If there’s one thing that’s never failed me as an adult whether I was single, married, before kids, after kids and no matter whether I’ve worked full time or freelance, it’s being propelled back into work with that intense “back to school” feeling. Even when I lived in LA and couldn’t tell September from June by the weather, it was just a sense that the time for fucking around was over. And I’m so here for it.
Back in June I said I wasn’t going to write this newsletter over the summer and, if I’m being honest, I didn’t believe it. In fact, I had plans (some actual, some theoretical) to do a lot of writing this summer. But this summer turned out to be the summer I accidentally stepped back and reflected a bit? It’s sometimes hard for me to believe I’ve only been working on my personal writing for 4-1/2 years (after a lifetime of being immersed in other writing and creative projects but that’s a topic for another newsletter.) Before then I either had freelance work or I didn’t. And when I didn’t I’d take off for long drives or work on our house or do anything but write because what was there to write?
Now there’s never a free moment when I feel like I shouldn’t be writing. When I posted my first pieces in early 2015 I felt like I had been shot out of a cannon. I regularly woke up at 2 or 3 in the morning full of ideas and I just wrote and wrote and wrote to exhaustion. All that obsessive, frenzied writing culminated in writing AMATEUR HOUR start to finish during the summer of 2017. And last summer I was just coming off of my book tour and felt practically catatonic.
I went into this summer with a new book deal and the pressure that comes along with that. In early July, my family went on a 7-day trip to Oregon without me and I defaulted to what I usually default to—the belief that I will / should spend every waking minute writing and only eating what I can hold in one hand or in bed while typing and using my own chest as a crumb catcher.
On the first day they were gone I wrote for a paltry two hours. As I mentally berated myself for choosing to drive to a (beautiful) place that (turned out) had no place to plug in, I had a sudden realization—
You do not have to make yourself miserable doing this.
Stop making yourself miserable doing this.
I drove home, changed into my swimsuit, packed a couple beers and an ice pack into one of my kid’s lunch boxes (LOL), and went to the lake for the afternoon. That one realization about self-imposed misery ended up setting the tone for my entire summer.
I spent the rest of that week writing a little. Then changing into my swimsuit and going to the lake. One time changing in the bathroom of the fancy place I had just had breakfast. One afternoon it was a 15 minute dip and I essentially shotgunned a beer in the rain. Other days I met my design partner at the lake and we talked for hours and hours. I honestly feel a little weepy just thinking about it again now because it was so freeing. I felt happy. I realized I had time. I had time to write this book. I had time to think and go deep. There was absolutely zero reason to force myself to stay indoors during what is an excruciatingly short, fleeting season here in Vermont.
For the rest of the summer that mantra was my guide. Paying work took absolute priority. Otherwise I worked on our house. I took my kids strawberry picking even though they’re teenagers and over it. I picked blueberries by myself and had some of the best vintage dress thrifting scores I’ve had in years. I went to the lake more this summer than possibly any summer since we moved here (and given that was almost 16 years ago, that’s saying something.) I picked flowers, I napped, I went camping for the first time in 3 years, I ate s’mores, I easily ate my weight in ice cream (one time driving one hour each way just to finally make it to this place). I floated on pool noodles in a crystal clear lake during a heat wave, watched a very very very funny free play while eating killer pizza and drinking Hill Farmstead Edward. I fleamarketed, swallowed too much ocean water, got bit 5 million times by mosquitos, bought creemees for 20 teenagers instead of baking a birthday cake, felt grateful to have time with my kids in general (I love them), went on a ferry, discovered a vintage Danish teak nightstand in a musty antiques-packed warehouse for $22, returned to reading the Wildwood series. I watched Fleabag, Big Mouth, Pen15 (all profoundly loved) and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (which everyone can stop asking me about now because I hated it). I have no regrets.
I’ve realized in just the past week that writing and my regular job in advertising/design share some fucked up mutual ground—martyrdom. Who is working the hardest, is the most overwhelmed, hasn’t seen their kids longer, hasn’t had a weekend off, worked more while on vacation, worked more than anyone else, is more surrounded by idiots and frauds, is more miserable, is more stressed out. There is a gene we all must share that loves to thrive on the supposed misery, the suffering. But how much of it are we creating on our own, in some sort of race to the absolute bottom? I mean, who gives a shit? And honestly—Writing? Advertising? Design? LOL we all need to get over ourselves. This shit is not that hard.
My family is off camping this weekend without me because if there’s another thing I’ve learned it’s that once it’s time to get back to work and writing, it’s really time to get the hell back to work and writing. I’ve opened my book files for the first time in 7 weeks—the same amount of time it took me to write my first book start to finish, fucking yikes—and I feel (much to my relief) completely excited. I’m seeing it all with fresh eyes. I spent my summer having so many vulnerable conversations with so many people that I know those experiences will ultimately inform my writing. I’m ready.
It has taken me almost 5 years to relearn what I had already learned in my other professional life—breaks are necessary. Clean, long breaks. And when you can’t get those, you can walk the dog, do laundry, take a weekend away without your laptop, write an actual letter-on-paper to a friend far away, read the newspaper, drink coffee without looking at your phone. And just don’t write for a bit, just walk away from a piece that isn’t working and don’t look at it again for a month, you have plenty of other things to do. It works. It’s necessary. As it turns out, we are not machines. And no one is impressed with our stupid suffering.
NEW FROM ME:
Taking a long break from submissions felt so, so, so good and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re a serial / obsessive submitter. I only wrote two completely new pieces this summer—one that is forthcoming in The New Yorker and one for The New York Times that was an assignment. The other two pieces that were published this summer were pieces I actually wrote a year ago and decided to return to and finalize.
• THE NEW YORK TIMES: Congratulations on the Birth of Your New Baby! Condolences on the Tragic Loss of Your Sense of Humor!
• McSWEENEY’S: An Open Letter to People Who Say “Summer’s Not Over Yet!”
• SLACKJAW: Join the Slow Social Media Movement, “Message in a Bottle”
THINGS FROM ELSEWHERE:
• AUTISM: With the overwhelming ugliness in the world (including: on flights) this thread on Twitter brought me to tears.
• HUMOR: This piece in Daily Shouts isn’t hahahaha but instead between the idea, the wonderful illustrations, and the thinking behind every line, it will hit you straight in your chest areas “Off Cloud Nine: The Tale of a Depressed Rain Cloud”
• JVN: You’re damn right JVN will now be a regular category in this newsletter. Can you imagine anything better than being his stylist?? I … cannot. “Meet the woman responsible for Jonathan Van Ness’s best Queer Eye looks”
• FIREFLIES: With summer wrapping up and hella chill in the air already this weekend, I just revisited this piece about firefly research at Shelburne Farms this past summer (it also includes a link to lots of cool nerdy firefly facts to *dazzle and amaze* your friends)
• HOPE: Apparently I’m coming back from summer vacation a sobbing mess and hungry for news of good people? This story filled me up. “Single Dad Has Fostered More Than 50 Young Men in the Last 12 Years”
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