After feeling awfully sorry for myself yesterday, and moping around for a bit, and then frantically pitching approximately three-thousand* magazines while frothing at the mouth, I took a moment to think.
I highly recommend moments like those. Thinking moments. Where you go, “But seriously, what the hell am I doing?”
I was freaking out. I am one of those people who tends to freak out. I tend to believe the worst. I tend to interpret things negatively. If someone gives me a weird look on the elevator, I am more likely to think, “Why does she hate me?!” than “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m carrying fourteen bottles of diet orange soda?”
When something bad happens to me, I am likely to think, “Well, this just says it all. I know the truth now. I suck. That is the truth. Nothing good will ever happen to me. And I’d might as well accept it. Maybe I should cry a lot, dramatically, at my computer, while I’m accepting it. Yes. Definitely the way to proceed.”
And then I proceed that way.
But when I took a moment to think, after my bout of frantic pitches, it occurred to me that a lot of this probably comes down to how I think about success.
How do you think about success?
I think about it like this: GOLD MEDAL NOBEL PEACE PRIZE PULITZER A MILLION DOLLARS GIANT BOOK DEAL HOUSEHOLD NAME SUPERMODEL MOVIE STAR EVERYONE IN THE WORLD LOVES YOU MORE THAN THEY LOVE THEIR KIDS.
That’s the basic model, at least. It might not be a great one. Or at least, not a healthy one. And weirdly, I tend to only apply it to myself. Other people can be successful in every possible way. But not me. For me, it has to be: WHERE IS YOUR GOLD MEDAL NOBEL PEACE PRIZE MILLION DOLLARS?
A funny thing has been happening, recently, though. Sort of like when I felt good instead of bad about gaining weight. I’ve been feeling happier. Not all the time, of course. That would be excessive. But in general. I’ve been thinking rebellious thoughts. Like, “Maybe I can be happy without achieving all of my original goals.”
I’ve been thinking about what I want my life to look like, and sometimes I catch myself fantasizing about being with family, in a beautiful place, hanging out and making a delicious dinner that we’re going to eat outside. I think we’re in the south. Possibly Atlanta. And there isn’t a gold medal in sight.
Sometimes I find myself thinking a secret thought about how maybe I don’t have to reach every dream I had when I was ten. Maybe my dreams can change. Maybe the version of success I’ve built my life around is not the one I’d like to keep hanging on to. Because hanging on here, with my legs dangling out into empty, endless space is getting really uncomfortable.
I’m not sure why these thoughts are radical. They should be part of a natural evolution, which is what we living beings do. But there are these extremely tall steel walls that got set up in my mind a long time ago. They are guarding my goals like some massive, ancient diamond. That diamond is irreplaceable. Nothing can approach it. Nothing can touch it. Nothing can ever compare. There is an army of guards surrounding the steel walls. They all have the same opinions, and they speak freely.
“Anything else is giving up,” they say. “If you do anything else, it means you’re giving up. You’ll be a quitter. You’ll be a failure.”
Standard fear-mongering tactics. They picked them up by watching the political news. But I am rebelling. Gradually. Maybe I can be a writer because I am already a writer, instead of never feeling quite like a real writer, because I haven’t published a book. Maybe there are many things that can make me feel fulfilled, instead of just one or two. Maybe my life is full of time, and rather than something needing to happen right this second, it can happen later.
Revolutionary, I know.
That was sarcasm, but yes, it is. Because it has started a revolution in me.
Last night, after I was rejected and miserable, I met Bear on the Lower East Side, and we went to this little place that served seasoned matzah instead of a bread basket. I wore all flowing white, with a sliver of a belt, and deep red lipstick. And by the time I got there, I realized that I wasn’t upset. I was thrilled by the warmth of the night. I felt lovely and potent.
Some of the guards protested. “You got rejected by someone who CAME TO YOU FOR A PIECE! You’ve never written anything for a glossy! Don’t you feel bad?”
I shook them off.
Sometimes, inexplicably, you know what matters and what doesn’t. You know that your thick thighs are good, even though they’re not supposed to be. You know that you’re alright, even though you could be depressed. You catch yourself hoping, instead of giving up. And then hoping more.
It occurred to me that because there are no guarantees in this game of trying to make it as a writer, the thing that fills the space instead is hope. Like Pandora’s box, maybe. Remember how, after all of the terrible things come roaring out of it, a tiny blue butterfly called hope emerges? Except it’s a swarm of blue butterflies over here, not just one. I’m swimming in hope. I’ve learned, through being rejected over and over and trying and trying again, to keep hoping. And I’ve begun to learn that I am OK, even without the success that I went into this believing I desperately needed.
Could it be that that, in itself, is a kind of success?
It probably could.
* * *
How do you define success? Has your definition changed?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look when my hair curls in the humidity. Love it.
*OK, perhaps more like four
P.S. Thank you to yesterday’s commenters, who really drove this message home for me. You guys are awesome, as always.
And in thanks, here is a fabulous cake pic from a reader!! I love this picture more than words can express. Send me yours soon: