Ten Years for apt by Josh Cook
According to some generational rubrics, my life is the same as it was ten years ago. I work for the same company, I have the same partner, and I live in the same apartment. The activities that define my daily life are the same. I still get up around 9am, write, wash dishes, eat, internet, shower, and then I still walk to Porter Square Books for my shift—either on the floor or in the office—and then walk home, eat, leisure, and, when my partner goes to bed, I still read, write, and watch sports until about 2am when I go to bed. My partner has had six or seven jobs in that time, and, according to what I remember of the professional peregrinations of my other friends, that’s about average. Every friend I can think of has moved at least once in the past decade, some into houses they purchased, others just into different living situations, and others into new cities and states to follow personal, education, or professional opportunities. Some friends had children. Some got married. Some got divorced. Some got graduate degrees. Job and apartment shuffling is the new settling down. And then there’s me, living exactly the same now as when my first story appeared in apt.
Everything is different.
My first novel was published and my father died.
Change is constant. The shedding of skin. The trimming of fingernails. The thinning of hair. The whole every seven years every cell in your body has been replaced so you’re essentially a different person thing. I have a different desk, a USB buckle-spring keyboard, a farm share, a new laptop, a cat. I cut off my pony tail. I shaved my beard. Whatever night dreams do to you both as individual experiences and as an accumulation of experience and whatever daydreams do to you both as individual experiences and as an accumulation of experience. The legal definition of my relationship with my partner changed. I’ve been to Australia and New Zealand. New Orleans, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Kansas City. I’ve read books and played video games and watched movies and TV shows. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup. I’ve met people. I’ve written stories, poems, essays, book reviews, blog posts, letters, and, all the notes and wonderings and ramblings I sometimes need to make that other stuff go. I abandoned two novels, I started two novels, I finished one. Every word remains. Those shed cells of seven-year selves are just old drafts stored in folders and drawers for eventual sale to university libraries as archives of being.
Ten years ago was before I published my first book. Ten years ago was before my father died. Both of these slashes on my timeline, these demarcations, these definitive events, happened within about three weeks of each other during the snowiest winter I’ve experienced. This convergence was perfectly random. Publishing is slow but the arc of my publication was relatively fast. Cancer can be slow or fast and my dad’s cancer was faster than expected. And weather doesn’t give a fuck. If any human influence can be attributed to the fuck-ton of snow dropped on Boston last year, it belongs to the oil and coal barons of the 20th century and the politicians they bought.
I can now organize the events in my writing life into before and after March 3, 2015. I don’t grunt with envy when someone younger than me gets a contract. I don’t wonder how such a piece of fucking garbage could end up on a shelf when my work couldn’t. I’m not terrified by the thought of assessing my past decade. I don’t tell myself stories about what I’ll say when I perform on my first book tour. I use phrases like “my editor” and “my publicist,” and I need to alert reviews editors to potential conflicts of interest. People ask me about my book. People tell me about my book. A book club read my book. A book club! At least two people have read my book twice. Twice! People find tactful phrases for asking how many copies have sold. Now I can worry about year-end lists, longlists, shortlists, and awards while fundamentally not caring if my book ends up listed or awarded because the definition of insanity is holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and you’ve got to be crazy to be a writer. And let me tell you, “second book anxiety” is a weird fucking animal.
Or maybe I can draw the line on October 4, 2013 when I got my first email saying Melville House was interested. Or the day I signed the contract. Or the day they signed the contract. Or the NEIBA 2014 tradeshow authors’ cocktail reception when I saw a physical copy of the galley for the first time. Or a couple of days later when I got home and clutched the galley to my chest and cried because it was a physical thing and it was mine and it was real. Or maybe when I turned in my final proofs and could never write or change another word in the book ever again. In a way, given that we are, in part, the collection of others’ perceptions of us, you could even draw the line on March 3, 2015 at 7:04pm when I was introduced for the first time as the author of An Exaggerated Murder.
Later that night was the first time I really wept over my father. Diagnosis, treatment, decent assessment, treatment, bad assessment, palliative treatment, trip to hospice, phone call from my mom, second phone call from my mom, drive through the snow snarled streets of metro Boston to the snow snarled streets of Lewiston/Auburn, death, getting back home from hospice after death, celebration of life months later on July 15th once the snow had finally gone and you could actually travel in New England. I designed, organized, and spoke at the celebration of my father’s life, and one of the other times I wept was when I got home to Somerville the next day.
Everyone’s dad dies. We should all be prepared and yet we’re almost never prepared. I have no idea what it means to have published a novel.
So even demarcations in one’s life as definitive as death and publication are really a series of different events and decisions and happenings and random shit that you organize in your mind because your mind needs to organize shit. It’s only when we pull our perspective back a certain distance that a series of occurrences coalesces into a point. An essay like this is an act of walking backwards until the appropriate focus is acquired.
Of course, if you keep going, it all disappears anyway.
Josh Cook is the author of An Exaggerated Murder published by Melville House in March 2015. His fiction and other work has appeared in The Coe Review, Epicenter Magazine, The Owen Wister Review, Barge, Plume Poetry Anthology 2012 and 2013, and elsewhere. He was a finalist in the 2011 and 2012 Cupboard Fiction Contest. His criticism has appeared in The Huffington Post Books, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Fiction Advocate, Bookslut, The Millions, and The Rumpus. He is a bookseller with Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA.