My Contribution to the Growing Category of "Misfit Lit"
Last Friday I turned in my manuscript for And You May Find Yourself: Confessions of a Late-Blooming Gen-X Weirdo on time. And by “on time” I mean I met the most recent deadline I received after three extensions. What a year to be writing anything, let alone a memoir I’ve struggled, all my adult life, to feel entitled to write.
It was so hard to focus, and to be sure about what I thought and felt at a time when so much has been shifting in the world. It was hard to feel okay about writing about myself when there is so much else that needs attention right now. But I’ve been working toward this, fighting (sometimes just with myself) for this forever. This is when I was given the chance and the time, and I wasn’t going to squander the privilige.
Submitting the manuscript was the first of many hurdles toward publication, but it’s the biggest one. I know the thing is rough—more in some spots than others—but it exists, and now I can hone it until it’s ready to be shared.
I am so tired. I also have no idea how to really rest, which I desperately need to do. On cue, as soon as I was done, I got a headach, a sore throat, an enormous swollen gland on the side of my neck, and lost my appetite. Why does this always happen as soon as you stop pushing on a big project???
Clearly I need a break. But I can’t stop thinking about how I need to start hustling again so that I can afford to live in the world, and tend to various expensive medical issues I’ve been putting off. Yesterday I made a long list of things I said I’d do after my book was done, and I had very mixed feelings as I was doing it. Simultaneously I both dreaded digging in, and felt relieved to have list of future achievements to tick off. It made me realize that I only like myself when I’m achieving, and that brought up recollections of icky “self-help” situations I took part in in the 90s where they said things like, “Are you a human doing, or a human being?”
What does that even mean? Unless you’re born rich, how do you get to be one of those people who decides, “You know what? I’m done doing. From now on, I’m just going to be.” I think I’ll go to the bodega next door and buy myself a lottery ticket so that perhaps one day I can become one of those people.
My book is about a lot of things, but primarily about coming to terms with being a perennial misfit where ever I’ve gone in life, out of step with my peers in terms of meeting certain milestones in life, and trying too hard at times in incredibly misguided ways to fit in. I’m not the only one in my cohort writing about these things, and that’s partly because the whole Gen-X ethos is about being weird.
Those of us born between roughly 1963 and 1980 (the brackets on this keep shifting), especially those of us born earlier in that period, were raised, as I write in the book, at the intersection of two conflicting attitudes: “should” and “whatever.” Our parents entered very formal, retrograde marriages early, then many of them (especially our mothers) said fuck it and liberated themselves. We started out in these very controlled Dick and Jane family lives and then became latch-key kids bouncing between our parents’ separate homes, cooking for ourselves, babysitting for our younger siblings, while our parents dated a parade of kooky seventies characters. For some of us, that’s led to a kind of internal schism, which we’ve never fully been able to bridge.
Yes, there are other books that grapple with similar conflicts. Some have already been published. Some will be before mine. Others will likely appear afterward. (It’s good that their releases are quite staggard.) To my mind, even though some have similar themes and even similar titles, they are each different enough to warrant their existence. When the subject is being different, well, there are many different versions of that story, and they’re all valid.
As I’ve written in this space before, I’ve worked hard thought my career to let go of the kind of scarcity mindset capitalism fosters, and adopted a more abundance-based view. A couple of years ago, when I was shopping this book, an editor at one house tried to persuade me to change the title because she had a similar book on contract. I said I’d consider it. Then I decided I wasn’t willing to. I didn’t say anything to her about that later decision, and it seems now that it doesn’t matter, because from what I can tell, that other book isn’t happening anyway. So I’m glad I didn’t budge.
This is how I view the situation: A book proposal has a “comparable titles” section where the author lists similar books. It’s meant to establish that a) a shelf exists where your book belongs, and b) that your book will be different enough from the similar ones that readers might buy yours in addition to the others, or that yours will stand out to a particular reader who is perusing that shelf in a way the other books don’t.
So, I’m glad a shelf exits for the kind of book I’ve written. Broadly, the shelf is: Gen-X misfit lit. I’m confident my book is different enough from the others that it can sit comfortably beside them, and add experiences and perspectives the others don’t.
I see it as adding my unique voice to a rag-tag chorus of weirdos. Maybe it’s a sign I’ve finally found my people. I hope they’ll cheer me on as I will them.