I spent a couple hours deep cleaning my home on Tuesday. It started with my desk, which needed dusting and de-cluttering so I could sit down and open my computer and build a simple, easy-to-find author bio website.
But then I noticed dust on my dresser and the bookshelf. Post-holiday dust. And dog hair under the desk. I got out the broom. Clean slate, I told myself. New year, clean room, clean mind.
Also, it turns out, there were tiny spots on the bathroom mirror from wiping the steam off. And the bathroom floor needed a sweep. Just this, I thought, but I definitely won’t clean the kitchen.
But when I went in the kitchen to get a rag, I saw ghosts of spills on the front of the dishwasher. Fingerprints on the refrigerator. The top of the plastic container that holds the dog’s food was kind of dingy.
Two hours later even Roscoe’s water bowl was gleaming but I was no closer to making the website. In fact, I think the website was the problem (or perhaps the solution, if you ask the dog). Making the website meant acknowledging that I was really doing this being-a-writer thing, and in a very public way.
For years people have suggested I submit to the Modern Love column in the New York Times. This suggestion made sense: if you write about love and love stories it’s pretty much the best place to get published. I mean, people get book deals after their stories run in Modern Love. But I resisted for lots of reasons: they don’t use pseudonyms (not even versions of your own name, like I use), it’s a high-profile place to broadcast one’s personal affairs, and the word count seemed like such an awkward length. And it’s super competitive—they get something like ten thousand submissions a year.
Well, the word count is awkward, but they’re publishing my essay this Sunday. And I am terrified.
I’m also thrilled. I got the email from the editor Dan Jones while making Christmas dinner with my mom’s family and I just started screaming right there in the kitchen, “Mom! New York Times! New York Times!” But once the reality of publishing in the column set in, I started feeling weird. And then I started cleaning.
(And Googling myself several times a day to see if my new website would pop up in time for publication. This is something I don’t recommend.)
The other day I was talking to some friends about those times in life when you get separated from yourself and then, a bit later, you find yourself again and things suddenly come into focus. When I started this blog I didn’t have many reliable bearings. I wanted to write a book but had no idea how to go about it. I’d just gotten Canadian Permanent Residency and promptly moved out of the house I shared with my ex and into a new apartment. I was investing in my life in Vancouver—only without the person I came with.
I eventually figured out that I needed to do two things to be happy: write regularly and find some friends who liked rock climbing or going to breweries. And my life started to come into focus.
Maybe there was a lot of survival-writing (and survival-beer-drinking?) while I waited out the lost feeling, but I kept busy. I didn’t know what else to do. I took on more teaching. I set aside dedicated writing days. I went on a bazillion online dates.
Then last night I was sitting at a brewery after visiting the climbing gym and talking about writing (a personal happiness trifecta) but I wasn’t happy. I was feeling only vague anxiety. It’s a weird thing, this fear of success. What if publishing this essay does change my career? What if I get that literary agent I’ve been hunting? And what if someone offers me a science-of-love advice column (which is my goal for 2015)? Do I really want all those things when my life is already so full and good? What if I get the things I thought I wanted and I’m not happier? Or—even worse—what if nothing changes at all?
Then there is the other problem, which is that the column basically amounts to a (very) public declaration of love. I’ve already established that I much prefer writing about love in the past to writing about it as it’s happening. But I’ve been trying to get more comfortable with this kind of vulnerability. It’s just that a few hundred people might read a given blog post; several thousand will read this column.
It’s a strange thing to get a call from an editor who says, “So tell me about your relationship? Are you in love? Do you live together? How did you feel after the first night you went out?” Of course, this is all relevant business for Modern Love. But it’s also my real life. And it’s not often that editors congratulate you on your new relationship.
And I do love this guy—the one in the column. I am still, every day, astounded by his small persistent acts of generosity. For example, for years I’ve been having problems with my car battery. And he—in between working and getting sick and writing two new stories and starting classes and attempting to ski/run/bike 10,000 meters in a single month—does a bunch of research and makes a plan to try and fix my crappy 2001 Toyota Echo. Just, you know, in his free time. He helps with my website. He tells me I should post to my blog because he likes “getting an update on what’s going on.” Be careful what you ask for, I say.
And when we sit at the brewery after climbing and I feel anxious, he reaches over and grabs my hand. He says it’s going to be great. He isn’t being nice. He totally believes it.
He’s so good. And I am aware of my present inability to reciprocate that goodness. But maybe it’s like having faith that your messy book draft will get better with time, and your life will eventually come back into focus, and your loneliness is temporary. Maybe you must also trust that you will have the chance to be very good to the person you love, even if you aren’t doing it at all this week. Maybe you have to just let someone be good to you.
I don’t want to be a smug in-love person. So I won’t go on about it. After all, he did eat the leftover roti I accidentally left in his fridge. And it always seemed bad luck—or at least unwise—to broadcast such good things so soon. Because admitting to your deepest joys is just another way of having a lot to lose.
You might as well read the column I wrote. It started out at about 2800 words, and now it’s down to 1500. Something is always sacrificed in that editing process, and I’ve decided that I can’t stress about it. I’m going to do my best to be excited because, aside from the subject of the article itself, this is pretty much the coolest thing that’s happened to me. I’ll let you know when it’s up.