The publication of a book—my new novel, Why She Went Home, officially came out yesterday—is a serious nonevent. Unlike the launch of movie or theater performance, there's no premiere to mark its entry into the world—no curtain rising, no audience hooting and clapping. Instead, it simply appears one day on a table or shelf at Barnes & Noble, crowded between two other books with equally bold graphics, promising equally riveting reading experiences. Unless you happen to catch someone leafing through it, smiling and shaking his or her head in sympathy with your characters—I never have—it's a fairly empty vision to behold. Or, at least, it was for me today, when I walked into the B&N on Fifth Avenue and 48th Street and discovered two years' labor marooned on the upper reaches of the "New Fiction" shelf.
The real way you know your book has entered the public domain is that you start to get e-mails from old friends and acquaintances with whom you've been out of touch (usually for a reason) for several years. "Ohmigod, I saw a review of your book in ____! Congratulations! You must be so excited." These enthusiastic declarations are typically followed by pat, semi-believable summaries of all that has transpired since you last met. (Little Connor was born in August 2002! Institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia in September 2003!) Next comes an expression of ardent desire that the two of you meet for a catch-up drink and SOON—a proposal to which you naturally agree (how can you not?), knowing/praying that, in all likelihood, the rendezvous will never take place.
In case you couldn't tell, I was in a crabby mood all day. No doubt it was attributable to the anticlimax that accompanies all anticipated days, which inevitably reveal themselves to be not so different from those that took place last month and the month before that. (Maddeningly, the same person insists on staring back at us in the mirror.)
Meanwhile, my umbrella plant has been wilting and graying since the day I brought it home from the Altantic Garden Center, three months ago. At the same time, it refuses to die. Sometimes, I wish it would. I have tried putting it in direct sunlight, in partial sunlight, in the shade. I have watered it and not watered it. I was told it could grow to the ceiling, but it has not budged an inch or grown a single new leaf. Today, I got it into my head that the real problem with my umbrella plant was that it was too low to the ground. I decided to prop it up on my tea table. However, the floor is uneven and I couldn't find the center of gravity. I kept moving it from side to side. Finally, I gave up, put the plant back on the floor, and discovered that I had scratched up the surface of my tea table. Which irritated me even further.
Midday, I went to the midtown office of the private nonprofit foundation for which I perform administrative duties two afternoons per week. I photocopied applications for fellowships. It was a nice distraction from books and plants.
I also went to my local elementary school to vote. Election employees aside, the auditorium was completely empty, leading me to believe that no one with anything better to do (unlike me, I guess) bothers to vote in primaries. It was also the first time in my life that I've ever entered the booth without knowing in advance which candidate I would vote for. Of course, if I'd had any reason to believe that my vote actually mattered, I might have given the matter more thought. However, it was clear to me even yesterday that Kerry was going to be our Democratic nominee. So I decided to make it about hair (which seems to me as important an issue as any other, with the possible exception of the war in Iraq, which I'm still mad at Kerry and Edwards for supporting). But back to the important stuff: At one end of the spectrum, we have Kerry and Sharpton and their indefatigable poufs—at the other, Dennis Kucinich and his barely tenable comb-over/rug. In hair, as in politics, I've tried to avoid extremes, so I voted for Edwards, whose high-school valedictorian 'do has a fairly average consistency. Not too thick, not too thin. Also, I liked his populist message about two Americas.
I'm just not sure I belong to either one of them.
In the evening, I guiltily skipped the Soho dinner party to which I'd R.S.V.P.'d—a "Women in the Arts" event involving some degree of potluck. I wasn't feeling very artistic, and I had no casserole to contribute. I decided to have a quiet night in with the boyfriend and work on my Slate Diary!