Probably the most unsettling part of this informal retrospective of 2015, as you jot it on a notepad at Starbucks, is that you find yourself writing these exhaustively detailed notes about a departmental merge that took place at work in the middle of the year — this ostensibly temporary job that you’ve now inhabited for two years. It isn’t even interesting. Why are you writing so much about it?
So OK, here’s one last realization for 2015: it’s time to quit your job.
You go on a date with somebody you met on Tinder. Drink three whiskeys while she eats a salad (extra croutons) and recounts for you a controversy that unfolded on The Bachelor and why, on moral grounds, she refuses to watch it as even just a guilty pleasure anymore.
Later that week you delete Tinder.
On New Year’s Eve you’re at a bar as one of only seven customers. Everybody gets free champagne at midnight. You climb on the bar and then fall off, shattering a flute, and the sad-looking man three stools down smiles when you hit the floor and says, “Please do that again.”
As the year starts out you’re finishing up a book you’ve been working on for several years and you’re involved, in a complicated way, with a spindly brunette who quotes Macbeth when she’s drunk and fans her face with big saucerlike hands whenever she gets excited. The two of you drink a lot together, and fight, but it’s a good time.
Then you finish your book, and the girl moves to another city, and your drinking slows down and you quit the worse of your two jobs and go back to the gym. Life seems to reset.
After revising the book twice you start sending it out to agents; excerpting little sections that might pass for short stories and sending those bits out to magazines.
Twenty agents say no.
One says maybe. She asks for more pages, so you send her some more pages, and then two weeks later she says no.
You hold out hope for the excerpts, at least. The stories. But the magazines say no, too. They say, like the agents before them, to not take this rejection personally. “Please don’t,” etc. Because, they say, there’re a million factors and the majority of stories they turn away are rejected for reasons having nothing to do with the quality of the writing. So really. Don’t feel bad.
One of these rejections begins, “Dear Aaron.”
You do get discouraged, though. How could you not?
One day over lunch your dad prompts you to explain why you’re so discouraged. And so you go on. Talk about the poor quality of the prose and the overall shoddiness of this thing you’ve written and “the fiction market” this, “the fiction market” that, fears about something you read online and so on, so on.
He listens. Tells you to lighten up. Points at your drink: “And you shouldn’t get into the habit of drinking a beer with lunch.”
For a couple weeks you can hear your own heartbeat whenever you get too idle. You start feeling it in your ears — which are constantly hot. After going to the Miami International Book Fair on its opening morning, and actually seeing the reverberation of your heartbeat in the flesh of your stomach, you freak out. Go to Urgent Care. Then Urgent Care sends you to the hospital. Electrodes are glued to you, and you panic. Blood is drawn, and you faint. An x-ray is taken and various tests are run and when finally you see a doctor she scans the results and shrugs and says you should probably just calm down.
An hour later, over Thai food, your dad nods. “Really, though,” he says, “you gotta lighten up.”
You become active on Twitter. In the wake of your book’s completion, rich with rejection, you start a new project on (and find solace in) YouTube. After a month of work on this project you feel good, busy, but find that even just reading a few lines of your book can sour your mood for a whole day.
Start writing other things. One of those things gets published, and you dedicate it to the spindly Shakespearean with the wide hands. You start work on a new book.
At an Italian restaurant in the Gables you’re sharing a booth with a girl who doesn’t live here and she sighs a lot, looks around, and when finally she gets her menu she flips it open and tells you in a near-whisper, without looking up, “Since I know you’re not gonna kiss me I’m gonna go ahead and get something with garlic.”
Next year there’s a new Cormac McCarthy book coming out, which is exciting, and you should have a new job and should be well into the next book and you suspect, in optimistic moments, that you’ll’ve gotten a better angle on the agent thing. On publishing. Either way: you should probably lighten up.
Here’s to the best.