good. Italian, somehow, and dark-nippled and heavy.
10:38am: I read a review of N.B. that complains about typos, among other things. I paid someone to copyedit Prostitute Laundry, and I re-read it twice, and Max caught dozens of slip-ups, but there are still errors that snuck through the first edition and probably the second as well. Even mass-market books often have one typo or omitted word. That’s not a defense, just me marveling at how hard it is to catch those mistakes. (It’s hard.)
Someone left a three star review of Prostitute Laundry on Goodreads saying only, “man, she’d be fun with an editor.” I think about last night’s discussion with Jenny. Someone asked how we deal with having written things that embarrass us, and Jenny said it’s good to be embarrassed because it means you tried, that embarrassment is the domain of people who do things, not people who don’t. Only she said it better than that, in the Jenny way.
I know it’s better to do the thing than to not do the thing but these reviews hurt me anyway, and then I feel bad about being hurt. I didn’t want to name the cities I visit for work in N.B. because the places don’t matter. I wanted all the “he”s to blur together, to make the reader deduce if I’m talking about my boyfriend or a client, and then for them to think about what it means if they can’t tell the difference without a name. Maybe those are bad choices but they were choices, not accidents.
I’m still waiting to poop.
11:15am: It occurs to me that the no editor complaint is really just a reader’s way of saying the writing isn’t what they wanted to read, and perhaps it seems nicer to assume an editor could have changed that than to decide my writing isn’t right for them at all. I keep thinking about the non-self published books I don’t like and all the non-self published books I do like but many other people don’t, and how one day I’m sure I’ll find an editor who makes my subsequent books better, so much better that they become entirely different books than they were. But I want my two books that exist in the world right now to be left as they are, without any apologies or excuses.
11:43am Many of the Uber pool drivers are talkative. I’m not, but Max can be, so it works out. The two of them start discussing a Ted Talk the driver wants to keep listening to on his stereo, the loud one he turned down when we got in the car.
“This is so awkward,” I say to Max, of a picture on Twitter.
“What, you’ve never taken an Uber pool before?” asks the driver.
“No, no! It’s something on my phone—” We all laugh.
A big British man gets in the front seat and yells into his phone about iPads for the rest of the trip. The Ted Talk doesn’t come back on. Max and I get out a few blocks away from our stop, while the driver is waiting for his fourth passenger.
11:58am: I meet a lovely internet acquaintance for lunch whose facial features remind me of a friend I adore. She relays exciting, flattering intel, and I feel energized and happy while eating a salad with fake chorizo.
My teeth are full of kale the entire time, I just know it. I mean to say, “I hope I didn’t make you feel uncomfortable with my teeth being full of kale the whole time,” as we say goodbye but forget to while trying to hold all the names and ideas and suggestions in my head.
1:33pm: Max is about to leave his coffee shop to meet me at my restaurant.
“I have to pack up and pee and then head out,” he says.
“Ok I’ll pee too,” I say. “Let’s pee at the same time and think of each other.”
“Duh, like every time,” he says.
I remember the woman I had lunch with asking if Max is with me for the entire book tour.
“Yeah. We don’t spend a lot of time apart,” I said.
3:21pm: I spend too long looking at Airbnb listings in Portland. I need to find a place because circumstances changed for the friend I was going to stay with. I may or may not have taken more adderall. And I still haven’t emptied out. It’s such a stupid drug.
3:30pm: I squeeze some clogged pores on Max’s back for a while, feeling sleepy. This is my favorite thing to do.
3:46pm: I say I’m going to lay down for a nap and Max comes with me. He’s hard right away and I complain about it because I really wanted to sleep, but it’s more work to to resist the habit of nestling him between my legs and push back than it is to give into the urge. We have sex for a long time because I’m teasing him, making him wait. The alarm I set to wake up from my nap goes off. I cover my own mouth when I come.
“I love you so fucking much,” he says, his face smelling like us.
4:40pm: I pee in the shower and almost shout from relief. I’d been holding it for so long.
5:15pm: I find another review, this time almost unequivocally positive but it praises me for all the wrong things: not going too far in criticizing men, not being like those hardline bitch feminists who are so misandrist and alienating and extreme. I text Meaghan about it, thinking almost verbatim: Meaghan will fix this.
“I feel like ‘feminist-cum-prostitute’ is a really unfortunate construction,” she says.
This pic, which I’ve seen before but which feels especially prescient today, keep turning up on Melissa’s feed.
5:24pm: I retweet this.
5:30pm: Sometimes I have to remind myself that people loved (and still love) the Prostitute Laundry letters, the N.B. blog entries. That I made the books because of those readers’ kind, covetous feedback. I made the books so the writing could get to people it would matter to in a form that felt right to me. I don’t think the writing matters to everyone and I wouldn’t pretend it does.
It’s like marketing myself as an escort—I was specific and sincere about my personality. I didn’t try to be everything to everyone or even everything to any one. I tried to describe exactly what someone would get if they hired me, and hope they could recognize for themselves if that was what they wanted.
6:00pm: I start getting ready for tonight’s reading. When I try to leave the bedroom for the bathroom, the giant dog intercepts me. I pet him for about a minute while quietly calling for Max. Dogs are inscrutable to me. I simply cannot relate.
Finally Max comes out. “The dogs needs to be pet,” I say, making him take over.
6:23pm: Max tells me how good I look. He shines at me; I can tell he is excited by saying it, and by meaning it. I tell him that I don’t, and go to kiss his head but then remember I put on lipstick.
6:34pm: We’re in an Uber again, and the cat sitter sends pictures of my cats. I keep forgetting to paypal them the money they’re owed for this week, so maybe this is a threat.
6:38pm: We drive by a giant buliding with Zynga on the front. Isn’t Zynga, like, bankrupt?
6:46pm: I realize we’ve been barely moving for a little while now, and check to see how long it will take to get to the bookstore. Google says we’re 37 minutes far, then keeps saying that for the next five. It’s still raining. There’s been an accident on 80.
A pall falls over the car. No one speaks aloud for the next half hour.
6:52pm: I’m texting with a friend about how we might spend tomorrow, my only reading-free day. Everyone seems surprised I brought drugs on a plane. I just mix all my vitamins and unnecessary prescription pills and illegal thumbnail baggies in one vitamin bottle.
I had a client literally a decade ago, an entertainment lawyer, who used to fly weed cross-country in a plastic baggie inside a full shampoo bottle. And I met a man once here, in SF, who’d ordered speciality fake hair product bottles online to fill with liquor and pack in his luggage. Who’s going to stop me and sort through my tiny jar? I’m precheck. And white.
7:15pm: A single man in a Toyota is fiercely careful not to let the three of us merge in front of him. I can’t remember ever being this late for something that so required my prominent participation.
My tongue is burned from the hot chocolate I had at lunch, and I remind myself of that, that I had some excellent hot chocolate today. I take what feels like the first real breath in ten minutes. Our driver lets a relaxed Jeep in ahead of us.
7:35pm: I’m a half hour late to the reading. I run in and straight to the chairs at the front, where patient Leah is waiting with a seated, quiet crowd facing her. I read “The Game” from Prostitute Laundry, and she and I talk about at least a dozen different topics: bodies, men, relationships, self-loathing, etc. I say some things that I’m worried, as I say them, could hurt Max and I rely on—or hope for—his fortitude and temperance to keep that from being the case.
I quote one of my favorite Anne Carson pieces as best I can remember it:
“I suppose you do love me, in your way” I said to him.
“And how else should I love you — in your way?” he asked.
I am still thinking about that.
Having recited this into the microphone, I feel dangerously moved, about to cry, and I tell everyone that if they have to choose between buying my book or buying Plainwater, they should buy Plainwater.
9:25pm: I speak with everyone who waits, and see Max hanging back. At the previous readings he’s seemed elated after, he hugs me and kisses me and murmurs what an amazing job I did, how turned on he is to see me “up there.” This time he holds back, seems subdued, and when I ask him if he’s ok, he says, “we can talk about it later.” A friend and her friend linger nearby. Max moves outside and waits in the rain under his umbrella. I don’t understand.
While I shake hands with my friend’s friend, he puts his second hand over mine, just barely, like he’s savoring the touch. He wants to fuck me, or thinks we’re going to fuck—I know that for a variety of reasons. The way he looks at me is practiced: overconfidence sieved through a familiar pick-up script.
9:30pm: I approach the man at the checkout to apologize for being late.
“Do you want to take these now?” he says, gesturing to the stack of books. This catches me off guard, how eager he seems to be rid of them. We’re going to get dinner after, we don’t have a car with us—to be saddled with a pile of books…
He says something about not being able to keep any copies because I’m not a local author. He cashes out what I’m owed for the sale of the gone copies. With the costs of shipping them to the store considered, it’s less than $100.
All through my body I feel the knowledge that Max is unhappy, the confirmation that I did something wrong and need to fix it. He comes in from out of the rain, and takes the big, taped box of books from the man behind the counter.
9:40pm: I press to go home and not feel socially beholden, but Max demures, insists, shakes his head, so we meet a crowd for dinner. I can’t really eat. I try to touch Max and his body ignores mine; he only talks to the two people across from him while I talk to everyone else.
10:03pm: A guy from the reading comes in and asks if we know where Leah is. We don’t. Sarah thinks she went home.
“I just want to thank her,” he says, “for making this event so much better than last night’s.”
I assume he means another event at Diesel, which makes me curious, but it becomes clear he was at Green Apple, that he saw me and Jenny. He remarks on how inhospitable that event was to men, how unwelcome and uncomfortable he felt. (I’d noticed, proudly, that it was the only reading I’d ever been to, let alone participated in, where no man raised his hand when we did the Q+A, though we took at least 5 questions.)
The silence that falls over the table as he complains about the previous night’s reading endures as he walks out of the restaurant. Then it stays a few beats longer.
Finally Sarah says, “You have real compassion for male feelings. It’s practically saint-like.”
“It’s just work training kicking in,” I say, imitating myself: “oh ok, uh huh, uh huh. Oh ok well thanks, have a nice night.”
“No, you have real compassion,” she says, shaking her head.
“Stop rubbing it in.” I put my hands over my face. I think again of the review that praised me for not being stridently anti-male.
“Saint-like,” she says.
Our table is the only one left. We’ve stayed past the restaurant’s closing time.
10:36pm: In the car back, Max asks what’s wrong with me.
“I feel bad when you feel bad. I don’t know what else to say.”
“I feel fine now,” he says, not sounding fine. He says whatever upset him at the reading is already gone and I shouldn’t let his reactions impact my experience. I don’t know how to respond to this, it’s so illogical, unrealistic. To not care about him, or how he feels?
“But why does the event matter more than you?” I ask. I still don’t understand.
11:04pm: I brush my teeth and wash my face without even taking off my jacket because I’m cold and I don’t want to change.
Once I’m back in our room Max says he misspoke when he said at the bookstore that we could “talk about it later”—he was surprised by my demeanor when I asked if he was ok, and so he got confused but nothing happened during the reading; I basically invented a problem, and then created another problem with my response. He asks if I’m ok more than once, and says I don’t look ok, that I look feverish and seem out of it.
Am I not a sensitive or intuitive person? Am I, instead, mentally unwell? I think about how solicitous I was while we walked to dinner and sat through dinner, and how his body felt under my hands when I touched him. How unreceptive it was. Saying any of this to him feels futile. I don’t want to argue about one of us being the bad one, about what feels like gaslighting.
“Everything feels wrong,” I say instead. My body, my income, my books, my writing, my future.
I think of a small overburdened donkey, a single sled-pulling dog, and I suddenly feel exhausted in the way sleep won’t fix.
12:14pm: I lie awake. I think about how humiliating it felt to watch the books packed away moments after the event ended, to have to carry them to the restaurant and then up the stairs at our temporary home, how it felt like the three star Goodreads reviewers won.
Though I know it’s not a battle, I know that’s a stupid way to think of it. Here, in a soft moment, that tightness in my center finally buckled and my edges blurring, I’m not defensive or angry, I’m just sad. It’s sad to know these people wasted time on a book they didn’t like. I wish they’d stopped reading sooner, everyone who couldn’t shake the specter of an editor who might fix a piece of writing to their tastes. That goes for my book, or anyone’s book. Don’t let it take your time if it’s not worth your time.
I feel sad for both of us, the unhappy reader and me, seeing those books packed. I tried something and maybe I failed, but it feels like it couldn’t have been any other way.
On my side, I stare into the dark. I still feel the burn on my tongue.