One of my favorite essays ever is "The Girl Who Only Sometimes Said No" by Diana Joseph, which I was incredibly honored to reprint as the opener to Best Sex Writing 2010. This post is about saying yes and no, though not to sex, but to events. I used to say yes to all of them. I thought it was a job requirement. If you say no to anything it's bad karma. You need to "get out there" to promote your work. I took those ideas and ran with them all over New York City, all over the country, all over the world, for some very pretty pennies. I'm not here to castigate myself because I'm honored that bookstores like Powell's have had me speak there. I don't love public speaking but I do love meeting people and bringing other authors to a live audience. But I will always be more at home behind my computer screen.
Now that I am moving, and will be 80 minutes and almost $30 away from Manhattan, saying no has become a lot easier. I just turned down three reading and absolutely know it was the right decision. Some look amazing, like the chance to read with Pam Rosenthal or read at the famed Nuyorican Poets Cafe for Bi Lines, both of which I'd do in a heartbeat if I still lived here, but the thing about this beautiful yet maddening city is that there is always something going on. That's part of why I'm leaving. It's too much. You could spend your whole life going to event after event and never get any paid work done, or any writing you care about. It's something I'm sure someone who's better at moderation than I could handle. They'd go to some events, not go to others, and not stress about either. Me? I want to go to everything. I want to support everyone. I don't want to miss what feel like once in a lifetime opportunities. But the downside of that is you miss out on your life if all you do is try to keep up with everything and everyone. I've lived in or adjacent to New York City for almost 17 years, and it's given me so many gifts. I love the memories of the readings I've done, even though I always have that awkward tentative nervous tremulous way of speaking, because I'm not a performer by nature. I'm a performer by accident, by luck, by who knows what.
Part of why I'm having trouble moving is that there are so many memories wrapped up even in garbage, flyers, filth. I found a flyer for a reading I did years ago at Meow Mix, the legendary lesbian bar that of course now no longer exists. I treasure that memory. I'm glad I didn't say no to it. But I'm in a very different place than I was back then, when I was trying to establish myself, make connections, figure out how to even get up on a stage without bombing completely.
I'm starting to learn that I have to be ruthlessly selfish in order to make a go of this writing career thing. I can't say yes to events just to be nice or because I'm panicked about what the future will bring if I say no. I have to have faith that writing, that simple yet sometimes impossible thing that is my job, is what will save me, what will get me through. I have to have faith that even though I may not be at all these readings, I will be somewhere else. I will be sending someone a bookmark or posting an excerpt or piecing together an essay. I will be cooking dinner with my boyfriend. I will be building a home. I will be doing things that don't feel like burdens. I will not be trying to force myself into a role I'm not qualified for, thereby giving people who are performers, who do love being on stage, who want to be there, that opportunity. I'm glad that I didn't always say no, but I'm glad that I'm finally learning that there's no reason to say yes unless you really really want it. Right now what I really really want is to be in my new home, far from New York with its too muchness, it's overwhelmingness, its temptations, its distractions. I want my feet to be my primary mode of transportation. I want to leave the New York chapter of my life behind.
Does that mean I won't be back? Of course not. But I don't know when or how often. And I know I will be where I belong. Will it be weird to not attend BEA for the first time since, I believe, 2001? Yes. But it will also free me to savor the books I already have. It will give me a chance to slow down, to take my time, to move at a healthier pace. I remember when I landed in Honolulu last year my friend chastised me for talking too fast, saying something to the effect that people don't move at that speed there. It took me a few days to adjust to that pace, and I know suburban New Jersey is not Honolulu, but the same principle applies. It won't have that same rhythm New York does, because it will have its own rhythm. And so will I.