This picture is five years old. I am 22 years old here. Fresh out of journalism school and a new hire at The Osprey Observer, a newspaper that no longer exists. I look bitchy in this picture. Cold and sinister. Actually, I don’t look like myself at all. My hair hasn’t been this long in five years and the Blueberry iMac I’m using expired shortly after this picture was taken. I’m wearing a pink button-down shirt from the Goodwill that I just recently donated, among other things, to The Salvation Army.
The Osprey Observer, though now defunct, was published by the same family-owned string of community newspapers I currently write for.
The guy who took this picture, his name is Adam. He married my friend Kat who also worked for the paper. They live in Laramie, Wyo. now and I miss them like hell. When none of us had families or spouses or boyfriends or girlfriends to spend holidays with, Kat and Adam would host dinner parties at their home in Bradenton. There’s this beautiful scene in the movie Funny People that reminds me of these dinner parties. If you’ve not seen the movie, rent it when it comes out. Netflix it. When you watch the scene, where a group of young aspiring actors gets together for Thanksgiving dinner at an apartment in L.A., you’ll know what I’m talking about.
My eyes are narrowed and my lips are pursed in this picture because Adam liked to say things that would piss me off. There were these little grommet holes in our cubicle walls that if you stared through them, you’d see into your neighbor’s cube. This was how I first met Adam: through a shared hole in our cubicle walls, his one eye peering suspiciously at mine like two office-dwelling Cyclopes.
I knew nothing of Adam, but I certainly knew Kat. My editor had mailed me a stack of Observers prior to my move so I could get a better feel for the paper. Her byline was everywhere. She had written a story about a chef on Longboat Key named Marcella Hazen that I read a dozen times on the flight from Buffalo to Tampa.
Behind that glare I am scared shitless. Although scared shitless is not an ideal place to be, it defines you and drives you. I remember driving back to my apartment at night and pinching myself because I couldn’t believe I had a job as a reporter in a town with a ballet, an opera, an orchestra, and a circus! I was a nobody from a town nobody had heard of, wearing my first pair of high heels, barely sleeping at night because my nervous system was so shot from the move.
My bones, my brain, my organs were in shock. I was a fish out of water, more determined to find my place than ever before. I’ve not experienced this kind of hungry ambition in years, which frustrates me because above all, I consider, or rather I considered, myself ambitious.
Comfortable domesticity is a double-edged sword. It makes you fat. It makes you happy. It makes you do things like watch Jeopardy and eat mounds of chocolate fudge ice cream. It makes you laugh deep belly laughs and cook chicken and rice. It makes you care about knife blocks and throw pillows. It forces you to vacuum. At least for me it does.
I’m in love with my husband and the life we’ve built. I’m writing this from my bed with the pug snoring beside me, the dishwasher running through its last cycle and Joe watching the 11 o’clock news in the living room. Soon I’ll pull the sounds and smells of Thursday night around me like a blanket and sleep snuggled next to him. When I wake up, I’ll make coffee and eat cereal, kiss him before he goes to work and walk the pug contentedly before retreating to my office to write a story about Giselle. The ballet, not the model.
It didn’t hit me until yesterday as I went to put on my first pair of high heels that I’m frittering away precious baby-less time. The heels, once taut and painful, are now bagged out, the leather supple and worn in. Worn in is fine if we’re talking about sofas, but high heels are something entirely different. There should be mild discomfort and blisters. The straps should hug your feet and the heels themselves should be intact. When I bent to take the shoes off I remembered the pug had chewed both tips off when he was a puppy making them almost impossible to walk in.
Ambition, like high heels, requires a certain amount of endurance. Discipline. Control. Obedience. You can walk in high heels. You can run in high heels. You can if you so choose, climb a hill in high heels but it’ll take effort and perseverance.
My career goal – even as a 10-year-old – was to write a novel. Just ask my mother. She recently discovered boxes of my grade school manuscripts and called to read me their titles. When I was in 5th grade I wrote a series of books titled Weirderville, in which ridiculous expressions (“It’s raining cats and dogs” and “I’m sweating bullets,” etc.) were everyday occurrences.
“Mom,” I snapped. “Why are you telling me this? To remind me of what an utter failure I am?”
Silence. (Why do I bark at my mother like this?)
“Jesus,” she sighed. “You’re not a failure.”
“Since I was a little kid, all I’ve ever wanted to do is publish a book and I’ve gotten NOWHERE with that.”
“Will you stop it. You’re busy. Stop worrying about it. You’ll write it one day.”
“Yes, but I want to write it now. Before I have babies.”
Later that night, I shared my frustrations with Joe.
“What if I aim for 15 pages a week? The way some people approach exercise?”
And then I thought about telling my friend Ricci, who just last week had a photo published in the New York Times, but I already know what she’d say.
And then I told Joe’s sister Rosy and she said, “I bet if you got pregnant, you’d finish your book. You’d have a nine-month deadline.”
Now that’s motivation.