Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Yesterday was a bad day.  So far, today is better.  My stomach doesn't have a knot in it, I haven't had to cut up a klonopin, I've proceeded in a logical path through both personal things and work things.  It feels as though there is time to do enough.

My reminder to myself, at least twice an hour, is that if I don't go off my food plan and no dog or human is injured directly by my actions, failure is impossible.  Disappointments, yes.  Crises, judging by yesterday, unfortunately certain.  But I have only two things I can fail at.

This reminding has been singularly helpful.

I came home yesterday afternoon clutching myself with the need to get to the bathroom twelve minutes earlier.  My stomach was in an uproar.  It can take a while to adjust to my food plan, with all its salads and fiber, and it's not always my timing.  I had plans to meet a friend to see Twila Tharp's Come Fly with Me and had about an hour to get ready.  I showered.  As I was trying to decide on something to wear, my phone rang.  It was my agent.

She had news I was expecting: my publisher is offering eight-five percent less for my next book than it did for Angry Fat Girls.  If it wasn't for being a really good writer, they would not be offering me a contract at all.  I already knew this.

But I had a melt-down.  It wasn't the money, it was my agent's badgering about what I should do next, in terms of Sex and the Pity, my novel, making a living, moving away from New York.  I was gasping for breath and for words as she rushed on with ideas -- movetoMontana, proctorbookclubs, writethreesamplechaptersandanoutlineofSPandsubmititelsewhere.  These are not tenable ideas and having to reject them, one by one, made me feel I was being horribly negative and sullen.  I felt trapped.  I felt...

...exactly how I felt in my last job, when Alix would call me into her office with an itemized list of everything I was doing wrong or not at all and would then demand to know what I was going to do to fix it.  I never had words for her in those moments.  I needed time to figure out what to do or felt a "yes" was a sufficient answer when what she enjoyed was watching me twist at the end of my employment string.

My agent wasn't doing that.  She was probably trying to give me options and probably trying to assuage her own disappointment by giving me a sense of future.  But it felt just like sitting in that floor-to-ceiling windowed office, twenty-nine floors above Central Park, being nipped and badgered by the gnats of failure.

This used to be my business.  I understand my agent's position and I understand my publisher's position. When I was an agent, I used to tell writers not to think they could work in their pajamas.  I've gotten a seven-year free ride in my jammies.  It's coming to an end.  I didn't need my agent to point that out.

But the sense of being ambushed was horrible.  I canceled the theater because I knew there was a good chance I'd cry through the musical comedy.  I though desperate things.  Then I took off my fancy duds, put on my shorts and laid down with Daisy and the telephone.  I called my best friend and she was outraged for me when I had no energy to be outraged for myself.  I tried to call my editor to clarify a couple of things but she was gone.  Mostly thought, I laid there with Daisy's paws on my shoulder, holding me, and let my mind go blank. When I got up, forty-five minutes later, I thought about having spent many years as an adjunct writing professor, the couple of articles I want to submit, the fact that, unlike most dog walkers, I'm available at night and on Sundays.  I can squeak through this year if need be.  I can take actions.  I can trust that I'll be OK, just as I've hit this financial impasse before and lived through it.

My therapist, Dr. Sometimes-It's-Not-Just-a-Cigar, calls it post delayed stress.  I'm embarrassed by it.  Soldiers can have PDS.  Abuse victims.  Not someone who cowered in fear and muteness through two years of a bad boss.

And yet, there I was, Alix-ized. 

Somehow the quiet time both calmed me and presented an opportunity to me.  I will accept their offer but I will also tell my agent how I felt in the conversation.  I will not discuss what I'm doing to make a living with her.  I'm not sure I can even discuss this book with her because she has not found any humor in what I've done, a fact I brought up as a significant factor in staying with my publisher.

The biggest opportunity that fifteen minutes and forty-five minutes of recovery offered, however, was to see that it's really true that I if I don't eat and dogs and people are uninjured under my watch, I can't fail.  Sometimes I miss the lesson in being abstinent but yesterday I was able to get to a point at which I saw that exchange as information.  Given certain circumstances and a certain mode of address, I flash back.  When I feel my life is pulled out from under my decision-making, I flash back.  Flashbacks definitely make me want to run to sugar but they do so because A) that's my default setting, and B) flashbacks are uncomfortable. 

But it passed.  And I knew my boundaries had been crossed and I knew that to dither about accepting the offer and looking for the next financial chapter in my life would only make my feeling of being out-of-control worse.  No one promised me I could live in my jammies but what I choose to do when I get dressed has to be my decision.  And I cannot allow anyone, ever again, to have the power over me that Alix did. 

She had it because she had my job.  I've put in seven years of being my job.  Maybe it's time to simply get a job.  Not be it, not be under the yoke of it.  Just a job.  Because really?  I can't fail.


Unknown said...

Good luck to you! I can see your life unfolding. :)

I'm with you on the getting a job front...only I'm not at ALL convinced I'll be good at it, will like it, or will survive it. I'm panic-stricken and wonder if I promise not to eat or ask for anything if I can bargain my way out of this.

I can't. But I can't move forward.

April said...

Wow! What a great post. I am sorry you missed the theater, but perhaps next time you'll get there and be ready to enjoy it. The Alix issue is compelling. I really "get" what it is like to have those kinds of flashbacks. I hold a supervisory role and had a meeting this week with two staff who were at odds. I was the mediator for this discussion and at one point it got pretty intense. These women were angry and their voices were raised to the point of shouting and one or both were near tears several times. I did my job and helped them through their confrontation and we eventually got to problem-solving, etc... BUT... what I noticed was this: While they were expressing anger and frustration with each other, I was having a physical response to the tension. I could feel my heart racing and the adrenaline coursing through my system, causing me to be slightly lightheaded. This was a reaction that I couldn't control, even though I could acknowledge logically that the anger wasn't directed toward me. The tension caused by the stress in the environment brought back my childhood and living in an explosive household where anger was not managed well and feelings were not acknowledged openly.
Reading your post, I was reminded of how much we are influenced by our pasts. Our feelings often outweigh our thoughts (or our logical thinking, I should say). My therapist hates when I differentiate how I feel from how I think. She wants be to believe that I can change my thoughts that lead to the feelings. I am not able to do this yet... easier said than done. Saying something doesn't make it so, no matter how many times I say it.
But recognising and acknowledging what is happening is a step in the right direction. Seeing that you have choices is HUGE, Frances. So... Wow! Good for you!

Vickie said...

It is amazing how that old stuff bites us all in the butt, again and again. we seem to have the longest memories for facts and feelings. the longest - most all of us. as a group not much of anything rolls off our backs - it sticks - like forever. I really identify with this.