It was a classic case of “be careful what you wish for,” and probably inevitable. At the end of last year, I wanted a couple of things. I wanted to get back into triathlon shape. I wanted my Arabic to be good enough to write academic papers in it. And I wanted to become a better writer–a published one.
And in January, I got the chance to achieve everything I wanted. A slot to train with the Oakland Triathlon Club’s elite team, a seat in Arabic 402, and one of the best agents in the publishing industry. It felt like Christmas and a birthday and a lifetime achievement award all rolled into one–except rather than giving me a big head, after seventeen years of writing and getting rejected, it was just healing. I knew I’d have to work hard to live up to these privileges, but had no idea just how far I would have to stretch myself to just barely get by.
As summer wraps up, I look back on the last eight months of frantic, sometimes panicked efforts to keep up with everything. At times, I no longer felt like the person who’d been capable of getting to this point in my life. Day-to-day tasks sometimes felt no less than a kind spiritual crisis: how to be a whole human being and not just a list of responsibilities.
I am still in the middle of that hard work, but as I am finally getting a handle on the revisions to my manuscript, I realize that more than just opportunity, I got something else I’d always wanted: a master class in fiction. Writing a novel is solitary, and some days you feel like the best writer in the world, which inevitably means you’re due to feel like a hack by Friday. Real feedback from industry pros gave me perspective on my storytelling habits, and how to get better.
I ended up with a passing grade in the Arabic class; I can write a paper, but can’t speak it to save my life. I got back into triathlon shape, but really, training (for me) is never going to be about real speed. It’s about having made a bunch of new friends in a new city, and loving the camaraderie in an otherwise solitary sport.
This perspective was hard-earned, but in the words of an old friend who taught me how to ski: “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough”; and god knows I’m grateful for the chance to keep trying.