Jennifer Weiner lives in Philly. She read from her upcoming novel at Headhouse Books last Tuesday night and in a fit of career-savvy, fun-loving adventure, I grabbed a pal and headed east to feast my eyes and ears on someone who has the kind of life that I covet, at least that I think I covet, meaning that I tell myself and anyone who listens that I'd give my... my... well, see, that's the thing. I wouldn't give my right arm. I need that to write with. And I couldn't give my firstborn. I'd feel too guilty. And people never say they'd give their second-born. That doesn't roll off the tongue. I'd give my grandmother, but would anyone want a dusty corpse? Doesn't seem like a fair trade, not much of a commodity. I might give my laptop, but how important is a thing you can buy at a store? Eye teeth? No, I'd hold onto those too.
JW has what I think I want—she is a bestselling novelist. There. I put it out there. Bestselling novelist implies wealth, fame, world travel, adoration of millions, umpteen movie deals. Did I say money? Oh yeah and the bonus of working from home or a hip little cafe in jeans. Reading and speaking to an audience who loves me. They can't get enough of my stories. I can tell them about the minutiae of my day and they are hanging on every word. Okay so it sounds a little like I am describing the childhood I wish I had and not the career, but well, maybe it's both.
So Jennifer read, she delighted everyone, and then did Q & A, which included a play-by-play of her typical day: wake up, play with daughters. Babysitter takes over from eleven A.M. until seven P.M. (are you drooling, mothers?) and then Jen heads to her closet to write, from about noon until four. Did I say closet? It's a walk-in. They closed the Cosi cafe near her house where she did her daily pages, and there's no other coffee shop that will suffice, so closet it is. Then after dinner (didn't learn who cooked) she watches reality TV.
Nice life, huh? Me, I'm not so much into the reality TV these days, but I'll bet it gives Jennifer some marketable hook ideas. And by the way the book store is adorable, filled with antique oak tables and narrow shelves bloated with books. Every matte, hyper-designed book cover looked so much more tempting in a tiny charming book nook than a massive cavernous chain. Go figure. I still didn't buy anything. I'm on a budget. But my mom had given me Goodnight Nobody and so I brought it in hopes of getting it signed, and when I handed it to her I said screw pride, and asked for her advice, and if you know me I hate advice, so that's saying something. Like, that maybe I'm getting desperate. Here's a transcript of our conversation:
Me: (handing her my book) Hi, Thanks, I uh, I hope it's not unethical to have you sign this instead of buying your new one...
Her: Oh no. It's great! (she takes the book.)
Me: I friended you on facebook and you confirmed and that was a good day (feeling like a high school loser)
Her: Oh yeah? Cool!
Me: I wrote a novel, it was published in 2004 when my first kid was born, and I haven't published another one since. That's why I asked about you being so prolific.
Her: What's your novel?
Me: Star Craving Mad.
Her: I read that!
Me: No way!
Her: What's it about?
Me: It's about a celebrity-obsessed private school teacher in New York City... I uh, used to live in Brooklyn.
Her: I read that!
Me: Oh my God! That's great! (trying not to fall to the floor in ecstasy of validation. Wishing in the not so far back of my mind that she will add, "I LOVED it!!!!!")
Her: So you haven't written anything since?
Me: Well I go to the cafe, just like you, and I do my thousand words, but it always winds up being rants, journaly stuff.
Her: Don't they have stories where you live?
Me: Uh, yeah. (I squirm under the glare of her unabashed interrogation of my bullshit writers' block, which JW doesn't believe in because she was a journalist for ten years and "that story on raw sewage just can't wait for the muse to show, we have DEADLINES people." This makes sense to a rational part of my brain.)
Her: There's so much going on in the world! Larry Craig, and Jim McGreevy and what about his wife at that press conference! Okay. Here's what you write—a story about a mom, whose husband loses his job at a big law firm and becomes a hooker.
Me: My husband works at a big law firm!
Her: (nodding politely.)
Me: (narrowing eyes) So, that's what you do? You get this seed of a story and you plant it and it grows into a book?
Me: Oh. Okay. Well here's what I do. I get the seed, I plant it in the ground. I look at it a few days later and go, Ew! and then I stomp it to death! (Mimes stomping action).
Her: (looking at me like I have a few too many heads) Oh.
Me: Well, thanks!
Her: Take care, email me your progress!
Then I went and had a drink with my friend and we ate some mui caliente salsa and chips. I want to go back to that place when I'm not the designated driver! And we hashed out the evening. I was a little low, feeling a little found out, feeling like the only person I can blame for my not having a second novel by now is me. Okay, okay, Jennifer has a sitter for eight hours a day. That would help. But people have written more with less luxury than that. I don't want to know who those people are but I take my sombrero off to them.
The next morning at my usual spot at Milkboy, I opened my laptop and thought, what the fuck, I may as well take her up on her idea. And I wrote the following run-on sentence:
I’d like to tell you I don’t know how it came to this, that I walked into the unisex bathroom of Rittenhouse Oyster Bar and peered under the occupied stall to spy my husband’s knees, calves and black Boston oxfords rocking back and forth before a standing figure, gabardine work pants puddled around his ankles, that the ecstatic groans emitting from the stall and the stark vividness of this image didn’t cause the little blues and Kettel One to rise in my throat, that I didn’t spew my dinner down the front of my pastel cashmere sweater, that I stood there a moment narrowing my gaze upon this truncated scene and then stepped up to the mirror to blot the accumulated oil from my nose with a powder-infused rectangle of paper, stealing glances of the scene in rear-view, and then exited the bathroom, I’d like to tell you I have no idea how it came to this, none at all, that I’m the victim of a disgusting, unspeakable scandal. But I’d be lying. Because the truth is that I started the whole mess. And for what? For a two-hundred and fifty dollar moisturizing cream from Sephora that I had no business buying even when my husband still had a job.
And I kept going, for another two thousand words over the next day, and it quickly became clear that I wasn't writing chick-lit, or mom-lit. I was writing porn. And it was fun. I may just submit it somewhere.