Big changes are on the horizon for publishers and writers, we're told almost every day, and I'd like to offer a few (admittedly selfish) suggestions. Writing might be more fun if we did it in offices. Not newsrooms -- too much pressure. Just big, busy, offices. With cubicles. And Cathy cartoons, and pictures of people's dogs. And donuts. You guys have donuts, right? Sure, it's maddening to be around people. But you can ask them for raises. Plus, focusing on Malign Others -- "That woman never stops jiggling her foot," I'd huff to my cute male secretary -- might make me more productive. And saner. While working from home, I have been known to fly into a rage at a vase.
It's hard to avoid clichés when you're writing about writing; my fantasy about office culture just rehashes the stereotypical writerly anxiety that, in the real world, people are doing things indescribably more vital than writing in sweatpants. Which they are. The People Dressed in Fabrics that Don't Stretch see patients, close deals, and send emails more purposeful (and much shorter) than the ones writers send to agents, editors, and readers.
I can't call them fans, a word that conjures the enormous, humiliating chasm that separates writers from movie stars. Because while writing can be difficult and isolating, that doesn't make it glamorous and filmic in the way being, say, a tormented pianist is. Unless you're Keats. And that's why movies about anything at all -- even food -- are better than movies about writing. The protagonist stares at her computer, face scrunched in concentration, tapping out the words to the voiceover -- It's even boring in movie trailers, where everything, including The Wedding Planner, somehow seems compelling. Except the phrase, "In a world ... where every word counts." If only writing involved guns.
Of course publishing as we know it may end soon; I have it on good authority that starting tomorrow we'll "share" our content on our iphones for no advance. People will say things like "I guess I'll write a book" and no one will find it unusual, or disrespectful of writers. No one will understand why I growl, "I guess I'll go perform brain surgery. Because I want to."
Until that sea change renders everyone a writer, I'm one of the lucky ones. I don't toil in all-consuming desperation thanks to my husband's work, and his indulgence of my so-called career. These allow me to take my time researching and writing my books while failing to build a platform from which to sell them. Other writers write for women's magazines, where the editorial back and forth feels a lot like tennis -- a sport I hate; they blog on topics that others care about enough for the writers to actually have sponsors (my husband would love that, so let's not tell him); or they teach (exhausting if you're tenure track -- how can you think about anything else? And exhausting if you're not tenure track; the only thing more abject than being a non-bestselling author is being an adjunct. I should know).
And that's why I took up Taekwon-Do. Because I could -- remember my husband? And I felt I should. What better way to feel part of the world, like I'm doing something real, than dedicate myself to a martial art alongside others so underemployed they can exercise for an hour in the middle of the day?
I went three times a week for months, learning to count to ten in Korean, to bow, to say "Yes sir" and "Yes ma'am" to black belts, and to process the baffling directives and observations about life made by the master of the school, a ninth degree black belt who inspired me to do more push ups than I had previously believed feasible.
I learned to tie my white belt, and then my yellow belt, and then my green striped belt, correctly. Eventually, I broke two boards at a time with my kicks. But book promotion and motherhood intervened; I took a six-month Taekwon-Do hiatus.
Everyone was nice when I came back. And then, right as I was getting into it again, disaster. I wasn't kicking a board, sparring with a black belt, or even running. I was just hopping on a nice, spongy mat. And I broke my foot.
"You should drink more milk." "Wow, you must have really twisted it." "How do you break your foot on a nice spongy mat?" People think they're so smart.
But I think I've made my point. Which is that writers aren't born; we are made. And until all those Big Changes happen, we are made to sit in our sweatpants, staring at our computer, face scrunched in concentration, our left foot in an Ace bandage and a big, ugly, Velcro boot from the orthopedist, wondering, Now what?