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Yesterday I made the mistake of clicking on the bio of a one-time colleague. Scanning the list of publications in which her work appears, I felt my chest tighten, my temples throb.
Her resume read like my own might if I hadn’t crumpled it up and tossed it once I became a mom.
Sure, I’ve done a few things she hasn’t, like having a novel published and writing a screenplay for a studio. But those accomplishments, along with the bulk of my other professional successes, occurred a long time ago, in the period prior to my greatest creation: my son.
I am aware, of course, that Aidan’s existence and the magnificent work I do as his mom trump any article, book, screenplay or poem I could bring to life. But that fact never seems to help when I’m seething with jealousy.
Yes, this is plain, old-fashioned jealousy I’m feeling and, as always, I am aware that jealousy is an indicator of desire. My desires: I want to write more. I want someone to publish my work. I want, need even, further recognition—and validation—as a writer. Without those things, I end up reading friends’ bios and then spending the first hour of what should be an energizing yoga class feeling grumpy and thinking bitchy thoughts.
It doesn’t help that not so long ago I had a five-star writing week. Within two days, I completed two essays, both of which I’d been working on for a while, and confidently sent them to editors. In both cases, I received promising early responses: “I’d be happy to review it… Nudge me if you don’t hear back in a couple days!” and, even better, “Passing this on to editor in chief…”
That same week, I completed a draft of the first hefty chunk of my book and sent three chapters plus a proposal to my editor.
That week I was simply bouncy with optimism and pride.
Then came the silence. Weeks, in fact, of dead, hear-a-pin-drop-type silence. From both editors and my agent.
“Summer is notoriously slow,” a writer friend said when I called her stressed out. “Nothing happens around the 4th of July.”
Sure, true, but I remained dismayed.
The same friend once told me that she thrives on rejection. It fires her up, inspires her even, so psyched she is to prove the motherfuckers wrong! I tried to harness that energy. In my head I started reworking one of my essays to submit to the New York Times’ Anxiety column, should it be rejected from the national publication where it is currently languishing on an editor’s desk. I enjoyed the exercise actually and started thinking maybe the Anxiety column was where the piece really belongs.
Anyone familiar with the column knows where this is headed.
Just this morning, during breakfast, I was perusing last week’s Sunday Review. At the end of a fascinating piece about anxiety, I came across the following sentence: This is the final installment of Anxiety.
This was a blow I was unprepared to take. It struck me as personal. Almost expected. It seemed like a personal invitation hand-delivered to me to just stop it already with this silly fantasy that I can somehow claw my way back to the land of the working writer.
I was felled. Harlan’s face dropped when I told him. He looked so sad for me. Then he hugged me, comforted me. I was in need of comfort.
Can I return from the blow? Can I channel the energy of my wise friend and get to a place where instead of feeling dejected and sorry for myself, I feel energized, galvanized even to prove the motherfuckers wrong? Can I claw my way back to my writing life? Do I even belong there anymore? Can I get back to a place where I believe that I belong there?
I’m sure as hell going to try.