That was a Pretty Bad Monday, or: You’re No Pizza Rat!
It started when I lost my water bottle on a Monday morning.
I frequently misplace my water bottle. I never lose it. I don’t leave for work without it. For me, my purple water bottle (filled with room temperature water from the Britta and exactly four ice cubes) is as much of a morning ritual as coffee is to most normal people. But I couldn’t find it, and we needed to leave, so I joined my family (my husband and two kids) in the Honda and we left for school (my husband and I work where our kids are enrolled). I knew what lay ahead of me – either I would be hopping up and down from my desk all day to fill a flimsy cup with water, which I would eventually spill on something electronic, or I would dehydrate.
In reality, I had little idea of what fresh hell I was actually in for that day.
That Monday morning, that awful Monday morning, I was in the midst of submitting my first novel, a YA coming-of-age book, to agents. And that Monday morning I sat down at my computer, waterless, my lips already tight with dryness, and I received two rejections (or “passes” as they say in polite circles) – one from an agent who had the full manuscript and one from an agent who had 50 pages. I was flabbergasted – not necessarily by the passes themselves but by the fact that they hit my inbox exactly 55 minutes apart. That seemed cruel and unusual. I had not even begun to wrap my head around the first blow when the second came through. I didn’t cry, which surprised me. Instead I tried to take stock of exactly what I was feeling and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
In texting with my friend (an artist) she shared this, “Once someone with actual cred gave me a really brutal critique and I was raging and embarrassed and felt like my whole life was a joke. And simultaneously like they knew nothing and just didn’t get what I was doing. It was awful.”
“Yes! That!” I thought. “I was feeling that.”
But there was no time for feeling “that,” because I was due to read a book in my son’s class at snack time, so I scurried down the hall, my head and heart virtually disconnected from my body in self-protection mode.
I read the book too loudly. I guess I thought if I just spoke with volume no one would know I was devastated. I think I fooled the three year olds, but when we sat down to eat our apples, my jaw (a problem area of my body that hadn’t “acted up” in probably a decade) painfully popped out of place.
“Oh,” I thought to myself, wincing from the pain, “I get it. If I put a lot of energy into not crying then my jaw will pop out of place. I guess my emotions have to go somewhere. Awesome.”
When I got back to my office I forced myself to eat a mushy meal bar just so I would have something in my stomach to absorb the multiple Advil I needed to take. I was almost grateful for the physical pain (which could be medicated) as a stand-in for the psychological pain. I hoped for the best. And on that horrible Monday “the best” meant taking all day to do a labor-intensive, yet functionally simple, report multiple times before getting it right.
Just the day before I had been involved in an on-line discussion about juggling writing and “day jobs.” A group of writers and I had shared strategies for time management. Nobody mentioned what to do if you got two rejections within an hour on a Monday morning on which you already had too much planned and a day-job deadline looming. I made a note to report back to the group that this is something we should discuss.
By the time I got back into the car with my family at the end of the day I was exhausted, raw, and dehydrated. My husband, who had already provided several hugs throughout the day, asked our kids, six and three, to be extra-special-nice to me that night. And then he told me that as soon as we got home I should retreat to the bedroom and let him handle homework/piano/dinner/bath/bed. I took him up on the offer – or I thought I did. Moments later my six year old complained of nausea and when we got home I immediately made her a bed of towels on the bathroom floor and assumed my puke-companion position in the hallway, our heads touching in the doorway. I felt horrible for her and horrible for me. I wanted to be alone; I wanted to wallow. But there is no time for being alone when you have a sick kid, and there is no time for wallowing when you are trying to get a novel published.
Eventually my daughter admitted she hadn’t eaten her lunch and then things started to make sense. At that point I turned my attention to getting some food in her and getting everyone through our nightly rituals with an eye towards going for a therapeutic run once the kids were in bed. And then halfway through their dinner it started to rain. And that’s when I really lost it. Not outwardly. I didn’t yell or scream or cry or curse. I just quietly gave up on salvaging the day as I watched the rain come down on the skylights above the dining room table.
The feeling of giving up was so powerful. How in the world was I going to manage parenting, working, married life, writing and submitting? What was I thinking? I trudged through the rest of the evening trying to tell myself that I had no control over getting published but I could will myself to be a good mother… maybe … if I could hold it together.
Miraculously, after the kids were asleep, the skies cleared. It felt like a sign, one I was eager to receive. All was not lost. I bolted out of the house into the dark, barely kissing my husband goodbye.
The on-line conversation about managing work life-balance wasn’t the only writing-related conversation I had had the weekend before. As I ran through my suburban neighborhood I remembered what a friend, a writer, had told me on Saturday. She said that if either of these two agents took me on, it would be amazing (I had only submitted nine queries at that point – trust me, I know that’s a staggering return rate, but I also have an editor-friend and author-friend who are very generous with their respective contacts, so it would be foolish to think or give the impression that somehow my pitch was super-amazing!), but if they didn’t take me on, it would be ok, too. “If one of them takes you on, you’ve skipped a lot of the really annoying steps, but if neither of them do, you just pick yourself up and go do those annoying steps.” When she said it, I almost didn’t want to hear it, because I wanted so badly to skip those annoying steps, but two days later, at the end of a truly horrible Monday, I was so glad we had had that conversation, because if I was going to pick myself up, it was going to be because of support from people like her.
When I got home, after a kick-ass three miles, dinner and my husband were waiting for me. I took a moment to check-in with my gratitude. I acknowledged that for all of the things I didn’t have going for me on that particular Monday, I had a ton of things, and people, to be thankful for. And then, misguidedly, I checked in with Twitter.
The agent who had passed on my 50 pages had posted the following status: I offer unconditional representation to Pizza Rat.
I showed it to my husband and said, “This is one of the women who passed on my pages this morning! I’m less appealing than a rat who carries a slice of pizza down some steps to the subway platform!”
“Ooof,” he said, “There’s no way to spin that. That sucks.”
And we laughed and ate our dinner.
Jamie Beth Cohen hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently lives on the line between suburban and rural Lancaster County, PA. She is currently trying to find an agent for her debut novel, So Much More Than Everything, in which sixteen-year-old Alice Burton is caught between enjoying her burgeoning sexuality and underestimating its considerable power. She is occasionally on Twitter @Jamie_Beth_S and you can read more about Jamie, and see videos of her recent story slam performances at www.JamieBethCohen.com.