I’m the kind of friend who can keep secrets, and that’s because my brain does this thing where if you tell me something I’m not supposed to tell anyone, I completely forget about it. If you tell me again, I’ll vaguely remember hearing it, but until then, it will be like a forgotten dream, unreachable so untellable. I think my brain does this because it knows it cannot keep secrets about me, which might be why I write memoir. So it protects me from sharing things about others that I shouldn’t.
This morning I got an email, telling me my book Animal Bodies did not, in fact, make the short list for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. I was told to keep that a secret. Since I’m not sending this out until now (two days after the public announcement has been made), I can tell you about it. Even though I didn’t expect to make the short list, I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t disappointed when I received that email at 6AM on Valentine’s Day. It felt a little bit like getting a candy heart that read LOSER.
As it turns out, I was more attached to staying on that list than I realized, but when I thought about it, I was attached to it for mostly frivolous reasons. I wanted that shiny silver sticker on my book’s cover. I wanted to rent a designer dress, fly to New York, and go to the award’s ceremony (something I can’t justify doing cost-wise if I’m not up for an award). But you know what? I’m going skiing in Mammoth instead with 25 girlfriends that week, which is not only more my style (I do not have to rent clothes for that!) it’s going to be more fun—in every loss, there’s a win; you just have to look hard enough to find it. So join me in congratulating the finalists! These books are all very good, but so are the books that made the longlist (with a special callout to I’ll Show Myself Out by Jessi Klein, which is so witty and wise and an absolute must for mothers, and Streaming Now: Postcards from the Thing that is Happening by Laurie Stone, who has one of the most fascinating minds I’ve come across. You can find Laurie Stone here on Substack.
Also I have some dear friends going through very hard things at the moment, and when I think about all of that, literary awards mean very little in the larger scheme of things. A friend once told me, “Outside recognition is a fickle master.” And it’s true. We have zero control over what the world thinks of our work. So I let myself be disappointed for about an hour (or maybe two), and then I made the choice to let it go, to be truly happy for those moving forward. Writing can be a difficult and lonely endeavor for all of us; we must celebrate the success of other writers, even—no especially—when those writers have received something we didn’t. Because you know what no one can take away from you?
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