Rawrr! (Cougar Talk)

Earlier this month, In the Powder Room ran an essay that is part autobiographical and part based on conversations I’ve had with women my age. Here’s my sort-of-embarrassing Confessions of a So-Called Cougar.

Thanks for bearing with me as I sort out this writing thing. I’ve been struggling to care over the last couple of months. I’ll always write; I just can’t get motivated to continue publishing and promoting. They’re big fat timesucks with very little reward.

My Facebook feed is full of memes that my fellow bloggers hope will skyrocket them to fame and fortune–or at least to their next thousand “likes.” I want to be done with that–the memes and the stats and the incomprehensible Facebook algorithm. Connecting with readers requires some level of promotion, I know, but I feel like I’m chasing something illusory. I’m asking myself, What do I really want? I started this blog to build a platform I could get a traditional publishing contract. By a few months in, I stopped seeing publishing a book as an end goal. It might happen, but it’s not the end-all, be-all. And guess what happens after you publish? More promotion.

I am trying to strike a balance, to follow the advice of this New York Magazine article, in which Heather Havrilesky urges writers to “shut out all the noise of Facebook and Twitter and Oprah and the best-seller lists and figure out what you really believe in and like to do every day.” She writes,

“Writing can’t be a popularity contest, and popularity doesn’t add up to much anyway… I have to do what I do, even if the world decides it’s worthless. I have to follow my own compass and give it my best and hope to connect…it doesn’t fucking matter if a million people love you or five people do. It doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 75. You cannot pollute your life with this fixation. You can feel relevant, you can imagine that you somehow matter in the larger scheme of things, you can commit to being a force in the world, without hitting some arbitrary high score or crossing some imaginary threshold of popularity…

“We deserve to work really hard at what we love. That’s a privilege… But there’s more than just the work in the mix for a writer. Once you make something you really love, you have to push that thing out into the world. There are puzzles to solve about getting your work noticed. . . Somehow, you have to commit to your work and commit to getting it exposed, but you also have to detach yourself from any given outcome. You have to work hard to get in editors’ and readers’ faces, but you also have to feel completely fine with being a nobody forever and ever.”

(You can read the whole column here.)

How much of a “somebody” do I want to be? I’m not sure, but clearly I’m not there yet. A part of me is afraid that I’ll never be enough of a somebody, that I’ll be on this treadmill forever. It’s very hard for me not to fixate on what’s missing, on what I haven’t achieved. I didn’t make Funny Women. Reductress didn’t take any of my pitches. McSweeney’s continually rejects me. I’m not in Shouts & Murmurs. I’m not smart enough. I don’t know enough. I don’t have enough followers. Ad infinitum. And if you let me go, I’ll just keep going: I don’t spend enough time with my kid. I’m not nice enough to my dogs. I’m not patient enough.  I eat too much. I own too much. I haven’t rescued any orphans.

That’s right; you heard it. I haven’t rescued any orphans. 

Also, the other week I accused myself of being boring and not marketable because I’m “too white.”

Too white.

Why am I so critical of myself? I need other people to tell me the good things, and even then I have trouble believing them.

Other human: “Abby, you did a great job!”

Me: “Are you sure? That doesn’t sound right.”

Sometimes, the knowledge that I’m mortal, insignificant and replaceable paralyzes me. How can people have this knowledge and still “commit to being a force in the world”? It’s so easy not to bother.*


*Note that the publication of this post indicates that I’m still bothering, although I have no idea why.