This is going to be not so much a review, but a sort of free association starting with the fact that I just finished reading Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham. Did I like the book? Yes. Was it easy to read? Yes. Was the main character “relatable” (a word I just recently learned) — Yes.
Nonetheless, it leaves me sad, because of the implications for me. You see, I have a book coming out soon, too. And when I think about how well Graham’s book has done, and about how my book is going to do, I feel a little demoralized. Not because the success of Graham’s book is undeserved, but just because I can see how she manages to make it “relatable” to me but also to lots of people who are nothing like me, and how much more my book demands of the reader.
My book is not “relatable”. Somebody very different from me is not going to like it. And while this first book by Graham is probably just the first of many, my new book is probably my last. Or at least, it is the last that I plan to write this decade. I don’t promise that I will never write another one, but my deadline to do something useful is running out, and so I need to try to stop wasting time. This will be the sixth novel of my own I publish in the new millenium, depending on how exactly you count them. But I have also published books by other authors.
Someday, Someday Maybe is about a young woman — Franny — who has given herself a deadline — to make some sort of tangible progress in her pursuit of a career as an actress in New York City in 1995, or to pack it all in, and to embrace her backup plan of marrying her college sweetheart Clark and becoming a school teacher.
Does it make sense to give yourself that kind of a deadline? I’m not sure. The real deadline for making an impact on the world you live in is actually when you die. And for those of us who are published, even that is not the ultimate deadline. Long after we are dead, and nobody even knows who we are, somebody could run across a hard copy of one of our books, read it, become transformed, and even spread the message to more people. It could happen! It is what I tell myself on bad days, when everything is going wrong. I have not lived in vain. My words will live on after me.
But most people have no such delusions. Most people, even the religious sort, do not believe in an afterlife for their work. They might think that their soul is immortal, but their words are not. They themselves forget what they have said or written from one day to the next, and when you remind them, they say things like “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” They reserve the right to change their mind every day, and to unsay tomorrow whatever it was they said today. And they don’t remember things from twenty years ago, much less show willingness to confront their words in black and white. As for achieving anything in this life, they think it is now or never. You either get that tenure track job and then achieve tenure, or you don’t get to be a scientist. You either get a job with a law firm, and then become a partner, or you’re not really a lawyer. You either get your book published by a big name publisher, or you are not a writer. You either get an acting job on TV or in the movies, or you are not a real actor. You either form a lasting relationship with that guy you like, or it was not an important feeling you had for that person to begin with. And for a woman, there are definite biological deadlines, to make the most of her reproductive and sexual life. That’s why they all move on so fast and settle down. They have to.
Feelings have to be malleable. Forgetting the intensity as soon as it turns out it was not meant to be is part of a healthy psychology. Realizing he’s not that great the moment it turns out he doesn’t love you is not sour grapes, but instead is a sign of sanity. Deciding a profession or career is not for you the moment it seems inevitable that you’re not ever going to get a job in that field just kind of makes sense.
But what have I done? I have held on to every goal and every feeling, and I have said to myself: if this is not sanctioned by others now, then someday. But in the meanwhile, I carry on with what I want to do by myself. When I practiced law, I did it on my own, with clients, but no employer. When I had a baby, I did not have a partner in parenthood. My daughter is now sixteen. I know lots of single mothers, but they just happen to be mothers who are between marriages or relationships. I am the only single mother I know who does not have a co-parent. And when I started my ape language research project, I did not have institutional backing. When I publish myself and others, I am all on my own, too. And I do everything else I do while continuing with my ongoing ape language experiment and my single parenting journey.
So you see that is a picture of Bow in the outer pen, in the middle of a display of dominance, and there on the bench are the two books I am writing about, Lauren Graham’s and mine.
And I have to be careful to stay out of the way, while Bow shows how big and strong he is. Because he is a very powerful guy! Next month he will turn fourteen. “How long do you think you can keep doing this?” a fellow primatologist at a conference once asked me, years ago, when Bow was only six. I don’t know. Is there a deadline by which I am supposed to stop and do something else?
Bow does have a lot to say for himself.
Bow can be quite vocal.
But I also need to be there to open the door for him when he wants to come in. So far, I have just juggled all these things at the same time, my writing career and my ape language research, and parenting and publishing. But what if there is a deadline, by which time it needs to start paying for itself? A deadline by which other people need to come on board, when it ceases to be just my private dream?
I recently submitted an abstract to the American Society of Primatologists (ASP) conference coming up in Chicago this summer. My abstract was rejected on these grounds: “This abstract appears to report on a pet primate. If this is the case, then we cannot accept it, as ownership of pet primates is against the ASP ethical statement.”
In other words, they are not accepting me because I am all on my own and not part of an institutional set up. It has nothing to do with the merit of my contribution to science. The eminent primatologist who invited me to submit this abstract to her symposium is sympathetic, but can do nothing publicly to change the situation.
Suddenly the pragmatism of the Franny character in Lauren Graham’s book strikes me as quite sensible. She doesn’t want to be an actress acting all alone with no audience. What if other people are really important in making your dream a reality? What if the dream is kind of empty if none of them ever notice? What if she’s right that a guy who talks to you privately in deep intimacy but won’t acknowledge you in public is kind of shifty and no good? It’s like thinking you can have a one man revolution. Or like the futility of relying on people who tell you they support you in secret but will never stand up for you against the authorities at your crucifixion.
If you like Lauren Graham — as I do — you will like her book. It’s relatable. Even Marah Fallowfield would get something out of it.
And… Maybe buy my book, too, when it comes out next month. It shows what happens when you stick to your guns.