Because I love Kelli and Daniel from Fitness Blender

“Please get off me,” says the husband. “Your body reminds me of work.” The wife clenches her toned abs for the 61st rep that day. They’d shot two grueling workout videos in the studio that morning. Now that they were back home in their bedroom, she just wanted her man to peel off her sports bra and spank her with it.

“That’s like turning down sex from a nurse because she reminds you of disease,” says the wife.

“I would never turn down sex from a nurse,” says the husband, massaging his left tricep.

The wife unglues the sweaty leggings from her preternaturally toned thighs, then pulls two 10-pound barbells from the nightstand.

“You’re just lifting those out of spite,” says the husband. “And your breathing is all wrong.”

“Fuck you.”

“Sweetheart, you know our bodies aren’t for pleasure anymore. They’re a business. People stream our exercise videos because we’re ripped and we look good in Spandex. It’s hard for me to sexualize our bodies now that they’re our only source of income.”

“I thought people watched our videos because we’re in love, which gives us positive on-screen rapport, which inspires people to feel the burn, which makes them think that by doing the fitness, they can find love too.”

“No. You think we’d have all these downloads if we were as fat as we were on our wedding day?”

“We weighed a combined 12 pounds more than we do now.”

“Exactly.” The husband adjusts himself on the mattress so he can stretch his hamstrings. He’s never been as flexible as his wife. “Most of those were yours, by the way.”

“If I gain it all back,” says the wife, unable to take her eyes off her husband’s gym shorts, “will you have sex with me again?”

“Gaining it back is not an option. We have bills to pay. More importantly, we have fans who count on us to stay in peak physical condition.”

“What if you wear a blindfold?”

“As if I wouldn’t be able to feel those rock-hard glutes.”

“Then what?” says the wife, starting a set of lateral raises. “I can’t go on like this.”

The husband flips over onto his bare stomach so he can perform a cobra stretch.

“I wonder if porn stars have this problem,” he says.

“I’ll be able to answer that in about two months after I leave you and move to the Valley.”

“Don’t be like that, baby.” He moves into a child’s pose. “Maybe if we could just, like, repurpose our bodies somehow, after work, so when we get home, they’re no longer elite athletic machines.”

“And how do you suggest we do that?” says the wife, dropping to the rug for overheard bridges.

“I don’t know,” says the husband. “But I’m feeling like we didn’t get enough cardio today. You wanna do a round of burpees?”

The wife drops her barbells. “Can we do them naked?”

“Good idea,” says the husband. “That way I can review your form.”

Two insignificant things that didn’t really happen

Revenge

Rebecca worked for a small marketing firm that handled accounts from a diversity of clients. Last summer she began volunteering to head the ad campaigns that no one else wanted, e.g., the gastrointestinal disorder remedies, the spray-on hair. She did this because her ex-boyfriend had turned out to be a piece of shit who’d moved into her Soho apartment with no intention of ever getting a job, contributing to rent, or helping out in any way unless he could do it through singer-songwriting. Her ex-boyfriend had also posed for a series of stock photos back in the day so he could buy himself something nice that he didn’t deserve because he liked to stick his slimy crooked penis into everything.

Rebecca happened to discover this cache of stock photos of her ex-boyfriend not long after she’d confronted him about several items gone missing from her jewelry box, then kicked him to the curb. Revenge was sweet. Rebecca threw herself into work at the agency, and soon her ex’s face began appearing in ads aimed at those suffering from jock itch and hemorrhoids, uncontrollable diarrhea, chronic facial fungi. Rebecca had a girlfriend who worked for a popular online news outlet and she got in on the fun as well. The article “How to Identify a Hipster Douchebag” featured a close-up of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend drinking an iced coffee in a rowboat in Central Park. The article “6 Signs Your Dude Is a Manwhore” was accompanied by a photo of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend laughing into a slice of cheese pizza.

Rebecca had originally applied to the ad agency so she could earn a regular paycheck just until her online fan fiction landed her a Big Five book deal, but after the breakup she decided that she’d stay in the business at least long enough to see her ex on a billboard warning people about the pedophiles who live among us. Besides, she thought, pictures tell the best stories.

Photographer Emergency

An amateur photographer named David walks along the Florida beach in early morning, taking pictures of the sunrise. He squats on a dune so he can get the right angle on the light colliding with a lifeguard stand. He also takes pictures of a seagull. “Please, God,” he thinks, “let a sailboat pass by.”

A quarter mile down the beach, David passes a large crew of people staging shots of fashionable accessories in the white sand, probably for a Land’s End catalogue. A man with a camera barks orders at the handful of assistants holding white discs who are trying to reflect the morning light onto an array of vibrant products. Then David watches as the professional photographer suddenly drops to his knees, clutching his chest. The panicked crew surrounds him, but the professional photographer has collapsed face-down in the sand and is giving off every impression of being dead.

“Oh my God!” yells a woman with a clipboard, scanning the beach in every direction. “Is anyone here a photographer? Are there any photographers on the beach?”

One of the assistants scrambles up the steps of a lifeguard stand and grabs a bullhorn. “We have an emergency!” he says. “Someone please help us! Can anyone here shoot a purse?”

From a distance David takes in the undocumented fashion accessories, then looks down at his camera. This is his moment. “I can,” he says quietly. Then more loudly, toward the crew, as he speeds across the sand. “I can!” he says. “I can shoot a purse!”

Scenes from a Florida horse track

The minimum bet is one dollar. I bet five. When my horses come around the bend and stampede toward the finish line, I scream so loudly that a nearby baby starts crying in his mother’s arms.

I’m surprised that I’ve never been to a horse track before today. I’d always assumed that I had, because it seems so characteristic of me, but in retrospect I think all my familiarity with the racing world came from reading Seabiscuit.

People here are deadly serious. Most of them operate alone. They sit at picnic tables in the shade of the tiki bars, poring over stats in their official daily programs. One man’s future seems to depend on the performance of Bingo Kitten.

What is a horseman? Is it a jockey? Is it a centaur? Is it someone who enjoys the company of horses? And why am I not allowed to park in the spots designated “Horseman”? Is it because I’m a woman? I enjoy horses just as much as anybody.

I send my mom a text about being at the race track. She responds, “Slippery slope, that racing. When I lived in Florida I used to bet on the dogs.”

M and I win $15 and do an end zone dance. Everyone glares at us.

No one here seems to be rich, even the gamblers who bet with $100 bills. The only individual who appears to have done well for himself at the track is a man exiting the compound in a Ferrari. But his smugness seems less about winnings and more about taking money from poor people, so I assume he’s a manager.

According to the program, Bingo Kitten’s parents are Kitten’s Joy and Bingo Queen.

A statue of a horse towers above the palm trees at the entrance to the parking lot. The horse is ten stories tall. He is fighting a dragon. I rack my brain for a similar scene in mythology, but come up with nothing. Maybe the artist based his work on a cartoon. In any case, it takes my breath away.

For all of those gamblers who are down to less than a dollar, there are slot machines.

Post-time is at 12pm next Sunday. I will wear a sunhat and bring lots of quarters. My mom will be in town, but I’ll hold her to a budget so we can still afford tacos after the races. And I’m not leaving the track until my horsewomanhood is acknowledged, at least by the babies.

 

 

Miami shut-in

She hasn’t set foot outside her seaside condo in eight years. She cannot think of a compelling enough reason to leave. The delivery guy drops the food outside the door. She’s had pretty good luck with the hurricanes, and has enjoyed a long spell of adequate health. The ocean is there whether or not she puts her feet in it. Plus she has a flatscreen TV and two floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the beach and approximately seven places to sit, including the bed and the toilet, though she dislikes the yellow armchair that can never seem to swivel the right way when she’s reading old magazines.

Eight years ago, when she first moved to South Florida to finish her book, she had every intention of exploring the local terrain. But in order to get in and out she had to ride the elevator with various combinations of strangers who lived inside her building. Riding the elevator with other people was an intolerable situation. When she pushed her own button and stared straight ahead she felt ashamed of her misanthropic tendencies. But when she made small talk, it always petered out before her floor (the 80th), and then she and her neighbors were just standing there watching the floors tick by in awkward silence. It was enough to rip your guts out. And she wouldn’t dream of taking the stairs because when she tallied up the number of times she might get assaulted in the dark stairwell over the course of 80 stories, she didn’t like her odds.

The plan was to be in South Florida for three months before returning to the Land of Winter. But after a few weeks went by she realized that climates and landscapes mattered much less to her than the quality of her apartment, and the television set in her Miami condo was a full third bigger than her flatscreen in the Land of Winter, so she settled in.

And now she sits. Sometimes at the kitchen table. Sometimes in the abominable yellow chair. Sometimes she wishes she could go to a pet store and buy a turtle terrarium, but then she thinks of putting on sandals and riding the elevator, and she stays where she is. Her book used to be about life, but now it is about dog food ads and funny things she finds on the internet. Anyone who thinks shut-ins don’t have a sense of humor is dead wrong. She finds it hilarious, just goddamn hilarious, to stand at her window and wave and wave at the ocean, like it’s a boat that is sailing away.

A word on public toilets

I once stood in a bathroom line for 25 minutes at a Starbucks near Central Park, only to have a European woman barge in front of me holding her child’s hand when I was next to go. “My little girl she has to tinkle,” the woman said. “She will wet her pants. Please can we go first?” I gave them my coveted spot, and I’m pretty sure they both used the toilet while they were in there. Or perhaps just the woman used the toilet because the kid had no bladder urgency whatsoever and had only been classically trained in the peepee dance.

Imagine giving a $5 bill to a homeless woman on the street because she’s holding a baby in her lap and the baby’s face is all grubby and sad, and you assume that your $5 will buy the baby some medicine for her drippy nose, then you find out later that the homeless woman actually lives in a penthouse apartment in Tribeca and earlier that day she’d smudged expensive chocolate into her baby’s cheeks right before bundling them both into rags for the sole purpose of extorting $5 of sympathy money out of you. Well, I would think better of that woman than someone who cuts in front of me in the bathroom line of a Manhattan Starbucks falsely using her child’s bladder as an excuse. She might as well flush all my good will down the toilet with her five lunchtime martinis.

That is a lengthy preamble to my point: anyone familiar with New York City knows how precious a commodity a commode can be when you’re walking around, which is most of the time. I have bought unnecessary cups of coffee, bottles of water, and once even a cheeseburger to earn the exalted privilege of using a Manhattan business’s restroom. There are no public johns anywhere. It really sucks. And if you do manage to find one, it’s probably disgusting because Lavatory Grinches steal the toilet paper, soap, and toilet seats. If they could steal the water out of the bowl, they’d probably do that, too. The real reason that native New Yorkers don’t watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve in Time’s Square isn’t because it’s cold outside and the whole thing is kind of dumb, but because they know that if they have to pee at any point during the evening, they will never be able to thanks to Manhattan’s egregious restroom deficit.

Which brings me to Miami. [OMG a white sailboat is passing by right now OMG] I took a jog along a beach trail this morning and counted no less than seven public restrooms. And I don’t tend to jog very far. In Miami, toilets are everywhere for the taking. They’re so prolific that not once in my first week here have I ever felt the need to urinate. It’s as if the bathrooms come to ME, saying, “In five minutes you might have to pee, so why don’t you take a load off now as a preemptive measure?” and I’m like, “Thanks, I think I’ll take you up on that,” and then it turns out I DID have to pee, but it just wasn’t urgent yet because the nerve pathways between my bladder and my brain are so retarded (until they’re not), but that’s okay because the bathrooms here totally bypass those nerve pathways and sense my body’s yearnings before cognition. And they’re really nice bathrooms! Only once have I gotten the sense that I was interrupting gay beach sex when I arrived to do my business. The hand dryers are modern, the TP is fully stocked, you look tan and beautiful in the mirror, and after you pee you kind of want to hang out until you have to pee again. But you don’t because you know that the next sunlit bathroom will be even better. I’ve never seen so many doors marked WOMEN in my entire life.

I can’t get over how different this is from New York. The palm trees and the blue-green ocean and the short pants are all wonderful, of course, but I could also see them on a Jumbotron in Times Square. If I looked hard enough, I might find an authentic Cuban sandwich in Manhattan. But the wealth of public restrooms is what distinguishes this city from its northern rivals. That and Gloria Estefan. But she has no need for brick and mortar facilities. She just uses the ocean, like a starfish.

I’m sorry I’m not sorry I now live in Miami

I’ve temporarily relocated to Miami, and I want to write about all the ways in which this place is paradise, but meanwhile my friends and family members are actively catching hypothermia in climates north of here, so I can’t describe paradise without sounding like I’m gloating, but on the other hand I kind of want to gloat because I can see green ocean and palm trees from the balcony of my condo, and because it’s 80 degrees and at any moment I could go swimming with the local dolphins, and I don’t think you should resent me for my change in fortune because it’s entirely possible that I froze to death a few weeks ago in Brooklyn and am now enjoying a sunny afterlife in a place masquerading as Miami, and most people would rather be cold and alive than warm and dead, so if it makes you feel any better we can all operate under the assumption that I’m deceased, or that these palm trees are fake, or that soon this entire metropolis will be underwater, and then everyone in South Florida will have to relocate to the island of Kokomo, which I found out recently doesn’t exist.

A few of Miami’s key (get it?!) elements:

1) Donald Trump

Once upon a time Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump gazed across a pristine white beach where Floridian children were playing with sea turtles and listening to the hallowed voice of the ocean through an abundance of conch shells. “I would like to erect forty thousand condos here,” Trump pronounced, “and their foundations will be strong with the crushed bones of blissful children. And I will also sell sea turtles in vending machines down by the seashore.” Two decades later Trump’s dreams have been realized. When M and I drive up or down A1A, Vanilla Ice’s beachfront avenue, the view goes like this: Trump condo, ocean, Trump condo, ocean, Trump condo, Trump condo, Trump condo, ocean, Tony Roma’s. Every evening M and I stand on our balcony and watch hundreds of ominous black vultures circle the rooftops of Trump’s extensive skyline. We think Trump commands these birds like a storybook witch. He hovers on his penthouse balcony with arms raised to the sky, calling to his pretties. But I’m sure the lobbies of his condos are quite nice. I know at least one of them has a waterfall.

2) colossal fishing boats

Every weekend a fleet of colossal fishing boats emerges from Biscayne Bay and takes to the Atlantic. These boats are usually stark white and about 20 stories high. Some of them have colorful, curly slides on their decks, which must be the chutes down which the fishermen send their catch at the end of the day. The fish spiral down into the boats’  chlorinated aquariums where they can be kept alive until they go to market. A massive crew of sailors and deep sea anglers—mostly hailing from Chicago, mostly wearing flip flops, mostly drunk and bloated—keep the boats on course in the Caribbean’s prime fishing grounds. These working fleets might strike you as old-fashioned, but many people in Florida still depend on traditional fishing boats for their livelihoods, and to feed their families, so they continue to take to the sea blaring ancient maritime Disney music.

3) nudie beach

To be frank, the primary reason I chose to rent our particular condo is because it’s directly across the street from the biggest public nudie beach in America. This means that if I veer left when walking toward the ocean, I encounter white lifeguard stands and the bathing-suited denizens of Trump’s condos, but if I veer right, I encounter pink lifeguard stands that herald all the pink, untoned flesh to come. I’m not talking about topless sunbathing either, which is a rampant and delightful custom in South Florida. I am talking about naked penises that look as if they were shrunk by evil shamans and I’m talking about jelly rolls that could have been liposuctioned from a herd of manatees. I love it all so much.

4) weird birds

M and I are determined to become ornithologists while we’re here, but only if we can juggle the binoculars and our wine glasses at the same time. This place is full of weird birds that chose to migrate south for the winter just like us. If we’re not being captivated by Trump’s avian minions, we’re watching pelicans fart in trees at the marina, or speculating about what makes the giant flocks of starlings vacate the telephone wires all at once. My favorite bird by far, however, is the one that lives in the parking lot of the shopping center where we ate Cuban sandwiches yesterday. Food was scarce because we weren’t sharing, so the bird snatched up a packet of Splenda and proceeded to jump from one car hood to another pecking wildly at the sugar, playing keep-away with the rest of the birds, and generally enjoying a decadent lunch. I never knew that birds liked artificial sweetener, but now I will be sure to bring some Equal when I go to feed the ducks.

5) tennis

I insisted on bringing our tennis rackets to Florida because I want to improve my hand-eye coordination. My mom gets beamed by every ball I throw at her and I really don’t want to end up like that. This morning M and I went to the condo’s tennis courts for the first time. We were feeling cocky because last spring we played a few matches at the only court in Brooklyn that didn’t shake us down for expensive permits and tennis decrees from the mayor and such. The court belonged to the Marcy Projects and its net was a chain link fence. Much like Jay-Z honed his rapping skills and street smarts at the same housing project, M and I both assumed that we had improved our tennis game by playing in the ‘hood. But we were not prepared for the vigorous competition of Florida retirees. Ten minutes after we arrived at the court this morning, two elderly men challenged us to a doubles match. It was a brutal defeat. I hadn’t known you were supposed to hit the ball hard, or straight across the net, or within the white lines. I’d thought tennis was a game played with gentle lobs and a lot of flirtatious teasing, but suddenly a gray-haired Austrian man was shouting “Forty-love!” and whacking balls toward my floppy sunhat. The Marcy Projects tennis court had not been the elite training ground I’d thought it to be. Those facilities will probably not host the U.S. Open anytime soon. Though if they do the security costs will be minimal because the neighborhood already boasts a strong police presence.

And now, while you manage your long underwear situation up north, I must excuse myself to go perve on the nudists. Adios, amigos.

Four unwanted pregnancies

1)

He hadn’t planned on getting pregnant. He always wore a condom, sometimes two. But when his habitual hangover queasiness extended into Sober Week, and the smells of car exhaust and Indian spices nearly brought him to his knees, he began to wonder. Could I be knocked up? The last time this happened he’d been a freshman in college and his girlfriend had been adamant that they weren’t ready. She’d offered to pay for it, which was a nice gesture. He’d always sort of regretted the abortion, but in his heart of hearts he knew she’d been right. And now, 20 years later, he still wasn’t ready. Would he ever be ready? He had two roommates, one of whom refused to turn down his music. He was supposed to go scuba diving in April, which meant bathing suits. He didn’t even know which of last month’s Tinder dates had gotten him pregnant. But he suspected it was the narcissistic, angular girl who’d just left for Europe on a four-month tour with her synth pop band, because wasn’t that always how his cookie crumbled?

2)

She was pretty sure this one was immaculate. The other two were straight-up love children, but here she felt that the devil himself had cast his semen into her. Not cool, man, she mumbled while stuffing peanut butter sandwiches into her bastards’ lunch bags. Not cool at all. The trouble with immaculate conception was the lack of child support payments. If the father were a player or even an administrator with Major League Baseball then she might consider keeping the child, just for the sake of her family as a whole. But no one was more of a deadbeat in financial matters than a divinity. You made a grave mistake, she said, looking at the cracks in the ceiling, of not giving this one to a virgin. I know my way around Planned Parenthood.

3)

Kay sat in the car outside the clinic debating whether or not to go through with her appointment. Her best friend Lonna sat beside her, credit card in hand. When you can’t afford the abortion, said Kay, is that a sign for or against having the kid? Probably against, said Lonna. Unless God is trying to prevent me from killing his creation, said Kay. You mean the creation of you and a hipster butcher and a dozen pickle back shots and two slow songs, said Lonna. Whoa, Lonna, said Kay, pressing her face against the car window, smearing the glass with her tears. Is that Adam from Girls? Walking by with that blonde chick? Holy shit it is, said Lonna. I guess that’s what happens when you put a Planned Parenthood in Downtown Brooklyn. Do you think it’s a sign? said Kay. A sign of what? said Lonna. A sign that my life is finally as rich in urban female drama as Hannah Horvath’s? Is that something you aspire to? said Lonna. Kay opened the car door so she could take a last, wistful look at Adam’s back. Let’s hurry up and get this appointment over with so I can start writing my novel.

4)

She was very short, about four feet tall, and she worried that her offspring would be short as well. Her lover had been of normal stature, but she suspected that these things tracked the female gene pool. Her kid would never outgrow his or her children’s clothes. She’d always have to buy socks with rainbows and cartoons on them. There was nothing inherently wrong with being short, but this was a tall person’s world. If only she could have sex with a giant and split the difference. Sadly there was no way she was going to give birth to someone her own size if she had a choice in the matter. She could barely reach the counter to fill out the form. She patted her belly, which was the same height as her obstetrician’s knees. It’s for your own good, she said. After the procedure, she would console herself by getting a puppy and a few outfits to go with it. It’s going to be all right, she thought, imagining all the dog apparel she could choose from.

Baby Truman Show

I’m watching him in the video monitor, but naturally he doesn’t know he’s being watched. The second you put this kid down for nap, he starts his calisthenics routine. He’s up. He’s down. He’s spinning in circles with his fists full of binkies. He’s like a chubby Gold’s Gym instructor who works out in a potato sack. This potato (a.k.a “sleep”) sack restricts the kid’s leg movements, but he’s still able to bunny hop from one side of the crib to the other. He sings the ABC song in his trademark slur. He halfheartedly calls for his grandmother, but only because he likes the sound of her name. I think about pressing the Talk button on the monitor and saying, “This is the voice of God. Stop squirming around, peepee pants.” But to this kid, God is just another adult who will have to retrieve his binkie if he throws it over the side of the crib in order to evade his nap. So the gods do not interfere with this child and his deranged projects behind bars. In thirty minutes, when the kid’s body finally goes still in the monitor, I sit and watch the lump.

The television commercial from hell

Yesterday I was rolled up in a blanket watching a mildly entertaining television program when this marketing atrocity came on the air. It started off like a prescription drug commercial or something. A white, middle-aged professional walks hand in hand with his smiling eight- or nine-year-old daughter through an affluent, suburban neighborhood. She might have a backpack on. Maybe she’s got a bow in her hair. In any case it’s a pleasant father/daughter bonding stroll, perhaps to catch the school bus, UNTIL the adolescent boys in the neighborhood catch sight of this nine-year-old girl and are suddenly whipped into a sexual frenzy. They start shaking and salivating. They’re losing their GD minds over this girl. They can’t resist chasing after her—while she’s with her father, mind you—and telling her how horny they are over the picket fence line.

At this point the burrito that is my body has gone completely frozen. Is this commercial really sexualizing a young girl? But it gets worse. Through some miracle of our digital age, the girl’s body morphs into that of a labrador puppy. On a leash. Because this whole time—joke’s on us—the father has actually been walking his female puppy, not his human daughter. And the young neighborhood rapists who were harassing the father’s human daughter actually wanted to have sex with the father’s puppy, who is apparently in heat and giving off all kinds of lustful signals. Because the rapists were also dogs, all along. And then the advertising geniuses behind this blizzard of bad ideas arrive at their triumphant message: spay your pets.

I don’t know why I should object to this commercial because it hits all the notes that usually wield a positive influence on my decisions: pedophilia, bestiality, slut-shaming, and sexism. Consider the lesson learned. If I ever have a daughter I’m going to make damn sure she doesn’t walk to school wearing some revealing cardigan sweater that might provoke the carnal appetites of neighborhood males following their instincts. My little girl can’t help being sexy as hell, but I can at least put a leash on her and sew her vagina shut. That is how things work in the animal kingdom. Spay your pets, people.

I wrote a young adult novel under a pen name and this is what I learned

A year and a half ago I signed a contract with Penguin to write a young adult novel. I chose to write the YA novel under a fake name so as to reserve my own illustrious name for the thousands of stories about sex, death, and misery that I planned to write for masochistic grownups in the future. My pseudonym—let’s call her W-2—has been trying to build a fan following in advance of her January 2015 debut by Tweeting about her boyfriend and responding warmly to teen bloggers who read the galley and pronounced it either “amazeballs” or “awesomesauce.” W-2 has sort of taken on a life of her own, which I guess is the point.

The author John Banville, who won the Man Booker Prize for his 2005 novel The Sea, also happens to write noir detective novels under the name of Benjamin Black. “If I’m Benjamin Black,” Banville once said, “I can write up to two and a half thousand words a day. As John Banville, if I write two hundred words a day I am very, very happy.” He prefers his crime fiction to his dense and poetic literary novels that tussle more with human consciousness than with bad guys. “My Banville books are attempts to be works of art,” he told The Guardian, “but because perfection can never be achieved they always ultimately fail. So when I look at my Banville books all I see are the flaws, the faults, the failures, places where I should have kept going to make a sentence better.” Literary fiction seems more about achieving an esoteric ideal (the Great American Novel, for instance), while genre fiction (crime, romance, YA) seems more about connecting with an audience. They’re almost different forms of media altogether.

In a 2011 Slate article, Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix wrote about their experience co-authoring the YA novel The Magnolia League. “[R]eaders in Y.A. don’t care about rumination,” they wrote. “They don’t want you to pore over your sentences trying to find the perfect turn of phrase that evokes the exact color of the shag carpeting in your living room when your dad walked out on your mom one autumn afternoon in 1973. They want you to tell a story.” Crouch apparently had trouble letting go of her “M.F.A. background where the rule was that good writing requires rumination, pain, and the slow loss of your best years” and embracing the “insane pace” of writing YA. This was similar to my experience. I wrote three distinct drafts of my YA novel in nine months. That’s a book every three months, which is a timetable that even Grisham doesn’t maintain. Psychologically, it was grueling. By the end of the process I felt like the worst writer in the world. But that’s only because I was thinking about it all wrong.

For the past year, when I’m at a party or something and am asked what I do for a living, I say I’m a writer. Then my boyfriend (who two-times me with W-2—the bastard) usually pipes up that I wrote a YA novel and it comes out in January and it’s going to be a big deal, etc. Though I think it’s sweet that my cheating boyfriend likes to boast about me and my future millions (sometimes he even seems to think I have a movie deal on par with The Hunger Games), I always feel sheepish when my YA book is made public like this. I thought it was because I’m somewhat insecure and I tend to downplay my accomplishments. “It’s nothing,” I’d say to counter his brags. “Just some silly kids’ book I wrote under a pseudonym.” This response left me feeling that I was betraying my novel (and how hard I had worked), and that I needed to be a better advocate for myself.

But now I don’t think it was my dismal self-esteem making me respond in such a way. I actually like the story and the characters and the message of the book. A lot. The trouble is I didn’t write it. W-2 is entirely responsible. She’s more interested in things like plot, paragraphing, following an outline, hitting the right emotional beats at the right time, getting those pages turned, etc. She doesn’t tear her hair out when a cliche sneaks into her work. She’s cool and she’s crazy about teen readers and she’ll be positively thrilled to sign your copy of her book, come January. But if I try to identify with her, I start feeling low. My whole sense of self is called into question. Being a writer is integral to who I am. But I can’t write just anything and still own that sense of “being a writer.” I can only write the stuff that comes from that rock-bottom place that would make most teenagers (and many adults) say, “WTF?” It’s nice to have met my alter ego and I will enjoy tagging along with her on book tour, but it’s like Banville said about himself and Benjamin Black: “They are two completely different writers who have two completely different processes.” In order for me to conserve my sense of self as Some Kind of Artist, I have to divorce my meager talents from W-2’s. It’s not a question of highbrow versus lowbrow or young versus old or whatever. The categories are too fluid for that. It’s a matter of “THIS IS WHO I AM” versus “This is something I wrote.” Thinking in these absolutes seems to help me. Creative desolation only strikes when I don’t know who is writing.

So I’m going to keep doing what I do and maybe W-2 will keep doing what she does (or maybe she’ll take some time off to backpack Europe with my boyfriend), but never again will I confuse the two writers. Meanwhile I can learn a lesson from the teen audiences that W-2 wants to reach. As Crouch and Hendrix point out, these young readers are “still fresh and unjaded.” They’re loyal and excited and communicative and they just want something honest to hold onto. They’re the main reason Crouch turned from the elitist world of literary fiction to YA. But it seems to me that instead of writing YA in order to connect with that tremendous audience (and its allowance money), we intermittently sophisticated grownup authors who actually enjoy describing “the exact color of the shag carpeting” should strive to treat our own and each other’s work with a comparable level of freewheeling enthusiasm. Or at least that’s the only way I can foresee Hollywood turning my Great American Novel into a four-part movie trilogy. Fingers crossed.