I read Betsy Lerner’s blog pretty religiously and she tends to throw out a question at the end of each post to get everyone yakking which I think is genius because it takes the pressure off of her. I try to do it sometimes but it feels awkward, like having a conversation between stalls in a public restroom. Today she wanted to know about everyone’s favorite Hard to Categorize (HTC) books, as these are the ones she is most drawn to and also the ones most difficult to sell. I usually read everyone’s comments and even at times post a response. But today I thought, holy crap, I’m illiterate.
Now don’t get me wrong. I read all the time. I read Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich and Jeanette Winterson and Amy Bloom and Richard Russo and Jane Smiley and Michael Ondaatje and Joan Didion and Alice McDernott and Michael Cunningham and Dorthy Alison and Ann Patchett and John Irving and Michael Chabon and Eudora Welty and Wally Lamb and Margaret Atwood and Mya Goldberg and Junot Diaz and AS Byatt and Anne LaMott and Pat Conroy and Jane Hamilton and Cormac McCarthy and JK Rowling and Dr. Andrew Weil and Betty Crocker. You should see all my books. I’m an obssessive compulsive reader. I have blackouts in bookstores and leave with hardcovers that for gods sake are NOT ON SALE!!
But when I read the responses to Betsy’s blog my throat twisted up like the cord on a hairdryer and my eyes started to blur, then to water, then to flutter at half mast. I barely recognized a single author. What the hell was everyone talking about?! I thought I would just humorously post that I didn’t recognize any of these writers, and ha ha aren’t I stupid. But I didn’t recognize any of the writers and felt so stupid!!
So after trying to calm myself by breathing into a plastic CVS bag (which after a few moments felt suffocating and ecologically irresponsible), I just closed out of the blog and went back to my day job. And I thought, well there goes that. What kind of a reader, writer, literary icon am I going to be if I can’t keep up with all these amazing and ridiculously well-read people? I suddenly feel like an old rerun on TV. I am The Dick Van Dyke Show instead of Mad Men. I am Murder She Wrote instead of The Killing. I am terribly unhip and irrelevant. Who do I think I am trying to write and get published at my advanced age? Who in the world would read anything I write?
Have you been here? At the bottom of your own masterfully crafted pile of dung? I’m there now and it’s not pretty. So I decided to get in front of my computer and shovel out. Just write about what happened, like an addict at a meeting. Hello, my name is Marie and I’m a self-loathing writer. Give me my bag of chips and I’ll go home. But first, let me tell you a story…
And so it goes. I get back up and start again. I put my slip behind me, shrug off the insecurity blanket, and hit the keyboard running. Well, maybe walking, no shuffling. But at least I am here. I am not giving up yet.