I slept in this morning because Daniel was home, and I could hear him awake downstairs, performing some kitchen-cleaning, pots-and-pans-moving task that I wasn’t inclined to join. I love the sounds of other humans taking care of our space. I sunk deeper under our new deep-gray-blue linen bedspread—the perfect foil, I’ve decided, to the Empire Strikes Back sheet set I bought myself for my 43rd birthday in June—and began feeling extra relaxed and lounge-y. Yes, definitely not ready to put feet to floor and admit to the day that I was awake. Feet on floor = grown up world. Feet propped up on bed, chair, table, couch, or dog = Lori Land.
I felt around for my iPad: the magical computer that allows me to stay in bed and work: work which at the moment includes careful examination of the compelling text of copywriters selling living room rugs. We really need a new living room rug. I call this work writer-research.
Sadly, I’d left my iPad downstairs in the living room last night, probably right where I was writer-researching storytelling devices by playing Plants vs. Zombies for 2 hours instead of going out with friends, like normal people do. Dammit. No iPad and trapped in bed with nothing but a pile of already-read murder mysteries that I wasn’t about to read again—at least not while I still remember who done it. And my feet can’t touch the floor or the day will know I’m awake. What to do? What to do?
Desperate, I glanced over toward Daniel’s nightstand, which is usually piled high with photography (meh) and technology (BLEH) books and magazines. But luck was with me today. Two weeks back we spent a long weekend on the Oregon coast, where I drug Daniel and Eva dog off the beach and into every little bookstore we came upon in the Cannon Beach-to-Manzanita area—which was just two bookstores and one tiny library sale, although that won’t be the number he uses in his stories.
Daniel had bought the book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir on that trip, and there it sat, the perfect not-getting-up-yet-because-I’m-a-writer-dammit research opportunity.
We just published a book in June, so I wondered what compelled him to buy this particular book. Was it the image of a clearly over-acting mouse wearing an Elizabethan collar and cape on the front cover (the same image that’d made me pass it over without so much as a glance at the text or author’s name, so much a Shakespearean purist am I)? Or the glowing and funny reviews on the back and inside covers? Or maybe it was the “mostly true” part of the title.
I decided it was most likely that last one. Unlike me—who clings to the lived experience and details of people’s stories like grim death—Daniel comes from the camp that all stories are improved by a little embellishment and humor, and improved by even more embellishment and humor with time, to the point where some people pee their pants when they hear it and almost nobody cares if it’s true or not. His stories are that funny. By picking up a book with a fancy mouse and “mostly true” on the cover, perhaps my sweetie had found another storytelling soul mate. I sunk deeper into the pillows, opened the book in the middle, and started reading.
The author was weaving a tale of a weekend getaway that she was invited to by other women bloggers—and describing what it feels like to be super insecure + neurotic + uber-imaginative-writer-her surrounded by people she feared were the cheerleaders, the cool kids, who’d invited her by mistake. I was a little hooked—she’s funny—but only a little hooked at first. After all, she was complaining about being an outsider, but she’s a popular enough blogger that 20 other bloggers wanted to spend a weekend with her. I began counting to see if I even know 20 other bloggers, let alone 20 women bloggers who’d want to spend a weekend with me. Yep, far south of 20.
As I read the chapter, I felt a little bit like I was reading about a persona, not a real person: the real life happenings of the character she invented who’s clearly slightly crazier than herself in real life. I had this idea in my head because just yesterday I had a conversation with our housemate Isaac, who is an amazing illustrator by day and a funny-and-aspiring stand-up comedian by night. He was telling me that most comedians draw strongly from their own lives but also have a stage persona—a person who is far worse off, more unemployed, more unlucky in love, more misunderstood by friends and family, and/or way more neurotic or dark or brave or silly or whatever they’re going for than they themselves actually are in their day-to-day lives.
Still not wanting to get out of bed, I skipped ahead to the chapter about homemaking and housekeeping. In this chapter, she totally got me: hook, line, and sinker, as my dad would say. When she’s real, she is really good. I’ve worked from home for 7 years now, and what qualifies as clean and as clutter-free has radically shifted in my world. As she spoke of using her spare bedroom as a giant drawer for clean laundry, and “home cooking” a meal consisting of 20 little individual macaroni and cheese packets poured together into the microwave, and the moment she realized she may have just put laundry soap into the dishwasher and her strangely practical yet weird and kind of brilliant solution for dealing with it, she got me. This was real. This was lived. And in that very moment, she became my friend and my colleague.
It was at this point that I flipped to the cover and read the author’s name for the first time— Jenny Lawson, “The Bloggess” it said. At this point I experienced a range of emotions so intense that I actually sprung up out of bed and started moving. It was pure joy, then jealousy, then curiosity and reflection, and finally giggling and peace. I am a writer who ends at peace, not laughs.
This emotional roller coaster began with pure joy, because I realized that I know The Bloggess as a blogger. Bas is a fan of hers! And I know that she works with us in the Oddball Empire, a somewhat imaginary and also real and emerging globe-spanning culture and community of people leaping away from stagnant stories and work and into the unknown, a place where exploring your true self has to happen for your own survival, and where learning to love your whole, quirky self and those around you is, I now suspect, almost inevitable. She’s also been blogging a few years longer than I have, which brought me joy on multiple levels: 1) bloggers branching into books makes me happy, 2) bloggers being themselves and making a living at it makes me happy, and, 3) through her, I suddenly saw great things in our own future.
Then, jealousy. Strangely, my joyful brain made a complete turn and said to me “Why is this blogger’s book on Daniel’s nightstand instead of my book?! He’s cheating on me!” And then the most petty part of my brain followed with “And with a woman recommended by People, Parade, O – The Oprah Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly-geesh!” Not exactly my favorite publications, although O often has good stories. Also not exactly my best moment. I laughed at the utter silliness of these thoughts and how just moments earlier I’d been judging another author, believing she was inventing her crazy thoughts just to get a laugh. We writers don’t need to invent crazy, I thought, we have it in buckets. It was reading Jenny Lawson that gave me the courage to share my full crazy here… I also marched immediately downstairs to confront Daniel about his indiscretion. Although 98% of me was teasing him about this, at least 2% of me really wanted an answer. It’s a strange thing to realize that your own definition of marital cheating falls well outside the standard definition. Daniel and I giggled as I explained that it’s one thing to read other bloggers online at work. But having another blogger’s book on your nightstand?! Reading them while in our bed?! And a New York Times bestselling author to boot (aka, the hot and popular cheerleaders in writer land)? Ewwww. Not in my house.
Then, because I’m me, this giggling was followed by curiosity and reflection on my own choices as a writer. I asked myself “Do I want what she has?” She has a New York Times bestseller. That would be cool. I think our book sold about a dozen copies in July. But she also has a book publishing company to deal with, a publish-a-LOT daily schedule, a child to raise and educate, and a literary agent—none of which I want. “Have I made the right choices?” is a good question. “Have I made my right choices, just as she has made hers?” was the one I heard next.
And finally, peace. As I finished the rest of her book, I realized that I’m happy with the choices that I (and Bas and Daniel) have been making. (I’m happy with hers too. She’s great. I hope she writes 10 more books.) My choices mean that I love absolutely love our end products. Our books are so completely us that they show us who we really are in ways we don’t fully understand until we re-read them. And I love everything about our process, too. I love self-publishing—bestsellers be damned (for now). This leaves us ample time to wander, which I love. Ample time to create, which I love. Allows us to be hands-on for every last little part of the process, while also entirely free to create what we want to create, and on our own schedule. I LOVE that our own energy pulls us to work and causes us to stop working. I also love that our work draws to us people we respect, admire, and adore, and at least so far, none that we don’t. I like our slow growth path: moving slow enough that everyone pulled into our world is someone who we are deeply grateful for, including, not the least of which, ourselves. Living a life of profound gratitude is what I want, and have.
Bas told me today that in the self-publishing world, most authors need to create about 10 books before they become well known and popular on a scale beyond friends, family, and blog soul mates. And I was surprised to find that that number made me feel just incredibly lucky. I will get to create at least 10 books, with people I adore, in the mysterious, wending, backwards, learning-centered, grateful, slow-web way that is our way. We get to discover and explore the Oddball Empire along with people we meet, and write about, and write for—as friends and travel mates.
I may be crazy. But I am also completely ok with that. And that’s no small thing, I’m learning.