Are you feeling the post-holiday penny pinch? Well, here’s my gift to you. Starting today, the e-book version of No End Of The Bed will be free through Sunday. Please spread the word, and spread the copies. Enjoy it!
Are you feeling the post-holiday penny pinch? Well, here’s my gift to you. Starting today, the e-book version of No End Of The Bed will be free through Sunday. Please spread the word, and spread the copies. Enjoy it!
The title of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Jeanette Winterson’s recent memoir, refers to a comment her mother made shortly before Jeanette left home for good. They lived in working class Manchester, England. Her harsh, adoptive mother was a Pentecostal, obsessive-compulsive, abusive woman who hated life so much she hoped the Apocalypse would arrive soon. Mrs. Winterson never slept in order to avoid sleeping with her husband. She was in denial of her physical self. She often locked Jeanette outside or in the coal cellar overnight on freezing cold nights.
“She hated being a nobody, and like all children, adopted or not, I have had to live out some of her unlived life. We do that for our parents – we don’t really have a choice (Winterson, 1).”
To escape, Jeanette turned to books, and then she fell in love with a girl. When Mrs. Winterson found out, a brutal exorcism ensued, including three days of starvation, and an over-zealous minister who tried to convince Jeanette (in a perverse fashion) that men were more suited to her needs than women. Of course, they failed at making her play the game of pretend. If Mrs. Winterson taught Jeanette anything, it was to be stubborn. And after living in that house all her young life, nothing could break her.
Jeanette soon had to leave home, though she was only sixteen. Her passion for literature brought her to Oxford where she was left to herself with three other women to study on their own. Shortly after college, her first novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, became an international bestseller and she has won numerous awards since.
I feel a strong bond with Jeanette, as though we’ve met up a few times and swapped stories. Each time after, she hurried back to her intensely private life, while I was left wanting more. Strong women have that effect on me.
I could write here about my family, about how I grew up in a Pentecostal home, but I’ve written about that dozens of times, not to mention in my memoir No End Of The Bed. I’m at that point right now, where Jeanette was with the release of Oranges, except that I was not published by a major, and I only sold twenty copies in the first month.
I had this idea in my head that people would go buy the book right away, and word would spread extremely fast, like an internet video going viral. But in this case, word spreads slowly, and finding an audience is a process that builds on itself through time, energy, and creativity. The hero’s journey of the struggling writer continues, and I am still faced with a giant uphill battle to win the narrative in my head. In other words, my dream still feels crazy, and a little out of reach.
I am often working ten-hour days on writing, marketing, and publishing. No one is looking over my shoulder, I’m not punching a clock, and I haven’t made a dime. In fact, I’ve spent every cent that I made in the last three months and more to make this a reality. I sent the book out to reviewers who probably won’t give it a second glance. Whether they write about it or not, it’s important that they see it and know that it exists, and that quality books will keep coming from Knotted Tree Press in the future.
Without writing, I become an unbearable human being. When I stop, my obsessions go into strange territories. So I wonder, what would pre-feminist Lauren look like? Would I look like Mrs. Winterson? Would I have made everyone around me miserable? And without the benefit of knowledge, would I have been a religious extremist? Would I have remained in an adolescent state – lacking in awareness of others, narcissistic, self-absorbed.
“I suddenly realised that I would always have been in this bar that night. If I hadn’t found books, if I hadn’t turned my oddness into poetry and the anger into prose, well, I wasn’t ever going to be a nobody with no money… I’d have gone into property and made a fortune. I’d have a boob job by now, and be on my second or third husband, and live in a ranch-style house with a Range Rover on the gravel and a hot tub in the garden, and my kids wouldn’t be speaking to me (Winterson, 208).”
We all have the capacity to find our sweet spot from the work we love. Sometimes, it takes a lot of bravery to lay claim to the work that you love. Quite possibly, most people hate their jobs. The only way to get through it is to do something you love after or before work. At an art studio last week, I overheard a man say that he wished he studied art instead of nursing. But the nursing affords him the time and financial stability to do the art. He’d just come off a night shift, and would be in class all day. In fact, most of the really dedicated artists are older and retired. They gave up their passion for thirty years, and now go to studios five days a week, working tirelessly.
Without writing, I don’t think I would have grown as I have, or become as aware of my life and the lives around me. It’s a system of processing information and coming to more questions, and even some conclusions.
In my head, just like Jeanette, I have another life, a Plan B that I’ll probably never fall back on. I think a lot about real estate. I imagine myself negotiating and making deals (things that in real life I utterly failed at as a Literary Agent). I pass by expensive historic homes when I walk to work. I watch when they come up for sale, I look to see who’s selling them. I wonder what the stories are of the people who live there, and long to solve all the mysteries of domestic life. See? I begin in sales, and end up literary. But in the real estate dream-life, there are returns for all of my hard work. I am rewarded for knowing my own value. It eases the reality of the life I am living.
“I know now, … that the finding/losing, forgetting/remembering, leaving/returning, never stops. The whole of life is about another chance, and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance (Winterson, 38).”
What matters most is that the people who have read No End Of The Bed came back to me with rave reviews with such comments as “mesmerizing,” “brave,” “painted pictures with words,” “couldn’t put it down,” “loved the dialogue,” “has the power to help people.” Everyone finished it within two weeks (surprising to me for how busy they all are, especially the new moms). I went from feeling horribly exposed, to feeling wonderfully connected. Friends I hadn’t seen in a long time met up with me to share their own stories. People I’ve known since college looked at me with greater understanding. They questioned their choices in comparison to my own. Everyone talked about different scenes in the book. And no one seemed shocked or turned-off by some of the extremely sexual content. Neither were they offended by the feelings I expressed against the church. The rush has since died down, and now it’s up to the people I’ve never met to read the book and come to their own conclusions.
This morning I read about the publishing trajectory of the trilogy Fifty Shades Of Grey. I haven’t read the books, and couldn’t even get through the first page, but there are some comparisons to be made with No End Of The Bed as far as S&M content. E.L. James was first published by a small indie publisher in Australia with an e-book and print-on-demand in May 2011. The books gained momentum on blogs and social media, gaining a deal with Random House for somewhere around a million dollars in March 2012. The books sold 25 million copies in the first four months. So even in this case of the fastest selling books, success did not come overnight. It took time and persistence.
In Winterson’s novel, Sexing The Cherry, she explores time. Her mother looms in the character of a giantess. The narrative flips from the medieval to the present. We are asked to consider time and the dangers of puritanical thinking. Time is the story, and with it, the domino effect of lives from past to present. Earth seems like a magical place, except that it isn’t, if you inspect it close enough. We are not the result of miracles. Life occurs from hard work and persistence, from the smallest organism, to the most complex.
After much ado, the book trailer for my memoir, No End Of The Bed, is now live! The concept is based around parallels between the church and the sex-positive movement. Enjoy!
I am so happy to announce that my memoir No End Of The Bed is now available on Amazon!
Lauren J. Barnhart’s memoir No End Of The Bed spans her search for truth through differing perceptions of sex, with some surprising parallels made between the fundamentalist church and the sex-positive movement.
Raised within the confines of Fundamentalism, Lauren J. Barnhart is instructed that her body is inherently evil and unclean; that innocence is of the highest value; and that a woman is meant to be a servant to everyone but herself. She struggles to believe all that she is told or else disappoint family, friends, and an all-knowing God.
At age twenty-one, outside of her small conservative college, Lauren expresses her sexuality and is surprised to discover a lack of guilt for her transgressions. Within nature rather than against it, awakened to all five senses, she begins to record the feelings of intense love and empathy that she failed to find within the church.
In the search for something more, she is drawn towards a group of polyamorists, who celebrate the body and the freedom to express themselves with many. Through their zest for life, she abundantly taps into her artistic nature. But at the same time, she experiences the same misuse of power that was left behind in the pews. Realizing that the need to find a leader is a fallacy, Lauren learns to value her own true voice, and finds the strength to forge a different path.
I began this book when I initially broke with the church twelve years ago. The experiences I had along the way were strange and extraordinary, and it took the entirety of that time since, for the story to fully unfold. In fact, the last chapter took place exactly one year ago.
In my early twenties, I became obsessed with the need to capture everything I was experiencing. I kept detailed journals, wrote poems, songs, and began writing short stories that grew to connect as chapters.
It took ten years, and one year of prodding from my husband, before I could face the fact that I was writing a memoir. I’m still shocked that I’m not hiding behind the false label of fiction. There are truths in the book that I wouldn’t even tell my close friends. But a book is different than a conversation. And without total and complete honesty, the story loses its effect.
Others who feature in my story might not remember the details the same way that I do. Each and every one of us has a different set of memories. But we all shared the same arc from repression to crazy expression.
I am very immersed in the present right now (more than I have ever been). I could not let go of the past until I finished this book. It helped me to process my life. I came to understand everyone else’s motives. I forgave them and went through a long phase of constantly thinking through the male mind. At least that is to say, the male minds that are in the book!
In the end, I found that there were more similarities between the Fundamentalist church and the Sex-Positive movement, than dissimilarities. Erica Jong once wrote, “All pornographers are puritans.” Residing in one extreme, the complete opposite extreme lies within it, just under the surface of repression.
Growing up, I was told that the body I live in is rife with taboo. I wanted to understand why. I put myself in highly uncomfortable situations just to test my own limits. I discovered that taboo only exists in your mind. Fear is based on the unfamiliar. Rules and religion began with the human desire for control and patriarchy, and control keeps the masses in the dark.
Through the long, arduous publication process, passages, words, phrases, and pages jumped out at me: flashes of years past. No End Of The Bed shows me how far I’ve come. I feel invulnerable to judgment. The young, confused girl in the book is not the woman that I am today.
But I also miss certain aspects of that very youthful place. I was so open to people that it bordered on unhealthy, though I learned so much from them. I was also scared shitless of all the new people that spoke a different language than the religious language I grew up with. Lately I am reminded, that if you’re not scared shitless, you’re not really living. Being on the stage seems to provide that over and over for me. I like to be constantly challenged so that I can keep growing.
Right now, I have two other books in the works, and I will be publishing other authors as well through Knotted Tree Press including literary fiction, memoir, essays, and poetry. You can find out more at Knotted Tree Press.
In the memoir, I found responsibility for my self. I let go of the need for a leader, and discovered my own truth. In taking charge of the publishing of that memoir, I found responsibility for my work. I’ve loved every detail of editing, formatting, designing the cover artwork, and marketing. The funny thing is, it took exactly nine months to complete the publishing process. Now, it’s just so good to be back to writing again.
I am in the final stages before releasing my memoir, and for a few weeks there, I dealt with a paralyzing fear. All I could think about are the attacks people will make on my character (though I’ve been attacked by readers before, on numerous occasions). Or the ways in which certain people in the book will feel misrepresented or insulted (though I did my best to tell my story as it actually happened).
I listened to my dad telling stories about my sister and I over family dinner, and realized how unique each of our stories and perceptions really are. He had no recollection of what we were really going through at different stages of our lives. A bitter drink turned sweet with distance. In fact, everyone from my youth has little idea of the double life I lived, now captured in my book.
“The risk is fearsome: in making your real work you hand the audience the power to deny the understanding you seek; you hand them the power to say, “you’re not like us; you’re weird; you’re crazy (Bayles, Orland, 39).”
In all truth, I prefer people that I don’t know at all to read my work, rather than people who know me. It’s okay for a stranger to not like it, or not get it, but when it’s your friend, it means that they don’t really get you at all.
In the midst of my publishing fear phase, a friend leant me the book “Art & Fear – Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking”. As soon as I began reading it, my fear subsided. I was able to fully focus again on the process of making art, rather than fearing the result of my art. And I remembered how amazing it is to be where I am at, and see that the creation of this book all happened through mad stubborn persistence, diligence, pain, tears, upheaval, countless rewrites, and that fleeting feeling of triumph.
“Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit (Bayles, Orland, 9).”
In the beginning, I imagined I would write a novel. My boyfriend at the time so fascinated me that I had to capture him with words. I thought it would just be a story of him, but it grew and grew into a whole community. How I got there, what I was searching for, and how it all ended up. In the end, it was not really about him or them at all. It was about me.
I thought it would be finished in 1-2 years. It would be published by a major with a huge book advance, become a best seller, and I would receive a movie deal within the year (how wonderful it is to be naïve and clueless). As I slugged away at horrible jobs that paid practically nothing, this image of the victorious author got me through the worst.
Then there was the issue, that in my twenties I partied so hard and lived so much to the fullest (which makes for much of my subject matter), that it was hard to find time and a morning without a hangover to write. But no matter. I still lugged my computer to the coffee shop when I could, on my one day off from work a week. Eventually, even in the early morning hours.
“To the artist, art is a verb (Bayles, Orland, 90).”
Bit by bit the pieces grew organically, and came to fit together. The book started as a third person novel, then a novel in the 1st person, then with voices of two other characters thrown in. Finally, three years ago, I was able to find the courage to admit that it is a memoir. But I would not have had the guts to say what I did, if it hadn’t started out as fiction. I also wouldn’t have come to know the other characters so well without that extra exploration. Did I mention that I began writing this book in 2002?
“The artists life is frustrating not because the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast (Bayle, Orland, 17).”
It still amazes me that I have not given up. But on the other hand, it doesn’t amaze me at all, because I had no other choice. I couldn’t release it from my brain until it was all written down. And when it was finally done, it lifted like magic, and I was free of it.
I am at an age now, where the idealism begins to fade away. I’ve watched plenty of friends give up their craft for stability. Life is hard. Most artists don’t survive as artists once they leave the supportive community of school. After that, it’s just you and your art, and good luck getting people to care about what you do. Your friends are not necessarily your fans.
Facing the fact that my book will be available to the public, I wonder how my life will change. I will do everything I can to see that it’s successful, but there is the fear that it won’t sell. I won’t know until I take that risk. And whatever happens, it will still be a foundation that I can build from.
Years ago, a friend of mine read several chapters. Paul was a young techie nerd, who was bored with life, and struggling to find social skills. He kept talking to me about one of the main characters: a binging, partying, player who puts on a debonair act. He became obsessed with this guy. It didn’t take long before he was turning into him.
Suddenly, Paul was out every single night, getting wasted, and hounding women wherever he went. In a bizarre turn of events, he married an older woman within three months of meeting her. But he continued to go out every night, and slurred to me that he wasn’t sure how he’d gotten sucked into the institution.
At one point, he had been my best friend. But soon, it was too embarrassing to go anywhere with him. He was rude to bartenders who were my friends. He was loud and obnoxious, trying to see how many curse words he could fit into one sentence. He went from being madly intelligent and witty, to talking in circles without making any sense. It was like watching Truman Capote’s downfall.
Was it the book? Or was it because he also had feelings for me? Or maybe, I was not responsible at all, and he was just on that course looking for an avenue to go down. I don’t know. But it was a disturbing realization that the book might be a little dangerous for the slightly unstable.
“Artmaking grants access to worlds that may be dangerous, sacred, forbidden, seductive, or all of the above. It grants access to worlds you may otherwise never fully engage (Bayle, Orland, 108).”
I hope that my memoir shows that the world is never exactly as we are told it is, and it is up to each of us to find out for ourselves. Every person has the right to be an adventurer, an explorer of life. To Think for themselves.
Of course, it is dangerous to really live. To take chances, and be open to people who are different from ourselves. But it’s the only way to find out who we really are. If we live in fear, we’ll remain in a bubble where nothing really happens, and nothing can really grow.
“Insist that the world must always remain x, and x is indeed exactly what you’ll get (Bayles, Orland, 111-112).”
I am excited, that soon, with the book release, my life will open up to new possibilities. It will be out there, speaking for me, doing the work that I put into it for a decade of my life. I will keep you all updated when it is released.
Do any of you have book release experiences to share? Was it uplifting? Did it feel like a let down? Did it open your life up to new things? Please share.
Last Sunday, at the bookstore, I saw the name ‘Emily Gould’ in red letters on the spine of a book in the memoir section. I don’t forget the names of editors I worked with briefly as a literary agent. Back then Emily was an editor at Hyperion. She has since worked at Gawker and is now on her own doing freelance. Her memoir, And The Heart Says Whatever, is a snapshot account of her life from college through young adulthood in New York City.
“I felt the vacuum of the empty suburbs surrounding me like a black hole in which my body was suspended, as though I were the only warm alive thing left in the world (Gould, 27).”
After her childhood in the burbs, Emily only lasted one year at Kenyon, a university in the Midwest full of loser frat boys, where women end up objectified or abused. It’s obvious that she does not fit – the same way that I did not fit at small, conservative George Fox University. While all of my roommates were out with their fiancés, I was sitting alone in my bunk bed with a stray cat, eating Chinese take-out and watching old Fellini films. I dreaded the moment when they would return, “What is this crap you’re watching? It doesn’t make any sense!”
Once in the city, Emily pays her way through writing classes with a series of server jobs where she suffers from anxiety. She feels exhausted from performing, leaves her feminism at the door, and puts up with being treated like a dimwit.
My first job in New York was in Soho at an Italian restaurant. The manager wanted me to stand outside to try and draw people in. I was not even a host, and I was not getting paid. Around 9pm, a band started to play, and the manager asked me to sit with some rich businessmen. I have to admit, though he was turning me into some kind of unpaid escort, I enjoyed the conversation, since one man owned the art gallery across the street, and bragged about how he had worked with Andy Warhol.
The manager said I would be serving at another location that was just opening up in the Lower East Side, where my commute would take twice as long. On my first day there, the owner only came upstairs to yell at us then disappeared into the basement for hours.
The other two servers were actors and called me “babe,” in a condescending tone that I found irritating. There were no sections, and they viciously fought for tables. Being the newbie, I had one lone table, and ended up bussing the other 49, spinning in confusion.
When it was time to go, I went downstairs to find the boss. Down a long hallway, he was sitting in a grimy office smoking a joint and counting piles and piles of money. There were at least twenty stacks over six inches high. I’d been in New York for one week, and already I was working for the mafia. I’ve since learned that in Jersey and New York, restaurants are backed by mafia money, while in Seattle they are backed by drug dealers – same thing, different titles.
I walked back to the original location and told the manager that I wanted to work in Soho, but he didn’t have a position for me. It was a good thing. I was the only person there who wasn’t right off the boat, and all the money was under the table with no salary. I was beginning to think that the entire city was outside of the law.
A year later I ran into the manager again at a party thrown by a flamboyant Italian man. At all of his parties, the host hired a model to walk next to him carrying a sign that read, “Stefano Is Here” with an arrow pointing down. The manager was working as the DJ that night, and I had been hired as a dancer with a percussion band that I performed with. We were at a swank restaurant uptown, called Zanzibar, and the party had a tribal theme.
The ex-manager/DJ was completely shocked to see me. I was no longer shell-shocked and outside of my element. In fact, I was getting paid to be the life of the party. Things moved fast in New York, so fast, I can’t believe it all happened.
After a series of serving jobs, Emily Gould found herself working as the Editorial Assistant to a Senior Editor at a publishing house.
“I was realizing that the production of book-shaped products had very little to do with “books,” the holy relics that my college education had been devoted to venerating (Gould, 99).”
Once at the literary agency, I imagined myself taking on literary clients and life-changing books, but I couldn’t halt the constant stream of fluff being thrown at me by my boss or the pressure to find a sale that could meet current trends. I didn’t feel strong enough, or maybe nothing seemed good enough, and everyday was a pressure cooker to make that deal happen.
Being let go was a tremendous relief. For all that time I’d never been able to read my own books, or write my own words. So every morning for the next six months, I was up at 6am to write for an hour outside the coffee shop, with people rushing past me to work. After writing ten pages, I would begrudgingly join them, and go to my shitty job in the city, numbering every single piece of crap artwork that came out of Peter Max’s factory. Like that first restaurant I worked at, only recent immigrants lasted in his exploitation-fest. He was donating millions to charity, and I couldn’t afford to live. But as long as I got that writing in every morning, it seemed okay.
Emily Gould still lives in Brooklyn, and I have to admit, I feel a sense of envy that I am not still in New York too. There is always the sense that I am missing out on something – connections, parties, shows. You can find all that in Seattle too, the problem is that I really haven’t yet.
I also have a theory – that when you leave New York you get slightly weak and introverted because the pressure is finally off. I hadn’t realized how much energy it took. I’ve watched as friend after friend left the city and completely went into reclusive mode. One friend even took to the mountains, and never lasts for more than 24 hours when she comes to visit me. In New York she was a tough, angsty, goth rocker chick in platform boots. Now she is a peaceful hippy, who prefers to live in a yurt, pee in an outhouse, and grow vegetables.
Five years since my move back, I’m teaching myself how to refind my New York energy. I’m remembering that in New York, amidst all the crazy, I learned how to live, how to survive, and how to love exponentially. Not the fake romantic love of adolescence, but real love for all of my friends and my community.
Instead of complaining about how I lost that when I left, I’m now remembering how to be what you wish others would become. And surprisingly, I’m finding what I’ve been looking for. Friendships are flowing naturally, the way they should be. I sense I’m growing closer to the pulsing beat of energy. Life takes a turn, once again.
I am feeling vulnerable. The pitch for my memoir is about to be sent out to editors, and I have spent the last ten years pouring everything I have into this book. It has evolved and grown with time, and thanks to rejections of past versions, it has become more refined, more complete, more honest.
Though I try my best to not take rejections personally (having worked in publishing has helped me a lot with this), it is still always a hard blow to the ego, with days spent feeling like a failure. I know my book has enormous potential, now I just need people in the publishing industry to see that too.
In vulnerable writer moments, the best author to turn to is Erica Jong. “Only if you have no other choice should you be a writer (Jong, 6).”
I have just finished reading her book, Seducing the Demon – Writing For My Life. The stories from her life are all hilarious, and told in nonlinear fashion. Most memorable would be how she broke up Martha Stewart’s marriage when it was already falling apart (picture Stewart’s husband as an emasculated chore boy).
Humorous stories aside, it seemed that Jong was speaking directly to me and everything that I am dealing with right now – death and the struggle of trying to capture life in words.
“Life is a dream, but the dream disintegrates unless you write it down (my father) reminds me (Jong, 253).”
I first began writing because I wanted to end my life. It was a common theme throughout my adolescence, but escalated when I was twenty-one. I always knew that I was not the person my family wanted me to be. Within my core, I was not a Christian, but I was told by everyone around me that if I did not follow I would lose their acceptance. I would be fallen, lost, going to hell. I did everything to make God real to me. But instead, I began to see that everything I’d been told was false.
In the process of all this, I was prone to deep depression and would fall into trance-like states where I left my body and began to ponder how I could destroy it. Looking back, it was symbolic, since the Christianity I was raised with denies the body.
Eventually, when that mode became an everyday issue, I had to enter therapy. The therapist didn’t sort my issues since I was still stuck within my Christian university and didn’t feel free to speak what I was really feeling. What really changed my life was writing.
“Writing is tough, but it’s a lot less tough than depression. Which basically leads to suicide. Unless you make a joke (Jong, 232).”
At first the writing was not good. It was melodramatic, sickeningly romantic, full of unnecessary flourishes and old-fashioned language. Through hundreds of poems, I attempted to express what I was feeling.
I experienced a real breakthrough while reading Allen Ginsberg’s poetry. Here was a man who bravely and beautifully wrote about gay sex in the 1950’s. If he could do that then, than I could celebrate sensuality in my poetry, turn it in, and risk getting marked down or reprimanded. Surprisingly, my teacher raved over the poem I wrote.
We normally looked at each other’s work anonymously. But at the end of analyzing my poem the professor said, “And the girl who wrote this…” (Everyone looked around since there was only one other girl in the class) “Ope! Sorry Lauren!”
The room full of boys twittered in embarrassment. But then my professor continued, “This is the first poem I’ve seen all semester that is ready to be published.” I sat there red in the cheeks, but brimming with pride that this professor who was such a tough nut to crack, who was known for yelling at people for using the word “deep” because it didn’t express anything, was now telling me I had potential.
“For the poet, the lover becomes the world. The exploration of love becomes an exploration of life (Jong, 66).”
Before poetry, I painted portraits, then realized I had more to tell. Poetry was vague enough to feel safe writing what I had to say. But then I wanted to tell the whole truth and share the whole picture.
To write I have sacrificed money, jobs, relationships, and security. But I have no choice, and wouldn’t be happy any other way. My book sits there like the holy grail, full of promises that might not be met. When I first tried to publish it, I was cocky, with no doubt that the first agent would snap it up and put it on auction, scoring a great book deal which would lead to it becoming a bestseller with a movie deal in the works. I literally did not doubt this one iota.
In it’s earliest version (not nearly as fleshed out as it is now) it was rejected by over a hundred agents and editors. Back then it was just a novel about a girl who parties too much. Now it’s a memoir about a girl trying to forget an oppressive upbringing through an underground subculture that turns dark quickly.
“People who most crave ecstasy are probably least capable of moderation (Jong, 134).”
The people I write about in my book will be both horrified and gratified to see themselves frozen in time. But the only reaction that really concerns me is that of my parents. I hope they can forgive the fact that I need to lay them bare to understand my life. Like many parents, it’s painful for them to allow their child to be their own person. They will never fully accept who I am because it doesn’t fit into their worldview. I am the reality that they find hard to face.
“If you want to be a nice person, don’t write. There’s no way to do it without grinding up your loved ones and making them into raw hamburger (Jong, 239).”
Now when I actually see the living people who embody the other characters in the book, I hardly know how to look at them, without only seeing our past. To me, they have become caricatures of themselves, mythology.
“Time and again I have found that once I have frozen a person in a book I can hardly remember what the real person was like (Jong, 268).”
At a memorial, I saw them all two days ago. I realized, that they feel the same way about me. They are completely unable to understand who I am now, unable to listen, and can only speak in jokes or insensitive diatribes. They have frozen me in time. I didn’t want to be there, but in coming together over the death of our beautiful friend, I came to the ending of my story.
“You are not doing it all alone. You are standing on the shoulders of the dead. You are writing love letters to the grave. The word is a link in a human chain (Jong, 61).”
I’m in those last years where you can be considered young. But I don’t feel young at all. I feel like time is too short and I have too many stories to share to fit into that shortness of life. Ideas keep popping into my head. I want to write them all, to share this thing I cannot stop. To live, I must write.
For the first time in twelve years, I am sober now for the last five months. I am happier and more productive than I have ever been. My mind feels crystal clear every morning – excited to write, bursting with ideas and thoughts. And when I’m out with friends and the bars close and they’re all loaded and stumbling through the streets – I realize I am the only person who is really seeing everything, feeling everything, experiencing a memory that won’t slip from my mind by morning.
I have just finished reading Bill Clegg’s memoir, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. Clegg is a successful Literary Agent in Manhattan who struggled with an addiction to crack. The very drug, crack, is symbolic of his state of being at the time. Though outwardly he is a success – amazing job, parties, beautiful home, loving and supportive partner, friends that care about him – on the inside he feels an absolute disconnect. He does not love himself, does not even seem to know himself, and he would rather be dead. Eventually, he loses everything he had.
“It feels as if each week, there is some lunch or some dinner or some phone call that is going to blow my cover, reveal that I am not nearly as bright or well read or business savvy or connected as I think people imagine me to be. My bank account is always empty, and when I look at the ledgers at the agency, I wonder how we will pay our employees, the rent, the phone bill… I often wish it all felt the way it looked, that I could actually be living the life everyone thinks they see. But it feels like a rigged show, one loose cable away from collapse (Clegg, 128).”
I relate to this so completely. I too worked as a Literary Agent in New York and never stopped thinking that someone would blow my cover. My boss was a bit of a rogue, and I liked that about him. We clicked – I was his first employee, and in the beginning it was pure joy. He trained me intensively. I read books on law, and editing, and publishing. I read manuscripts to report back with critiques. He helped me refine my style and challenged me. Then I began taking on clients and lunching with editors, which is when the shit hit the fan.
Being an agent is like being a gambler – and I’ve never had good luck. You put your time and energy into a book in hopes that the editors will buy it – but you don’t get paid until they do. My boss wanted me to quit my restaurant job, so I did. He gave me $1,000 a month – but my dad always ended up having to give me $300 more. After paying the bills, there was barely anything left. Lunch with the editors was the only time I wasn’t eating hot dogs and lentils or some other cheap fare.
My boss gave me money to go out and buy a decent pair of shoes, but the ones I finally found didn’t even seem right. I certainly couldn’t walk miles in them, and I realized they were too trendy. I felt like I was wasting all of his money. He believed in me so much. Outwardly, I looked and seemed ready to be a success. But on the inside I was a raging artist, becoming more and more lost in the role I was playing.
There was this voice that wouldn’t shut-up inside my head – I believed in my own writing more than anyone else’s. It felt selfish. But I was putting all of my energy into the others – and nothing was left for me. My boss grew upset that I couldn’t keep up with the two new hires. I wasn’t reading fast enough. There was no time for a life outside of work.
But I was leading a parallel life. I lived in Hoboken. My tribe was a crowd of never do well musicians. The bartenders only charged me six bucks to drink all night. And when the bars closed we’d head to someone’s apartment and drink till the sun came up. On weekdays, I’d wake up with some passed out rocker in my bed and then go into the process of switching lives – from braids to sleek ponytail, from combat boots to heels, from gypsy skirt to pressed slacks. I’d rush to the train in a crowd I didn’t belong in – the yuppies that we’d just been taunting the night before. And then I would reach the perfectly sleek office with the glass doors and the blonde hardwood floors and the giant view of the Empire State Building and the insanely bright lights. Suddenly I would realize that I looked like shit – that my eyes were bloodshot and my skin dull and dry. At lunch I’d buy something greasy like a patty melt from the corner deli. My boss would cross over from his office to my cubicle and stare down at my desk at the mess of a sandwich and say, “Hangover food.” And then I’d make some lame denial, “Not really, it just looked good.”
My first potential sale was a client he’d pawned off on me – a chick lit thing that I didn’t really like. I failed to sell it and felt humiliated. The pressure was unbearable. None of my clients seemed exactly right. I’d grown attached to them and was driven more by the emotion of making their dreams come true than by their talent. Their work was good, but not great.
It all came to a head. I lost my footing completely and anxiety took over. And then came the talk. My boss took me to the conference room, and said, “Lauren, you are the artist, not the agent. This is a waste of my money.” I called all of my clients to tell them they would need to find new representation. I’d lived vicariously through their hopes and dreams, and it felt terrible letting them down. My hands were shaking. But there was a huge sense of relief as I walked out the glass doors, rode the elevator down and was at last out on the street where I could breathe. Where I didn’t have to be something for anyone.
Drinking was only part of my failure as an agent. I was young, introverted, uncertain, and completely inept at sales. My boss always told me, “If people are drinking, you drink. If they are smoking, then smoke. If they’re talking about church, then you’re a church-goer too.” But I didn’t want to live my life to please others. I’d escaped from that already. All I wanted was truth.
I didn’t stop drinking of my own accord. For years it was normal to have six drinks a day. I’d try to take two days off a week, but rarely managed that. Then for the past five years, after particularly heavy nights, my liver started to hurt. By last summer the pain became constant. Even one sip caused sharp pangs to shoot through my side. Physical activity grew difficult from the swollen discomfort.
I’m not sure if or when I’ll ever get to go back to that feeling I always loved. Not much beats that charge of excitement, that interconnectedness with other human beings; on the other hand – the monotony of going in circles, the hangover, the lagging energy, the boredom. It used to be a social crutch, but now I don’t need it, and don’t need to go out as much. The worst of it was, alcohol was always good for taking a romantic night and turning it into a knock-out fight. Eventually, it may have ended my marriage.
I enjoy the experience of being around others who are drinking. I like to ride the wave of their energy and partake in the free flowing conversation. I’ve learned to not try and make sense of what they say beyond a certain point. And the only time I feel depressed is when there is a ridiculously nice bottle of wine on the table, and I can smell all of those complexities and the journey it could take me on -complexities that I was known as an expert for describing.
“But it’s more than just a conversation, it’s the best sex, the most delicious meal, the most engrossing book – it’s like returning to all of these at once, coming home, and the primary feeling I have as I collapse back into my desk chair and watch the smoke roll through my office is: Why on earth did I ever leave (Clegg, 187)?
For years I looked down on people who were numbing out the pain and not working through their issues. Their drug of choice kept them stagnant. But when I quit drinking, I realized that I was this person. Everything came up from before the time that I had my first drink. I had recurring dreams of being trapped in college. It began to purge out of me, painfully, as I remembered the person I left behind a long time ago. I began to make peace with her. And I am still making peace with the fact that addiction can steal your life away.
Bill Clegg was a man who lacked self-acceptance. But I think he found it through his writing and through sobriety. He purged his secrets, and freed himself from the power they had over him. Having a perfect life is a façade that doesn’t really exist. Accepting the truth makes for a much better story.