I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now. So many of my friends and family uttered this phrase to me sometime throughout the day on December 8, 2020. How does it feel? The question poured in, over and over again. It’s a question I, myself, wanted to know for years. How does it feel to publish a book? Specifically, your first book? It’s a question that’s eluded me my entire life. Until last week, when the question was finally answered.
The closest feeling I can compare it to is waking up on your birthday. An ordinary day to everyone else, but special for you. Texts and emails pour in, flowers from my husband arrive, friends come out of the woodwork. There’s a flurry of attention and appreciation, one large rush out of the empty tap. And as much as I wish I could spread it out, savor it, I devour it. Like a piece of cake.
I re-read the reviews of the book. Take screenshots of its photo, like a proud mother, in The Washington Post, Good Morning America. I check and re-check Goodreads for ratings. I stare at its photo on Amazon until the cover begins to look odd and one-dimensional and I can’t see it anymore. I sit in a state of pride. I revel in my moment.
To be fair, there were multiple days like this throughout the publishing process. Multiple moments of pure ecstasy and accomplishment. Moments I wish I could capture and stuff in a jar to open on days that need a sprinkle of magic. The day I received my contract for my agent. The day my agent called to tell me they were making an offer. The day I submitted the final manuscript. This day, however, was the ending mark. The exclamation point on the five-year-long sentence.
I assume it’s a similar feeling to that of a lawyer winning a trial. The feeling when the verdict is given, the courtroom packed up, the whiskeys poured, the backs patted. Or when the actress gets the part. When the sets are deconstructed and the interviews end and the reviews come in and award shows are over. When the salesman lands his account, reels in ‘the big fish’ – the one he’s been pursuing for years. When a marketing director secures her biggest client. The employee receives her raise. The high school senior opens her admission letter. Accomplishment. Closure. Completion. And then…ordinary life again.
Ordinary life. That’s what I was grappling with four days later when Jay took me out to dinner. He wanted to celebrate, and I did too, but the emotion that kept bubbling to the surface was not of celebration. But what was it? I tried to shake it off. Yet when he held his glass to cheers mine, I realized I was grappling with something that felt like death. Yes, that’s what it was. Mourning. I was mourning the death of…a dream. The thing I had held so dear, so important, so precious for so long had come and gone and now I didn’t know what to hold onto.
Before something big happens, we sustain ourselves off the dream of it. For five years I woke up with the purpose of finding happiness in publication. For years I imagined what the moment would be like. My days marked by the idea of it. Walking down city streets I imagined the stores I’d see my book in. Going to sleep I thought of the reviews, the press, the sales. Bored on the train, I envisioned book signings and launch parties. All the possibilities of it. They were endless, exciting, intoxicating.
Now, there was nothing left to imagine. Reality had come and taken its place. The thing I had waited for, dreamed of, envisioned, had come and gone. And instead of long lasting happiness, the after-effect of the dream was rapidly draining and refilling with another dream, another goal. Sales. A writing life. Success. Now I don’t need to be published, I need to sell enough to be successfully published. The happiness came, hard and wonderful, and went. And now there was another moment I had to find and wait for. Another deadline to meet, another goal to fulfill. Another opportunity of happiness to reach.
Is this what it’s like for the lawyer? Is the verdict the continual end of the line and the beginning of the next? How long are her spurts between happiness? What about the teacher? Is hers in the graduation of another class? Or longer? The rise of a particular student who one day thanks her in his graduation speech before leaving for Harvard?
And when they reach that moment, how long does the happiness last? Two days? Four? Is the dream then replaced with another? No, I found myself saying under the white tent, champagne in my hand, looking at my proud husband. This will not be enough. This will not do.
All at once I saw my life ahead of me. Goals, like faraway signposts on a foggy freeway, to be laboriously chased after. Marriage. House. Promotion. Pregnancy. Success. Awards. And tied around these signposts was my happiness. No, I thought again. That’s not good enough. These moments, while important and exciting, are not enough. These big goals I yearn for, the ones I sustain myself off when days are dark and life seems empty, are too few and far between. And a happy life, a full life, cannot be derived from waiting for them.
The day I published my book was undoubtedly a significant, happy one. I will look back on it with pride, accomplishment and gratefulness. Yet what I remember most about it was the momentariness of it. How like all other moments, it came and went. The day was bigger, more exciting, more important than others, but the moment itself – the elation, satisfaction, the joy – was just as fleeting as smaller moments of my life.
In the car, heading back from the restaurant, head light from champagne, I understood the real significance of this special moment, this moment I’d been waiting for. It was here to teach me how to live the rest of my life. This was the moment I would stop looking for my happiness in far way goals and start reaching for closer things.
In small packages. A good film. A nice walk. Dinner out with friends. A glass of wine. Life, I realized, must be enjoyed in the small moments. In the in-between moments. The woman who waits for the big things will will come to the end of the road only to realize so much time was wasted searching, seeking, yearning rather than just enjoying. To find her box of chocolates half-eaten.
The woman who finds pleasure in every day, however, will come to the end of the road full, satisfied. To find happiness in the simple things, the tiny, overlooked, forgotten successes of life, is to fill your life with continuous joy. Yes, dreams could bring happy moments. Big goals and success would still bring me moments of glory and pride. But a happy life is finding happiness in between the big moments.
Today, when I look back on this day of publication, this awesome, amazing day, I won’t remember the happiness of it, but the awakening of it. Since publication day, the day I’d been waiting for, dreaming of, some switch has gone off. Some level has been pulled that has forced me to realize that happiness is not in tomorrow, but today. In this plain, non-special day. And in doing this, in accepting the magic of the ordinary day, the small moments, I feel the power in what Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley felt when she said: “I had a burden lift off me that I hadn’t even felt the heaviness of until then, and it was the burden of having to wait and see what was going to happen.”
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