I’ve learned some lessons lately.
Love what you do. For years, I longed to do what I love: write. And now, I am. I am dancing most days, my arms flung out, happiness up to my ears. But the fact is — even work you love is work. Some days, it’s more work than others.
This week, the final edits of the manuscript of my book were due back to the publishers. Two weeks ago, the two copy-editors sent me the entire book, in a big stack of white papers, festooned with red and purple pencil marks. They had examined every word, sentence, and paragraph as though they had been chained to their desks and could only move those pencils. Not only did I have to read every mark, and decide if I agreed with their edits, but I also had to read my entire book again and decide if I still like it.
Luckily, I do.
Along with this, I had to cross out suggestions of theirs with which I did not agree. (Some of my sentences sounded a little too poetic for their ears, I think. And boy — oh boy — do I love long dashes.) I restrained myself. I mostly agreed with them. After all, they were my readers. And they caught ticky-tack stuff I would never have seen. (All my life, I thought they were spelled Abba Zabba bars. But it turns out they are Abba Zaba bars. Who knew?) Bless them.
Still, there were recipes to test, and friends’ suggestions to incorporate in those recipes, and recipes to test again. I can honestly say that I have made the lemon olive oil cookies twenty-two different times, just to make sure I had the right approach. (We’ll see how you feel about them in October.) For two weeks, I should have had my head pressed to those pages, doing nothing but taking in every hyphen change and 1/4 cup measurement.
Those of you who have started blogs because you want a book deal? Make sure you really want one. I revel in this, still grow teary-eyed when I see the cover of my book, and cannot wait until I hold the final copy in my hands. But seriously, writing a book? It’s hard work.
Make sure you truly do love what you do. Make sure you really want it.
On top of this work, there were the five thousand other details shooting up from my feet, threatening to explode in my face. A new camera to buy. A house to find. A marketing proposal to pull together. Bills to pay, apartment to clean, groceries to buy — life goes on, in the midst of big deadlines.
There’s something wonderfully comforting about the mundane.
I could tell you more, but I’ll refrain. Let me just tell you this story about best-laid plans.
The day I thought I would send in the book turned out to not be the day. Rising early that morning, I started working long before the Chef arose from our bed. Hunched on the blue exercise ball, in the tiny nook before the window where I write, I started making changes in the recipes. Not yet anxious, I could sense the adrenaline leaning me forward. I could make it. I could do it.
The phone rang. It was my sister-in-law. Her crown had fallen out the night before. She needed to come into the city, to see the dentist. Could the Chef and I babysit Elliott at the dentist’s office while she endured the drill?
Of course. That would only be an hour or so, right?
As we drove to the dentist office, the Chef panicked. He suddenly wondered if he had left a burner on at the restaurant, the one with the big pot of stock. Could we drive out to the restaurant to see?
Several hours later — after we had been there and back, and found out the burner was not on — we drove away from our home to sign a paper. (More on this later.) This was a joyful occasion, but it came on the day before the book should have gone out in the mail.
Then again, I had already decided to let go by this time. I couldn’t make it, with all these interruptions. I would have to mail the book the next day. Besides, I reminded myself, these were not interruptions. They were life asserting itself. When have I turned down the chance to hold my nephew? We don’t want the restaurant to burn down. And the house? Oh yes, it was worth it.
Having the afternoon without the impending worry of not finishing (I wouldn’t) gave the Chef and I the chance to test four recipes again. Because of that unintended time, we nailed the pizza dough recipe, the sorghum bread recipe, the raspberry-vanilla jam recipe, and the blackberry sauce recipe. I stand by them, now.
Thank goodness for unintended times.
Still, by the end of the night, I went to bed with only a bit more work and some proofreading to do. Surely, we would finish by the time I took the Chef to the restaurant for all that cooking.
Around 10 am, I was sitting up in bed, the laptop on my legs, the Chef to my right, reading the newspaper. I finished typing up the last changes to the recipe that needed work. With a sigh, I went to save it, so I could saunter into the living room to print up the pages I was inserting in the original manuscript.
Suddenly, the computer froze. Nothing. No movement. No whirring sounds. Simply dead.
Consciously, I decided to not panic. Instead, I closed it, took out the battery, and started again. The little lines ran around in a circle for ten minutes, simulating a fresh start, before I started to worry.
I went into the living room, tried it again. Nothing. I tried again, crossing my fingers this time and saying, “Please?” That rarely does anything for computers, it turns out.
With panic in my toes, I ran to the bedroom. “Sweetie, the computer is broken!” My shoulders were hunched with all the tension of the past two weeks that I had been trying not to express. I hadn’t washed my hair in two days. I wanted to pound on the bed with my fist and break into tears.
But he saved me.
The Chef came over to hold me, and rubbed my back. He kissed me gently, and reminded me to take a breath. Then, holding my hand, he walked with me into the living room.
As much as I love being an independent woman, I rely sometimes on those strong arms that enfold me.
We called the appropriate company. The lovely woman on the phone gave us ten tricks to try. I think some of them involved turning around three times and spitting into the wind. No luck.
We had to go to the Apple store.
I could feel my eyes widening, as I tried to not let the tears become fully formed. As I dressed in whatever clothes I could find on the floor, I turned around. The Chef had put on some ridiculous song, and he had started dancing. A perfect imitation of a bad guy dancing at a wedding reception, all elbows and gawkiness. He looked so wonderfully serious and stupid at the same time that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud and double over with more laughter.
Laughter helps, every time.
I spent five hours at the Apple store. After the first two, I gave up on the notion of sending out the book that day. I let go of any deadline. Instead, I focused on the conversation with this great guy, Daniel, who slowly walked me through every possible permutation and reassured me, every twenty minutes, “Oh, we’re going to fix it.” I marveled at how small the world is, when Kevin, a friend of mine from New York whom I had not seen in six years, walked over to me and shouted, “Shauna James!” He works at the Apple store now. Seeing him there, and catching up a bit, made me feel much better. I bought coffee for Daniel after he left for his lunch break, my computer still whirring and thinking about working. Mostly, I kept looking down at my wrist, to see the YES tattooed there. “You got that for a reason, Shauna. Here it is.”
Yes to every moment as it arises, as it is, because it will never come again.
Eventually, they made the computer work. I had to move every single thing on the computer over to my external hard drive (yes, I brought it with me), and then erase it from my computer. Essentially, I had too much stuff on my computer, and I had to purge. This sounds like my life right now.
But they made it work. Here I am, typing away. They made me laugh. They made me feel human. And they didn’t charge me a penny for those hours of help, all those young men in Genius shirts. I love them.
(And if this seems like an ad for Apple, so be it. If someone at Apple is reading this and wants to send me a new, free iMac, so be it.)
And that night, I made the lemon olive oil cookies, one more time. Finally, finally, they tasted the way I wanted.
All things for a reason.
Yesterday, the Chef and I mailed the manuscript to my copy-editor in New Jersey. We smiled and hugged and laughed. I thanked him, every single way I could think of thanking him. We felt triumphant.
And then I found out that my copy-editor is on vacation this week. It didn’t really matter when I sent it.
There you go.
In the midst of this, I kept feeling grateful.
Okay, so I missed a deadline (that turned out to not be steadfast). But there was so much in there:
…recipes to test
…a nephew to babysit
…a restaurant to work in
… money to afford all those ingredients
…a book about to be published
…lovely guys and women at Apple who helped me, unfailingly
…a new house, something out of a dream
…a computer, in the first place.
And mostly, the Chef. His unfailing support and goofiness and concern — this is the stuff of dreams, really.
Find someone good in a crisis.
It’s done. Once again, for the afternoon at least, I have the time to sit in the sunlight and watch the Tibetan prayer flags moving in the breeze.
It’s good to be alive.