Day 1,731: Longcuts

“Why does this never get any easier?” I groaned to my trainer last week in the middle of deadlifting.

He looked confused. “Well, because we keep adding weight to the bar. You could only lift half this much a year ago.”

I had to concede his logic, even if it didn’t really answer my question.


The main thing about me is I never think I’m making any progress. Yesterday, for example, I happened to read about the six 2018 books chosen for a special “Buzz Book” panel at a major book industry conference. That’s six books total, across all genres, out of thousands published in a given year. It had never once occurred to me that mine could be one of the six… until I saw that it wasn’t. And then I sort of deflated. Your book is just not the kind of book that creates buzz, I told myself. It’s a weird book, by a weird person. Just get used to that. 

I moped around for a while and then I saw the online table of contents for the spring issue of a literary magazine that recently accepted one of my essays. In fact, I thought they’d accepted it for the spring issue, except uh oh, why wasn’t it listed? Maybe they changed their minds after accepting it and just forgot to tell me, I thought. Because the essay is actually so forgettable that they didn’t even remember someone wrote it. 

“Hey babe,” said my unsuspecting husband, coming in from a run in the park. “Oh hey,” I said, then explained the ways in which my career had fallen apart in the past hour. “It seems very likely that I will dwell in mediocrity,” I said gravely. “I have walked away from a successful career with money to an unsuccessful one with no money.” (Did I mention that I left my day job a few weeks ago?)

“Or maybe you’re putting a ton of weight on two very small data points,” he said. “One of which would have been like being struck by lightning, and the other of which may very well be an error.”

“Oh please,” I said. “I have had years of cognitive behavioral therapy. I know all about binary thinking and catastrophizing and projecting and the rest of it. That doesn’t mean my career can’t still be falling apart. Hypochondriacs do get cancer, you know.”

Seeking someone who would understand just how bad things had gotten, I texted a writer friend about being dropped by the literary quarterly. “Why don’t you drop a friendly email asking what’s up?” she said. I had to admit it sounded reasonable. So I did, taking pains to sound breezy and oh-hey-just-curious. I got a response less than an hour later, saying my piece is scheduled for the summer issue. Because hypochondriacs do get cancer, but they also flail around in a panic a lot over nothing.


Panic, self-doubt, fear: all just standard stuff in a writer’s life, right? Except consider these facts:

  • In the late 90s, the last time I was trying to place work in literary journals, the one that’s publishing me this summer rejected me nine or ten times. This time around, they asked me to write something for them.
  • The only reason I could freak out over not being one of six Buzz Books is because I have a book coming out this summer, from one of the finest literary publishers in America, the publisher of my dreams, who have made my manuscript into a gorgeous book that has been circulating and getting industry blurbs and other enthusiastic comments that make me dizzy. 
  • And the only reason said manuscript exists is that I wrote it. For eighteen months I spent every weekend and most nights writing, and the book was on my mind in some way 24-7, like an earworm or a tinnitus buzz. My brain became a two-story house and I learned to live on both floors at once.
  • And the only reason I could write a book is that six months into sobriety,  I sat down on impulse one day and wrote a page of a short story, just to see if I had any muscle memory left after a decade away from writing. And then I did it again, and again. I kept sitting down to write because it felt good. I told my husband I didn’t care if I ever got published, or if anyone ever even saw what I wrote; I just wanted to be doing it. And I meant it.
  • And if you’d told me on that day that I’d ever leave my day job, I wouldn’t have believed it. And not just because I couldn’t have foreseen a writing career for myself. Because I thought someone as mediocre as me was lucky to have a job at all, that I’d somehow been tricking my employer into keeping me around. I was two years sober before I started to clearly see how good I was at my job, and over three when it dawned on me that my employer was probably never going to value me the way I needed to feel valued, and over four by the time it hit me that instead of just resigning myself to feeling overlooked, I could leave, make a new life for myself where I could shine and be seen.

That was four years ago. Four years from “Do I still know how to write a good sentence?” to “Why was my book not one of six chosen from thousands to showcase at BookExpo?” Four years from “Who else would ever hire me?” to “Who wouldn’t want to hire me?” The person I was four years ago would say “My God, 2018 Kristi sounds like an ego monster.” But 2018 Kristi (which should totally be the title of a Prince song) isn’t an ego monster. She just knows what she’s worth, and she knows it because she did every fucking bit of the work to get here. There were no shortcuts; if anything, there were longcuts, because the hard way is the way I always go.

I guess I must like the hard way.


But the hard way is slow and progress only piles up in retrospect. Years ago, ending an obsessive long-distance love affair, I couldn’t see that two days without talking or writing was twice as long as we’d ever made it before. I could only white-knuckle each hour and dwell on how that would never change. Finishing a difficult essay last month, I complained to anyone who would listen about the agony of only knowing what I think through the act of writing it, so that what I know and my ability to express it are never quite in balance; it’s a race with a photo finish.

Not to mention, I raise the stakes all the time. In yoga, I was first taught to do a headstand with my feet on the wall for balance. Over time, I moved a few inches away. Then I started kicking up in the middle of the room. Then I could kick up in the middle of the room and add on variations: leg splits, a twist from the torso, a half-lotus.

“Why does this never get any easier?” I said one day to my teacher, who laughed.

“Why would it?” she said. “You keep moving forward.”

I’ve started writing what I hope will be my next book and the mess of it is making me crazy. I don’t want to have to flounder around in the dark, searching for the voice and the structure. I want to have it all figured out right now and just, you know, type it up. Maybe I don’t actually know how to write a book, I thought the other day. Then I remembered something my friend Claire said, because she’s been where I am now:

“The second book is much harder,” she said. “Because you proved the first time around that you can write a book, and now you want to write a great one. It’s a quantum leap in ambition, and therefore in difficulty. Be prepared.”

I listened when she said this and I nodded gravely and I thought I was prepared. But of course I’m not prepared, because I’ve never been prepared. To quit drinking, to write a game-changing book, to leave a job, to leave a lover, to serpent-twist my legs in midair. I trust that I’ll catch up with myself, somehow, in the ways that matter most. And I keep moving forward.

Day 1,165: Now, where were we?

Well, hi there! It’s been a month since I published this essay, which was also the subject of my last post here. In case you haven’t been following along–because why would you?–it went viral. Really really viral. A blow-by-blow would  be both dull and likely inaccurate, but suffice to say that after literally thousands of emails from readers, writers, agents, editors, men who live in basements, and people I knew in kindergarten, when Neko Case tweeted praise I thought ‘okay, this has reached maximum awesomeness and maximum weirdness in one tweet.’

Famous last words. The next day brought a takedown from Slate, which I learned about when a friend texted me saying “When Slate hates you, you know you’re doing something right.” (For the record, not the greatest way to let someone totally new to celebrity know that a major media outlet is complaining about her. You’ve gotta ease into it, people!) Time and the New York Post took vaguely off-topic swipes too, and I’m currently showing up in people’s Google news feeds right on top of Donald Trump’s head, which frankly is closer than I really ever wanted to get.

So it’s been a wild ride, and maybe someday I’ll have more to say about the totality of it. But since this is a blog about being sober, what I want to share today are some ways the experience impacted me as a sober person. Because I’ve been paying attention and there are parallels all over the place, and maybe some of them will be useful to you in your own wacky life:

  1. Doing the next right thing works. When I got a Facebook message saying “Have you seen Time magazine?” I was already overwhelmed and in the middle of a stressful workday. Sure, there’s no such thing as bad press, but there are bad moments for hearing about your bad press, particularly when you have been a public figure for all of five seconds. I scanned the Time article (not really all that bad, more clueless than anything else), then sat at my desk frozen, wondering how I was supposed to function in a meeting in 12 minutes with my entire world continuing to turn itself inside-out.

    Then, thank God, a voice inside said you have 12 minutes. Use them. And I lammed it out of my office building and spent those 12 minutes walking around the block. Not thinking, not trying to be any certain way, just walking alone in the sun. And just that simple act of moving my body calmed me down enough that I made it to my 2:30 meeting merely wildly distracted, not wildly distracted, panicked, and goggle-eyed. (Baby steps, okay?) That’s just one instance of how zeroing in on just one small, immediate action has helped to keep me as grounded as I can reasonably expect to be while things swirl around me.

  2. What other people think of me is none of my business. Here’s a partial catalog of words I’ve been called since “Enjoli” published: hero, genius, star, dry drunk, liar, bitter, truth-teller, bitch, rich bitch, whiner, sage, smug, stunning, slut, judgmental, blind, man-hater, woman-hater, jealous, friendless, wonderful, astonishing, mean, brilliant, brave, goddess, victim, warrior, cunt.

    Yep. At every turn, someone is describing me–not just the 10-page artifact I published, but ME–and it’s rarely in middle-of-the-road terms like competent writer or thoughtful person or a little bit bitchy. It’s all drama and superlatives, because my essay inspired strong feelings, and those strong feelings want a person to attach themselves to. But it’s hard to be the host for all those qualities, especially the ones that confirm things I secretly already fear about myself. So you know which ones I’m accepting as truth?

    None of them. I’m rejecting all of them as applied to me, the person. If they apply to anyone, it’s to the consciously wrought version of me who narrates my equally consciously wrought essay (just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s a diary). And people can call that chick whatever they want, because the writer doesn’t control what happens between reader and text. (Much as she might like to.) Just like when I quit drinking, I have to define myself for myself, or the center’s not going to hold. (Not to mention that for a writer, praise can be as deadly as criticism.) So much as I would love to walk around thinking what a brave, talented, truth-telling goddess I must be…gonna let all those kind words drift gently back to my work where they belong.

  3. People are (mostly) wonderful, and stories save lives. I’ve received thousands of emails and other messages this month. I’ve now mostly weaned myself from reading them, because it’s just too much for an empath like me to carry around. But I’m walking away with more faith in human beings than I’ve had in decades. Because I’ve heard from men and women; the 30-years sober, the 2-days sober, normal drinkers, alcoholic drinkers, non-alcoholics who just don’t drink anymore; Mormons and Muslims and the alcohol-allergic and other lifetime teetotalers; male and female tech workers; women who fled tech in horror; Indians and Scots and Aussies (lots of Aussies) and Italians; fathers of daughters; drunk-driving widows; bartenders, and on and on. (And yes, including a handful of truly loathsome, abusive human beings.) And their stories, in aggregate and alone, are amazing–as is their generosity in sharing them with a total stranger. I feel more a part of the human community having read these stories.

    And it’s cemented my belief that if you can, you should consider recovering out loud. Emphasis on consider. I don’t know your life circumstances, or what you’re up for emotionally, or how people around you will react. What I do know is that there are TONS of us out there, but a lot of us feel alone and/or ashamed. And odds are good that whatever part of your own story you can tell–anonymously, even–will be heard by someone who needed it. Just something to think about. 

  4. Slow things down. I learned pretty early in sobriety that frantic activity and FOMO are routes to misery. Uh, and then apparently at some point I forgot, because I’ve been panicked at times this month with the quantity and quality of professional opportunities that have landed in my lap. I have more interesting, fun options than anyone (certainly anyone with a day job) can take advantage of and stay sane–and that scares me to death, because deep down I’m also convinced that the friendly person behind each of those opportunities is one “no” or “yes, but later” from saying “well, fuck her” and writing me off for life. It took a close friend saying “Look, these aren’t aunts and uncles you have to write your thank-you notes to–they’ll be around when you’re ready” to make me remember it’s okay to think strategically, and choose carefully, and all that other stuff people do when they believe in their own worth and aren’t just, you know, saying yes to the first boy who asked them to prom.
  5. Binary thinking kills. When I was drinking, everything was black/white. Either I had a catastrophic alcohol issue, or no problem at all. Either I could drink to relax, or I’d be tense forever. Either I was the niftiest person alive, or the worst. Sound familiar? I still struggle with binary thought patterns, but at least I often recognize them now. And here’s some stuff I’ve read or heard in response to my essay:
  • She thinks sobriety is the only way to live an authentic life.
  • Anyone who has an issue with this essay is probably an alcoholic in denial.
  • She’s blaming men for all her own problems.
  • She raises some good issues, but fails to provide the solution, so fuck it.
  • She acts like women are the only ones who have a tough time at work.
  • She acts like women are the only ones who struggle with alcohol.
  • She acts like women are the only ones who feel stress.
  • Any man who doesn’t like this essay is probably a misogynist.
  • If she was a real feminist she wouldn’t judge women who drink. Feminists support other women no matter what.
  • Women who say they only drink socially are lying to themselves.
  • She must really hate fun.

    People! All of us! We must stop. Life is in the gray areas. I know this. You know this. Let’s live like we know this. We will all be saner and kinder and happier. Even the assholes.

To be continued. (Maybe. 😉 )