Knitathon+afghan+2

I first learned to knit while living in Dublin, Ireland the fall after my mother died. I was 20 years old and felt profoundly alone in the world for the first time. Having suffered a dance-related injury to the point I couldn’t walk, and stuck living with my elderly Auntie Peggy and the few books she kept on hand, I was bored out of my mind. To pass the hours and to get to know each other, she suggested we knit. It sounded like a terrible idea to me – I have not the smallest bit of patience and was sure I’d fail miserably at the project. But stranded as I was in a foreign country with only two television stations and a raft of religious books to distract me, I became willing as only those who have no other options become willing.

It’s funny how life turns out sometimes.

Once upon a time, I had a dream. No, it wasn’t to be a writer, or a producer, or a director—having done all to varying degrees of success—it was to open a little bakery.

Nothing grand. Something manageable. Fun. With booze.

It was something I had kept in the back of my mind for Some Day. You know, in case the other thing, the Artist thing; the real thing I was doing with my life didn’t pan out.

And then it didn’t.

When failure came knocking at my door, it knocked hard. Failure banged with a sledgehammer. Failure went fucking Medieval on my ass with its Battering Ram of Suck.

By the fall of 2010, my mother had been sick for a year and a half, already outliving the parameters of her terminal diagnosis. I had been living with my parents for a year by then, and my days were overflowing with her illness, creating a heartbreaking, beautiful, heightened, stressful and joyful existence, if an insular one. To cope and try to make sense of things, I attempted to write about it, but  it wasn’t really working.  This was the most important thing I’d ever experienced in my life, and I felt it should be my next book.  But nothing was taking shape. Aside from a few inspired blog posts, I was failing miserably.

My life is a series of nervous breakdowns. They happen more slowly as I get used to the movement, the up and down, the dizzying breadth followed by the very very narrow, and then a sheer drop to nothing that you climb up by inches. As a little girl I was perplexed by my frequent nervous breakdowns. Sometimes simple tantrums. Sometimes I could have killed, if I’d had the power of laser vision, or death rays shooting from my wrists, or curses or other violence. So I tried to fight my enemies weaponless, not even sure where the enemies were; I’d find out later, and even then I’d be wrong. I fought blind, screaming, caring and caring and caring. My socks, for example, were a great source of many a fine nervous breakdown. I really hated having the seam anywhere but exactly at the edges of my toes at all times; surely this was reasonable.

From who do we get permission to fail.
From whom. Who permits these missteps.
These abandonments. Can they be lessonless,

my failures, please. The moral of the story is
missing, what do you think would happen
to the scores of children waiting for the just end,

the guilty one, banished. What has failed
in failure. What beyond expectation, beside
expectation, I mean. A falling short, shy

of. In action, then. There is the failing. The part
most often misunderstood: how acceptable
the dropped stitch is. The missed step, instep

plunging with what feels like ease, am I
right. It is easy to fall, to fail, and pleasing
and needed. Not because of anything ever after,

not in hopes of being better prepared.
You did it wrong, Failure says, and may
you falter again. Fall, turn, and now,

what to do. Feel it. You are hereby given
permission to fail. Let us be led together,
all fall, hands swallowing each other’s hands.

1.

“There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste,” states Jane Austen’s Lady Catherine in that favorite of females the world over Pride and Prejudice. “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”

This is what happens AFTER you write the next book.

You have days of euphoria. No one save for a few people who you love and trust and who probably love you a little too much to objectively read the drafts of your next book, are even aware that you have finally completed the new manuscript.

I am very unhappy.I am in the South of France, in a villa set in a vineyard, where bottle after bottle of Cote du Rhone wine is brought to me every day, alongside exotic cheeses, slices of country ham, and baguettes.I am with a woman who takes pleasure in my pleasure.None of this did I have to pay for.

That morning Jackson woke with an erection like an iron bar.He lay in bed with his eyes closed feeling it throb between his legs.He imagined Céline returning from work, unbuttoning her blouse and pulling the red regulation sash from around her waist with a practiced flick.She’d step down out of her shoes, unclip her metal nametag and toss it onto the kitchen table where it would land with a clatter. He could see her fingers sliding the zip down the side of her skirt, the fabric falling to the floor with that sweet familiar swish and then there she’d be, thin legs and her hands reaching up behind her, leaning forward, unfastening her bra the way she did.

Every Friday, the Hendersons go to Chinese school. Some of my homework:

Mandarin is something I really suck at and I’m not afraid to admit it. It doesn’t hurt my feelings to know I will probably suck at it forever. Same with taking pictures. They’re always blurry because when I press the button, I inevitably jar the whole camera. I suck. Oh well.

The books I write are another matter entirely. The slightest sense of failure in my writing absolutely devastates me.

Behind every painting and manuscript and song is a person. I think that’s what I want to talk about today. Art is not a product; it’s a relationship the artist is offering you. I think one reason why artists bond so fiercely with each other is because connecting with both an artist and their art calls for immeasurable intimacy, vulnerability, and risk. And I think that’s why rejection in this business…an editor with a dismissive “I think I’ll pass on this”…can be so very debilitating.

Maybe, for me anyway, self-doubt is a survival instinct. I want so badly to protect myself from rejection that I attack my work before I even think to send it out.

*

A year ago, maybe two now, I had a really lovely lunch with an editor at a big time publishing house who loved my novel and recited lines from it over and over without looking at a cheat sheet. I felt like a rock star. She was already seeing sequels and asked me to indulge her by writing an extra chapter featuring her favorite character.

Time went by, she couldn’t push the book through the committee, and that was the end of our contact. Whatever had made her run across town in her pajamas to print out the second half of my book was not enough to seal a thing. And in the end, you’re just there with your rejection slip and no book. Just like before. Wondering why you keep writing.

After that, I wrote a second book, a memoir, but was afraid to show it to my agent. I still liked it and wasn’t ready to be crushed. So I blogged about it instead. An editor at an absolutely huge magazine contacted me that day and asked me to email her the entire manuscript. She called me the next day saying she just finished it and loved it, especially the ending scene where Mr. Henderson is peeing and eating an ice cream cone at the same time. “We’d like to excerpt it! I want to blurb it! Who’s publishing the book?” she asked. “Well, nobody is,” I said. And that was enough to kill the conversation and the whole idea of running excerpts.

Now, with two books on my hard drive, I contemplate starting a third and just can’t do it. Why? Because it feels stupid. Because each person knows how much rejection they can take, and I’ve reached my limit.

Instead, I decided to start LitPark, a little corner for writers and artists that didn’t suck the life out of them. I get notes sometimes from people saying they think I’m nice, and I appreciate those notes, but to be honest, LitPark is my f-you to the publishing business. It’s my way of saying, “Enough already! There’s more of us than you so treat us with some respect!”