I’m spectacularly boring. On a recent business trip, my co-workers and I had a few hours of bona-fide, I-shit-you-not free-time. Which is rare. Business travel almost always involves constant movement—hustling to an airport or a hotel or a meeting. But for a few hours we had nowhere to be. The luggage was safe in the rental van, the night was young and warm, and all of Phoenix sprawled before us like a wanton lover just begging to help us forget about marketing strategies and institutional politics and deadlines. No strings attached. All expenses paid.
You should have seen how hopeful my coworkers looked. Their eyes were afire with wine and the desire for more wine. There were no more speed bumps or stop signs, no more meetings to prepare for, and the night was just beginning to make promises. Adventure was inevitable. They recognized it as the start of a lifelong memory, one that would shape the future in which they would tell the story of that amazing night in Phoenix. No one could pass on this free pass.
Unfortunately for them I am a no one. I refused and declared that I was going to the hotel. Since the rental minivan was in my name, and all of their luggage was in the rental minivan, they had to go where I went. They loved that. You should have seen how their winefire eyes burned.
The point is, I’m spectacularly boring. So when Jen Mann emailed me to tell me that she was accepting submissions for her new anthology, and she was wondering if I could offer up a piece that delivered humorous parenting advice, stories, or anecdotes, I withered. Because what the hell do I know? Because I am not worthy and never will be. Because I have no funny stories or anecdotes. Because my real world life is eye-stingingly boring. Because I work, eat, sleep, cry alone, repeat.
But then Jen really wasn’t asking for the real world Jeff, was she? She was asking if the Jeff in my head had any advice, stories, or anecdotes. Because the Jeff in my head serves all flavors of crazy. With sprinkles. It’s how I cope in a real world where I have to operate with what my momma gave me.
So I turned and asked the inside me, “Hey Inside Me, got anything good for Jen?”
And Inside Me leaned back in his beanbag chair and grinned for 20 solid minutes before saying, “Oh I got the words, my man!”
“She has to approve it. Are your words Jen Mann good?”
“They will be great! Unimpeachable.”
“Will they cost us some friends?”
“They will be great!”
Then Inside Me went back to his fantasies and it’s best if we don’t get into any of that. I had to back out slowly. I had to trust that Inside Me would find words for Jen when I needed them.
All the confidence peddlers will tell you that the only problem with being a loser is thinking you’re a loser. You can be a loser but as long as you don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re a loser you’ll be fine. The flipside of that concept is the notion that you can be doing just fine by every measure, but think you’re a loser and you will be a loser. It doesn’t matter if you know this or not. The only thing that matters is what your brain believes. And my brain believes I’m a loser.
So I decided to be extremely flattered—lucky to be considered—and call it a win. I wasn’t going to submit a piece and have it explode in a flaming pile of fail. Instead, I chose to treat the request as a writing prompt. A nudge to fire up the dormant word engines. I did. I wrote a few pieces. I wrote with the understanding that I was just going to post whatever I wrote to the blog. Let people be amused or not.
Jen had sent her email in January. The deadline was midnight March 1st. I started writing things in February. Nothing was gelling into a post. Inside Me had given me all these starters but none seemed to have a destination. I opened and closed the files, the laptop, the lines of communication with Inside Me.
Soon, something began to emerge out of the five starts. I could see the point and I started to navigate toward it. It was February 25. I could maybe make the deadline.
I plodded on. My full-time, mortgage-paying job had me booked solid and I also took on a freelance project from someone I owe the world to. There was no wiggle room. It was February 28.
Even though I had let myself off the hook, I still tried to meet the deadline. Just to see. After the kids went to bed, I cracked open the laptop and spent the last hours sculpting and editing my word dump into something worthy.
It was 11:50. I read my post. I read my post again. It was missing something. It was unfinished. It was 12:01 March 1st. I closed the laptop. At least I tried. And it was still a win.
I got up early because I had to travel for work. I packed my bag, I packed a book. The flight to Phoenix would be three and a half hours and I couldn’t sleep all of that time.
As soon as I was on the plane, I emailed Jen to thank her for the consideration and to let her know that I didn’t have anything worth submitting. She wrote back almost immediately, thanking me for letting her know. It was sad. I had a shot and I had just given up. I had convinced myself that giving up was somehow a win.
My laptop was still open. Without telling me why, Inside Me opened the word doc and started climbing. I found better ways to say some of the things I wanted to say. I found new trails and more details. I kept at it until the plane began its descent. By then I had reached the summit. I had planted my flag. I closed the laptop on my empty victory.
The drive to Flagstaff took two and half hours. My coworkers and I checked into the hotel. We had to have dinner with the client that night, but we at least had time to change from our road clothes. I opened my laptop and read my post. I read my post again. It was good. It was worthy. It was too late.
I opened an email and wrote:
I know I told you that I wasn’t going to submit. That I fell down. But I worked some more on my piece and I wanted to at least slide it under your door.
It comes in at just under 2000 words.
I hit send and felt something I hadn’t felt in a while—proud. I closed my laptop and went to dinner. I was starving in that first world way people starve. But I was satisfied.
A week later, Jen wrote back.
Congratulations, your essay has been chosen to be included in But Did You Die?
I almost did die, Jen. I almost did.
Today is release day. And I couldn’t be prouder or more terrified. I’m in this book with 36 amazing people who have huge, rabid readerships. Not that I would trade. I love the people who read this blog and the J+J Facebook page. You guys are the exact right guys. You get me and I’m an acquired taste. I hope you’re proud today too. Because you keep Inside Me alive.
“I told you I had the words!”
“You did my friend.”
“I always do, bro.”
“Well let’s not get carried away.”
“Getting carried away is the only way to move.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Maybe you should release your ‘maybes.’”
Maybe I will.
You can buy the book from Amazon here.
You can buy a signed edition (signed by me, of course) for $15 here.
HAPPY RELEASE DAY.