Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Stuff I Write About Stuff I Write: New Book, Paris, Sharks, Literary Critics and Jolly Ranchers

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2013 at 5:30 am

My new memoir, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious, will be out any day now, and I’m happy and terrified all at once. I just wanted to tell you that.

The days before the release of a new book is that kind of time for most writers, I think. It’s kind of like boarding a plane to Paris when you’re terrified to fly.


In Paris, there are coconut crepes. There’s a lot of cheese. It’s good cheese. There’s the Louvre. There’s Picasso. There are carousels and Ferris wheels and fat pigeons that molt  in the Medici Fountain. In Paris, everyone is beautiful and even the cheapest wine is delicious and everyone smells like pastry cream and sweat and yeast and orchids.


I once saw a gorgeous belly dancer in a seedy basement bar in Paris. She moved like mercury. She glistened like she had sequins for pores. She called me “belle amie” in a voice that was all milk and smoke and cinnamon.

Paris is a dream.

Publishing a book is a dream, too. I’m grateful for that.

But falling from the sky and crashing in the ocean where sharks wait to snap your legs off like sticks of beef jerky — that’s a little less dreamy.


Publishing a book is like that, too.

So it’s belly dancers and cheese, plane crashes and sharks.

And beef jerky.


By the way, there’s no such thing as shark repellent. On airplanes, the life rafts have little packages filled with Jolly Rancher candies, flares, water purifying tablets and first aid kits. There are also packets labeled “Shark Repellent.” These packets are filled with powdered and scented yellow dye.


Airline personnel sprinkle this in the water in an emergency. It’s meant to keep people in life rafts calm. It’s good to feel protected and bite-proof. But sharks don’t really hate the color yellow. There’s no smell that could keep them from blood.


There’s no repellent for literary critics, either, though they’re rumored to hate Jolly Rancher candies. Postmodern clichés, that sort of thing.


Before my last memoir, Miss New York Has Everything, was published, I went fetal for a day thinking about everything I said and didn’t say, and worrying over how vulnerable I’d made myself by telling true stories about my life.

I don’t think I realized in the writing of that book — writing, of course, being a solitary and hidden act — that there was a chance people, real people, people in my life and beyond, might actually read what I’d written.

What if I’d gotten things wrong? What if people didn’t like what they read? Worse, what if everyone misunderstood me?

“When you write memoir, people will misunderstand you. Expect a shit-storm.” That’s a quote from a panel on memoir writing at this year’s Associated Writing Program’s annual conference.

Jeannette Winterson, a writer I love, was on that panel. She knows a lot about being misunderstood. If you haven’t read it yet, you should check out her last memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. It’s brilliant.

Another writer I love, Alison Bechdel, has a moment in her latest memoir, Are You My Mother, where she falls on the floor in panic and fear over what she’s done.

It’s very much like that.

This second-book experience for me is not much different from my first, although right now I can’t go fetal or lie flat on the floor and make like a bath mat. My life — full as it is with children and work and bills and yard work and old salami that will stink up the fridge if I don’t get to it before garbage day — won’t let me.

That fullness is, I know, a great gift. It keeps me in motion. It keeps me vertical.


So I’m pondering all of this, and remembering my first book, the fear and hope of all that, and I’m thinking about the time when I showed up at Sam’s Club for a book signing and they expected Miss America.

Kirsten Haglund

That’s right. Miss America.

It’s a story I explain in this essay in the Spring issue of The New Yinzer magazine.

Life is going to change. I feel it.

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