The Sunday before last, I had my first ever byline in The New York Times, courtesy of the Modern Love column. Now ordinarily this is a cause for celebration—my first NYT byline! My first national newspaper byline, come to think of it!—but the article I placed wasn’t about the cyclone or the earthquake, or any other apocalyptic disaster that is terrible and sad and terribly sad, and as far away from my life as I can get. No, I lost my New York Times virginity with a ridiculously personal piece about myself, a fact that may attest to the levels of my own self-absorption, or, as I like to think, simply shows that I am a novelist, not a journalist, and Modern Love may have been my first and only entry into my favorite newspaper. I wasn’t going to turn that opportunity down.
When it came time for publication day, though, instead of reveling in my glory, I found myself petrified. Head between my knees, take-deep-breaths-into-brown-paper-bag petrified. My friends, who had no sympathy (and shouldn’t have had), reminded me that I had submitted the piece. Voluntarily. When I confessed my biggest fear: What if people, you know, read it? They responded, ala Greek chorus, exactly as they should have done: What did you think was going to happen?
But I hadn’t thought about what was going to happen. I had been seduced by four words—The New York Times—which didn’t leave much room in my brain for anything else. I hadn’t thought about the fact that I was putting my deepest fears and neuroses into the public realm. Sort of blocked out the fact that I was telling the world some of my deepest secrets. That planning my wedding was a painful process. That now, even sixteen years after the death of my mother, I still miss her, every single day.
The smaller things too—that I hate my hips. Seriously, no one needed to be reminded of that.
When I tried to explain how I was feeling to my friends—why the appearance of this article, that I had chosen to write, that I had actually hoped would be published was stressing me out—I compared it to going topless in the Sunday Times. Worse. Bottomless. I had chosen to metaphorically streak, Bridget Jonesian “wobbly bits” and all, above the fold.
It wasn’t going to be pretty.
More than a week and a ton of emails later, after I’ve now seen my name and article in print, have even cut it out for a theoretical scrapbook, I feel better about my choice. Yes, based on the response, it’s clear I did go full frontal in a way. But my (again metaphorical) warts, turned out to do a little good. I actually got letters from people thanking me for giving voice to some of their secret feelings, for coming out of the closet as a “motherless daughter.” Weddings it turns out are hard for a lot of people—I’m not the only one who has struggled with wording for an invitation or how to honor a lost loved one. I’m not the only one who found what was supposed to be a happy experience transform into an emotional minefield.
So, this is a long-winded way of saying, I highly recommend streaking every once in a while. It does the body good.