…Drinking Absinthe on Your Pub Date

Posted on July 7, 2008. Filed under: The Writing Life | Tags: , , , , |

When I was sixteen and first started pining for the literary life, I idolized Charles Baudelaire. This led to my lifelong interest in absinthe, since Baudelaire consumed legendary amounts of it. Oh, how I wished for the “Green Fairy” to descend on me and give me visions! Oh, how I wished that I had been born in another time and place (19th-century France, to be specific) so I could embrace that chemical muse!

Well thanks to some heavy lobbying, absinthe became legal in the U.S. in late 2007. I’ve been waiting for my excuse to try some, but the price (steep!) and the presence of my children (young and probably not wishing to see their father go crazy) held me back. Finally the perfect opportunity presented itself: the July 1, 2008 publication date of my very first book, Wifeshopping. I busted out the credit card, spent more for a bottle of liquor than I care to mention, and grabbed the bottle after my kids had gone to sleep. 

After my wife had gone to sleep, too. “I don’t want to see my husband to go crazy,” she said as I slunk downstairs with the absinthe like some degenerate thief. I had looked up absinthe recipes online, so I made an absinthe frappé and put my lips to the glass expecting the terrible taste that everyone had warned me about. Instead it tasted like ouzo or pastis—lots of licorice, a taste I love. A little tasted okay, so I drank more. And more. No Green Fairy? Try a little more!

I kept drinking alone until I felt sort of drunk and sort of pathetic. The Green Fairy never did arrive, but after awhile I could smell licorice on my skin. The absinthe experience proved entirely non-hallucinatory and a bit anti-climactic, and as I finished off my last sip for the night I felt the same about my pub date. I’m a published author! Whoop-de-do! July 1 felt no different from any other day, because I had the same old problems, the same old mental blocks, the same old self-defeating psychic mechanisms. 

It took a couple days for the significance of July 1st to sink in; perhaps the absinthe had to work its way through my system before I could feel good about being published. But by July 3rd, I had gotten enough congratulatory emails and hugs from family and friends to feel that getting my first book officially published was an accomplishment to feel proud of. But in the run-up to July, I hadn’t allowed myself to feel that at all. For the whole month of June I’d been crossing out days as I went to bed, which I told myself was supposed to help me tell one day from the next. (I’m not teaching right now, and the days blend together in a whirl of screaming children). But in truth I had actually been counting down the days to my pub date, in exactly the way that you count down to your last day on a job you’re tired of. 

Why was I counting down—and therefore focusing on the past—instead of looking forward to my future as a published author? Looking at the moment with a few days of perspective, I’d have to say that I turned the absinthe/pub date experience into a purgative one—a celebration of something ending rather than something beginning. The day (and the crappy month that preceded it) represented an end to the “old job” of being a writer without a book, which I’ve been dreadfully tired of for years. My life up until July 1st had been all about the desire to get a book published, and parallel to it ran the desire to have the Green Fairy of absinthe descend upon me and give me visions. Both desires ended on July 1st—a nice, neat ceremony that I didn’t understand at all while I was performing it.

What’s on the other side? Who the heck knows? But at least it’s nice to feel that one aspect of my life makes sense to me for a moment, that it all adds up into a nice, neat formula. No doubt the next breath I take after I blog post this will screw up my formula completely, and with it all sense of self-understanding. I can only hope that this screwing-up is in a fertile and new direction.

“Onward!” shouts the captain of the pirate ship, sword pointing at the sun. “To… wherever!!!”

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…Keeping Your Ass in the Chair (for a Non-Artistic Reason)

Posted on June 10, 2008. Filed under: The Writing Life | Tags: , |

The grass is always greener. 

It felt terribly romantic to be a completely unknown author with a few stories here and there, but without a book. Life was all about pure creativity and hoping for that maybe someday big break. But now, being an almost completely unknown author with a book coming down the pike in a few weeks is definitely messing with my head in ways I have to write down in hopes of dispelling them. No, I haven’t become any more of an egomaniac than I was before Wifeshopping started to become a book. I haven’t succumbed to delusions of grandeur because I’m too old for that now. I haven’t spent money I don’t have on clothes I don’t need. I’ve simply become more sucked into the computer as part of the self-promotional process: writing emails, blogging, checking out websites, constantly updating my own website and wondering whether it’s good enough, Googling myself to see what stores are carrying my book and who’s reviewing it, etc. 

It’s exhausting, it’s unfulfilling, and it generally sucks. 

And my impulse is to say stop this immediately because it’s not your art. It’s marketing, it’s publicity, it’s obsessive, it’s beneath you. But the days in which a first-time writer with ambitions of a writing career can take that kind of lassiez-faire approach are long gone. You simply can’t afford to not be involved in the promotion of your own work—nay, to spearhead it—unless you don’t want anyone to publish your further books. Publicity is not beneath us; it’s part of our job, and increasingly we have to do it ourselves. 

And it can cut into the writing time, no doubt about it. 

I’m glad to say that, so far at least, the need to get on Facebook, to Google myself, to blog, etc. hasn’t significantly damaged my writing time. (Emphasis on the word significantly. As I write this, I feel a jinx start to dangle over my head like the Sword of Damocles.) Each morning I manage to get up and get my work done, for which I am quite thankful. Hiding the toolbar on my Mac so I can’t constantly glance down and see how many emails I have helps my focus immensely; in extreme cases, such as when I’m waiting for an email or a review, I have unplugged my modem and stuck it in another room. But somehow I manage to keep my ass in the chair, following the dictum of famed writing teacher Dr. Howard Stein, here wonderfully explained by David Boles. 

But I find that it’s the self-promotion for which I really need the help of Dr. Stein’s dictum. Once the writing morning ends I want to go outside, stretch, play with the kids, hug my wife, dance, etc. 

But I can’t because my job is half done. The task of writing is done, but the task of being a writer isn’t. It’s a sobering distinction to make, and I never would have thought of it before I had a book coming out. When I close the novel file and look at my list of people to contact, things to do, books to review, etc., I just want to run away from the computer and into the bygone days when a writer could just be a writer, dammit! But the writers who don’t have to worry about anything other than their writing have already hit the jackpot and become stars—and who knows, really, what their lives are like day-to-day. The rest of us have to grind it out and earn one reader at a time, and only after we’ve earned enough will our publishers really, truly get behind us the way we dream about.  

It’s the second job that requires Spartan discipline to keep my ass in the chair. The first job is about joy, and if it’s going really well I lose track of the clock. The second is about stamina, and the clock has to be my master. I’ve got to punch in, sit my ass in the chair, go about the business of being a writer, and punch out. 

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