A Moment of Jen
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Friday, February 22, 2002
posted by Jen at 2/22/2002 10:33:00 PM

This morning, in preparation for the paperback tour, my publicist at Pocket sent me a list of suggested questions for would-be interviewers. There are questions about weight in American culture, questions about feminism, questions about where my book fits into the tradition of women's novels. And then there is Question 12: "Has your life changed much since the success of GOOD IN BED?"

This came on the heels of an interview yesterday with this very nice, sharp college student named Robin, who had all kinds of great questions about the writing life, and journalism versus fiction, and life in Philadelphia, and also wanted to know what was the most exciting thing I bought once the book had been sold.

What's new? What's different? What's changed?

As usual, Anne Lamott said it best. Every writer dreams of writing a book and finding that his or her whole life has been sprinkled with fairy-dust. Money and accolades will pour down in torrents. Every single person who dissed you in high school, dumped you in college, or wronged you in the years since, everyone who was cruel or condescending or who pushed fat-free salad dressing on you when you wanted the regular stuff will come slithering back to make amends. Your whole life will take on a charmed and golden glow.

Needless to say, nuh-uh. That's not really how it happens (although it was sure fun to imagine.) What happens is, you get money, which can get you stuff. ("Twenty dollars!?!? But I wanted a peanut!") But fame and fortune -- even in the limited doses in which the lucky writers get them -- do not cure your life. They don't make nasty people nice. They don't extirpate every scintilla of self-doubt you've ever had. They don't eradicate pettiness and jealousy -- and there's always someone out there to be jealous of and petty about, always someone who got a bigger advance, or a film deal, or reviewed in all the right places, or noticed by Oprah. Barring all of that, there's always someone who looks cuter in his or her author photo. And then there's the added fun of having people be petty toward, and jealous of, you.

I wish I had some fun three-sentence story, some snappy tale about how the check arrived and I hastened to the BMW dealership, or had a hot-tub installed, or sprung for one of those flat-screen TVs. The truth is less interesting. We bought a house, and, eventually, furniture for it. We had a nice wedding. No BMW.

What I do have, however, is the Target story.

First, a word about Target. When I was a young, broke reporter, one of the favorite activities that my gang of similarly young, broke reporters like to engage in was going to the Target in Lexington, Kentucky, and admiring stuff (and maybe buying some stuff, too). It was so much better -- and so much worse -- than browsing in a mall, because everything at Target was shiny and fabulous and almost affordable, as opposed to the stuff that was shiny and fabulous and completely unattainable. Target was the dream that was almost within reach, a dream of matching towels in the bathroom, instead of the two I'd scavenged from my mother's linen closet, a dream of pretty dishes and interesting lamps and fabulous picture frames.

So when the deal for GOOD IN BED was done, off I went to Target, with Adam. I got a shopping cart, pulled up to the soap and shampoo aisle, and went slightly nuts. I can buy anything! I told myself. I can even get two of anything! Fancy shampoo! Kitschy teapots! Glitter eyeshadow I'm probably going to just wear once!

I went through the aisles, piling dishtowels and framed posters and six-packs of socks into the cart, feeling slightly giddy. Then I got to the pet-food aisle.

Now: a word about Wendell, my beloved rat terrier, who at that point was still very much my dog, and indifferent-to-standoffish toward Adam. "You again?" his eyes would say when Adam would arrive at our apartment. His disinterest suggested that he'd seen boyfriends come, and he'd seen boyfriends go, and that if he was patient enough Adam would go the way of the rest of them, and then Wendell would be able to sleep in the bed again, and all would be right in his canine universe.

Up until the book sold, Wendell enjoyed mostly the very affordable Purina Small Bites. I'd always figured that when I hit the big time it would be nothing but the finest in Iams lamb-rice formula for him. I picked up a bag of dog food, put it in the cart, and proceeded toward the book/plant/CD/candle section of the store when I ran into Adam. Who had an identical bag of Iams in his arms. "I thought you'd want this," he said.

And I knew that, book deal or no book deal, book or no book, spending spree at Target or not, I'd found the right guy.

It's not really a story about how my life changed after publication, but it's nice. True, too.
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