Thursday, June 7, 2012

When I Am Forty, I Will Publish a Book


1. I am turning forty today.

2. I am not Herman Melville.

3. I am vulnerable to weather.

These are the three disappointments of the day.

Last year, on my birthday, somebody died. That was a different disappointment.

Last week, I took a canoe trip with my two children on the Allegheny River. One minute we were floating lazily along, and I was taking pictures of different sunbathing rocks that would have looked like the one that my main characters Sunny and Maxon were sitting on when he proposed. The next minute, the air turned chill and I heard thunder. We tried, valiantly, to make it back to the canoe rental place and get safely into their office or our van. However, we ended up blown across to the wrong side of the river. We climbed out of the canoe and pulled it up into the rocks, and spent the next half hour or so clinging to the slippery side of a large boulder, unable to see or speak because of the strength of the thunderstorm that was raining down on our heads. In the river valley, thunder almost deafens you. We were afraid to go into the trees, the canoe was swamped and barely above water, and it was all bad.
My daughter is eight and weighs about 40 pounds. My son and I tried to make a roof over her with our bodies, but she was shaking terribly from the cold and driving rain. I was very positive, very calm and sure for the children, but the thing that was raging in my head, and the thing I was screaming at Dan later on the phone, was that nature was doing a very good job of reminding me that I am very small, and very weak, and that the world does not care if one person drowns in a river on a Saturday, or if one child gets hit by lightning while freezing on a rock. I live my life in a bubble of technology and communication and abstraction. Then I come out of my bubble, feeling as invulnerable as an idea, and put my proud ass in a canoe, and then a thunderstorm comes. I was wearing a *dress*. How stupid and vain.

So, I am vulnerable to weather. And on top of that, I’m not Melville.

I can remember when I was 32. Actually, it was when I was turning 33. Melville wrote Moby-Dick when he was 32, and I had always felt, in some hubris-soaked part of my overachieving little brain, that by the time I was 32, I would have something massive to say to the world, like Melville did. I felt that I would write my “magnum opus.” As I turned 33, I can remember crying to Joshilyn on the phone that I had failed, that I had gotten old, that I had nothing to say.

The year I was 32 was also the year my mother died, the year I was pregnant with my daughter and struggling to parent my son, the year I was trying (again) to write Shine Shine Shine only with three female main characters instead of one, and it wasn’t working. None of it was working -- not being pregnant, not parenting, not having people stay alive, and not writing my novel. So because this ridiculously arbitrary age of 33 came and I had not produced a noble work of timeless majesty, I cried and pissed around and moped. And felt spent. There were lots of times that year I felt like giving up. How stupid again, and how vain.

Today is my birthday. Last year, on my birthday, somebody died.

She was legally my sister, biologically my aunt, functionally my parent. She was not that old: 67.  She died with about a hundred to-do lists scattered around her house. I found them as I was sorting and cleaning. One of her favorite things to do, it seemed, was to buy a new notebook, open it to the first page, and write out an enormous to-do list. The lists I found over those weeks of organizing dated back a long way. They included huge projects like “Empty the Garage” and “Sew Five Outfits” and “Lose 20 Pounds” and “Plant Vegetable Garden.” It was both heartbreaking and horrifying to see how ambitious these lists always were, and to realize that she never crossed anything off. This is not to say that she never did anything. She did plenty. But not these things. She died with all these lists full of lofty, noble, challenging goals, and they were collecting in drifts around her house, and she’s dead now, and they mean nothing.

Her death was unexpected. It’s possible that she felt, like I feel, invulnerable to death and danger, that she felt it couldn’t actually happen to her, she couldn’t actually die, not with all those lists and all the intentions she had. After all, I did survive that thunderstorm and flood. I didn’t drown or get burned up in lightning. It could be I am invulnerable after all. To death, to aging, to weather, to an adjusted timetable for success. I could still live forever, AND be Melville, AND walk through fire.

1. I’m turning 40 today. (If I say it enough times, it will seem real.)

2. I am launching a book this year.

3. I am able to survive a thunderstorm, outside, in a dress.

These are the three celebrations of the day.

All of this has really happened: I aged. I coasted through 33 without a novel. I have loved my family, I have parented my children, I have supported my friends. And here’s the big thing I have to say to you today about something that really happened too. My life to-do list has always had one giant and blazing bullet point: WRITE A NOVEL. That has been done. It came late, and took a long time. I am older than I thought I would be and sadder than I thought I would be, but I am here. I’m proud to show you the book trailer for Shine Shine Shine: not “before I turn 40” or “in my youth” but right now. Happy birthday to me. 




Like the song “Robots”? The music from the trailer is available for free download here: The Virginia Janes. Happy birthday to YOU.

39 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday, Lydia. And one more thing you could cross off your list--you are wise.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Lydia. This is truly an inspiring post. Enjoy your birthday - and all that you have accomplished!

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  3. Lori Nelson SpielmanJune 8, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    I can't wait to read, SHINE, SHINE, SHINE, Lydia. Great post and wonderful trailer. Happy Birthday!

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  4. Your post resonated very deeply with me. I published my first novel last year at 50--much later than I'd originally planned. It's been wonderful. I wish you and Shine, Shine, Shine much success, which, judging from the trailer and first chapter I read at your website, is sure to be achieved. Happy Birthday, Lydia! You have much to celebrate.

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    1. Thank you so much! :) I'm going to celebrate with cake. CAKE. !

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  5. You are my favorite. That is all.

    Carry on.

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    1. Now if only Dan didn't have a month left of being 39. Damn him! Heh.

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  6. Beautiful post. Can't wait to read the book. Welcome to a great decade.

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    1. Thank you! I have a feeling it is going to be fun.

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  7. Happy birthday, Lydia! What an amazing post. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. Here's to another crazy year.

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  8. Happy Birthday. Your post gave me shivers. None of us are safe. None of us will every finish our "To Do" lists. None of us are Melville. Yet none of this is a bad thing -- it just takes some getting used to.

    P.S. For me the arbitrary age was 25, lol, and I look back on 40 fondly.

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    1. Now your comment gave me shivers! None of us are safe -- exactly.

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  9. Well, Lydia, I had hoped to have a novel by 40 but I had to wait another 15 years for my memoir to come out. Now, I think age is just a number--it has nothing to do with the person it chronicles. I have to-do lists all over the place--I have you by twenty years and I'm still working (when I don't feel exhausted) for the next book, the next story. I reckon I'll be doing that until I draw my last breath. And I reckon you will be, too. This is Anne B.

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  10. First happy birthday! I love your honesty in this piece,it's not all streamers and happiness in life. The reality is hard, but look at the very vital age of 40 you're published! Joshilyn was singing the praises of this book in April when I met her! I knew I had to read it.
    Wishing you a beautiful day..eat cake and celebrate. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. I published my first novel at 71. Now I'm 72, can still leap tall bullets in a single bound, and am pregnant with another book. I LOVE your post! Felt both sadness and compassion when I read about your aunt's lists. Gasped at the simile, "as invulnerable as an idea"--you can write, woman! I really like it that you went canoeing in a dress, you old-fashioned girl. Your children will have a lovely memory of Mama in a dress in a canoe, a horrible thunderstorm, and home safely anyway. That's a mother to remember! I'll read your book and keep an eye out for the next one.

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    1. Lydia, I loved your post. Happy Birthday and Congratulations! Looking forward to reading your book! Cynthia Sherron

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    2. Thank you, A.J. and Cindy -- I'm glad you liked it! :)

      A.J. I'm hoping they have at least a FEW memories of me doing normal things like pulling a roast out of the oven or pruning roses or... oh damn, who am I kidding. I do not do those things much! Heh.

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  12. Happy Birthday, Lydia! This really resonates with me-- I turned forty eight months ago with a completed manuscript and no idea what was going to happen next. Now I feel like instead of my life being over at 40, it is truly just beginning! I can't wait to read SHINE SHINE SHINE. Good luck and enjoy! ~ Susan Poulos (I'm a good friend of Julie Kibler's- and she's raved to me about you, by the way...)

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    1. Nice to meet you Susan! :) Julie is so awesome. I'm glad you liked the post.

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  13. Lydia, you made me sob!!! When I was 25 and my children were babies, my sister was severely brain damaged in a car accident. In the 23 years before she died from her injuries I was reminded daily that none of us are safe. Still, I let those to-do lists rule my life as if I'm going to live forever. Thanks for the reminder that life is short and we should take canoe trips while we can!

    You my dear, are a brilliant writer. And at forty, you're just a baby. Happy Birthday!!

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    1. Awww, thank you! Making you cry is MAH JAHB.

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    2. I think making me laugh is your other JAHB. LOL

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  14. I remember talking about your birthday last year, Lydia, and how it might feel to you from that day onward. I hope that you feel much JOY on this birthday -- joy in your accomplishments, joy in the love of family and friends, and most simply put, joy in every breath you take.

    Funny, as I sit in front of the window that overlooks 38th Street, I still wait for her to walk by....

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    1. I do have joy today, and thank you so much for checking in with me. :) I still find myself reaching for the phone to tell her something or thinking I'd stop by her house on the way to karate or pick her up for church. It takes a while for those impulses to go away but it doesn't really make me sad.

      Benny has been working on a beautiful Haydn violin concerto on your violin -- I would love for him to play it for you sometime!

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  15. I think time and life experience enrich our work. I am 42 and working on my first novel. I am pleased to be writing at this age. I have so much more to give and say. There should not be a time table. I wish you well with your new novel and a very happy 40th.

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    1. Thank you for the well wishes! I did have a happy 40th. :)

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  16. Oh, Lydia, your post has struck such a chord in all of us who have experienced sorrow, disappointment, terrifying storms, fear for our children, and that underlying anxiety that we will never, ever have our voices heard in our books. But you did it, and hat's off to you! You really are entering a wonderful decade, because every decade of life is wonderful if we're still here, we're still writing, and we're still making our voices heard.

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm really looking forward to the next ten years -- its such a new thing for me, but I'm ready.

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  17. Shelley WestenbroekJune 8, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    Just like most of the comments already posted, I loved this blog post. This post is exactly why I am already a fan of your writing even though I haven't read your book yet. I started reading about you here and there on FTK, and then when Joshilyn announced that you had a book contract, I started following your stories about life and the road to publication. I loved the fact that your best friend is a NYT best selling author, yet that did not give you any short-cuts to publication AND it did not discourage you from writing your own novel. You did the work and persevered. Bravo.

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    1. Thank you Shelley! Joshilyn has been an awesome fried and cheerleader for this book. I have been really grateful for all she's done for me including letting me borrow her readers, like you! :D :D

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  18. You have left me speechless and full of smiles, as usual. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! And I can't wait to see what happens for you this year. I have a little feeling it's going to be a LOT of amazing stuff! More than you ever dreamed … You needed to be 40 to handle it. =)

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    1. Thanks girlfriend. :) Yes, I feel I'm fully OLD ENOUGH now to handle whatever. Heh.

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  20. Lydia, my dear and beautiful and svelte and darling friend, I am incredibly proud of you. As I read this, I nodded, I smiled, I got a little weepy. While thousands of miles away, I remember nearly every of those events and times. I love you and am crazy happy for you and your amazing accomplishment. Shine Shine Shine is such a wonderful book and it is coming out just at the right time. Just when it was supposed to launch itself to the world. I raise my next mojito right to you!

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  21. Happy Birthday, followed from the AW forums and go you! What an inspiring story - writing has no age limit and life is just beginning.

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  22. What a beautiful and moving post. It really resonated with me, as with so many others here. Happy Birthday to you. I look forward to reading your book!

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  23. Sorry I'm late to wish you happy birthday! I love this post because this is me (except for the canoe in a thunderstorm and someone dying on my birthday) but the book part. My big deadline was to be published by 40. Didn't happen. I am settling for finishing my book while I'm still 40 (I have 9 months to go.) Totally doable but I've been at this dang novel (starting and stopping) for six years. Ugh.

    I'm very excited to read your novel (October selection for Great New Reads) and have heard nothing but adoration for it. Congratulations on surviving the thunderstorm, raising your children, and publishing your first novel by forty. It sounds like you are just getting started. :)

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