I met her in the aisles of Earthfare. She didn’t live here but was just visiting. She was a big-city girl, and she looked the part: I remember her as wearing a blouse, skirt, scarf, and black boots and looking trendy while I was wearing baggy shorts, a t-shirt, and scuffed sneakers (and no, I had not just been to the gym). She had straight hair that fell loose above her shoulders; I had a frizzy ponytail.
We had friends in common, and someone introduced us in the back of the grocery store, past produce and dairy and near where the olive bar is. She was probably holding a bottle of wine. I was probably holding something akin to Annie’s Bunny crackers.
“What do you do?” I asked.
She talked about her job, which I won’t go into in order to protect her anonymity, but it was one in which she was so good at what she does, and so well-known, that she sometimes worked with celebrities. Then she added, “Oh, and I also write.”
“I’m a writer, too!” I said. Yay! I’d found a kindred spirit. Despite the clothes. “What do you write?”
She said, “I’m working on a memoir,”
“I am, too!” (At the time I was. Not anymore.)
She asked, “When’s your deadline?”
Deadline? I was just writing for myself, holed up in my home office. What did she mean by “deadline”? Um, I guess 5 o-clock every day so I have time to make dinner?
Finally I said, “I don’t have a deadline. What’s yours?”
She answered, “January.” Which at the time was just a few months away.
“Oh,” I said. My eyes had turned a deep green by that point. “So you have a publisher for your book?” I said it like a question, but it wasn’t. I didn’t tell her I had no clue what my “book” was even about. I didn’t say I was just wading through portions of my life hoping to step on something worth a full book. All I admitted was I didn’t have a publisher for mine.
“It’s easy,” she said, and I could tell she really meant it. “All you have to do is get published in Modern Love. Then the publishers will come looking for you.” Her friends had encouraged her to write down one of her stories about her life, she told me, and submit something to the Modern Love column in The New York Times. So she had. And the piece was accepted, just like that.
FYI: The Modern Love column gets about 100 submissions weekly. One hundred. Every week.
She asked me what writers influenced my writing style, and I stumbled over my answer. I figured that was my cue to ask her, and she named off three writers I had never heard of, and she talked about why she loved their work. I could feel my IQ shrinking.
The worst part was I didn’t want to like her (envy does not mix well with admiration), but I really did. As we talked more, I could tell she was humble and sincerely meant to help with her advice. I could tell she had no idea how hard it was for most writers to get anything published, much less published in the NYT. I’m not sure she had even considered herself a writer before: She hadn’t been writing regularly for years, and she hadn’t been sending out her work month after month, rejection after rejection, trying to get published in literary magazines. She had a successful other career. She didn’t even need this book. She just happened to get her essay accepted to the NYT, and a publisher found her, and more than one wanted her. Easy. Just like that.
I could picture her yawning.
“All I have to do,” I said loudly to my husband on the drive home from Earthfare, “is get published in the The New York Times! That’s it! That's all I have to do. I think I’ll go home and do that right now.” I was using mockery to cover up my envy. Or to show it off, as if it were a becoming trait.
First thing I did when I got home was google her essay. I sat there in my baggy shorts and ratty t-shirt, and I read her piece. Then I read it again. And again. It was nothing short of beautiful, heartbreaking, and brilliant. Dang it.
It took me a while to get over my envy. And the fact that I wasn’t as strong a writer as she, despite the fact I had been working at my craft for years while she had recently begun.
Eventually, envy gave way to inspiration: I worked up the nerve to write and submit an essay to Modern Love. And I wrote the woman an email. I told her how much I liked her essay, and that “every time I read it...I find it even more moving and beautiful. It's made me cry.” I told her it was no wonder she had publishers knocking at your door.
She deserved my praise, and I was happy she had success. I wanted to hear from her, to know how her book was coming along. Perhaps we could be friends.
I waited and waited. But she never wrote me back.
One month later, Modern Love rejected me. Easy. Just like that.