September 12, 2009 by The Citron Review
by Jennifer Rhodes
I don’t care if it sucks, if my book sells or if you bother to read it.
The point is; I am writing a book. Ultimately, I just need to feel important or, at the very least, more important than you. So while writing a book is a daunting task— the creative energy, query letters, constant rejection, revisions etc.—I am willing to endure all of it if only for the simple fact that, at the end of the day, I’ll have the distinct pleasure of bragging to others that I have a book and they don’t.
I am well aware of the fact that I am a total loser who feigns self- importance through sarcasm and contrived superiority. Let’s review the facts: I have a grand total of three friends in the city where I live. I am unemployed and, after working at seven schools in six years, I think it’s safe to say that I have been unsuccessful in my career as a high school teacher. My familial relationships can best be described as tumultuous and conversations with the family members vary in intensity and volume depending on whether or not I’ve taken my antidepressant cocktail that day. The cherry on top would be that I live in the crappiest city on earth, Cincinnati, Ohio, its only redeeming qualities being that Lil Wayne impregnated a girl here and wore a Reds hat in his video for “Lollipop”. Actually, let me correct that—I don’t even live in the crappiest city. I live in a crappy suburb of the crappiest city which, if you do the math, makes where I live the pinnacle of crap.
But if I could say I had authored a book. Allow me illustrate my point with a short story:
A few weeks ago I attended a dinner with my husband, some dentists for whom he was interviewing and their wives. While passing around the breadbasket, one of the wives asked what I did for a living. I temporarily panicked and, for a split second, contemplated chucking the rolls at her head or knocking over my water glass to cause distraction thereby making everyone forget about the topic at hand. I couldn’t tell the truth: that what I actually “did” was watch Maury Povich read paternity test results, have conversations with my dog and eat ice cream by the half gallon. ‘Unemployed’ sounded lame and, although I recognize that I am lame, or perhaps because of this, the line slipped out before I could stop it, like word vomit. “I’m working on my book.”
The look of astonishment and approval was evident in the faces of my dinner hosts, as was the look of embarrassment and horror in my husband’s eyes. The-Oh shit. Here she goes again. What the hell is she going to say this time- look.
“Really…a book! What about?” One of the wives inquired. I expected silence, but I got curiosity.
“Oh all kinds of stuff. Uh—teaching stuff. Because I used to be a teacher. Yeah. Teaching stuff.”
“Oh that’s fascinating. I’d love to read some of it sometime. Have you spoken with anyone about getting it published?”
“Oh, yes. Yes I have.” I nodded enthusiastically while stuffing a roll in my mouth to buy myself some time while chewing. “I just met with some publishers in LA.” The lie slipped out before I could stop myself. It felt like a lie, but it was true. I just left out a few details.
I attended a panel scheduled by a university where a few LA-based agents and publishers (OK, publisher, not plural) participated in a Q&A session. I was there. Agents were there. A publisher was there. I asked a question. No, that’s a lie. But I did raise my hand. Actually, I was there, and so were they, and it was a meeting. Technically what I was saying was the equivalent of a first grader insisting that he’d interviewed with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company because he’d come to his classroom for career day.
What’s important was how into me these people were after I mentioned I was writing a book. At the table of educated, employed, professionals, I was the fascinating one. The dentists ignored my husband. Their attention was on me, and my book. Steaks went uneaten, ice melted in vodka. Dinner cooled. Guests interrupted each other, vying for—demanding— my attention.
“Would you get to go on a book tour and do signings and things?”
“Would there be a big picture of you on the back cover like Danielle Steele?”
I’ve used the Danielle Steele line on a regular basis, incorporating it into my repertoire whenever I speak.
“Oh really, it’s nothing,” I coo to my parents’ friends.
“It’s about my career teaching in the inner-city,” I inform the Starbucks barista.
“I’ve only written 100 pages so far,” I tell my husband’s seven-year-old cousin.
The humility tactic impresses people. It worked well when, at a wedding, I talked with three employed teachers. I tried to be tactful, but my insecurity took hold. I couldn’t squelch the need to posture. “Oh I used to teach but I’m not now. Just writing my book.” They all stared at me. They were in silent awe.
I have been doing this for years: accomplishing things in order to brag about it later. In High school, I gave Javon Lewis a blowjob in the school hallway and I don’t even like giving blowjobs. I did a marathon so I could announce that I did a marathon. I don’t tell people that I walked the whole thing. “I did a marathon,” I say and post pictures of myself at the finish line.
Now that I have gotten myself into this web of lies, I’m going to have to see it through. I’ve bragged about things I’ve already accomplished, but this time my big-ass mouth wrote a check and I’m going to have to cash it. Starting now.
Jennifer Rhodes is an oft-fired, rogue high school teacher, an amateur pole dancer and a wannabe writer pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Antioch University, Los Angeles. When not sharing too much personal information through her short stories, breaking up fights in school hallways or dangling upside down on her pole, Jenn can be found spoiling her dog, Jimmy Choo. Her creative work has appeared in Cin Weekly and The Battered Suitcase. She is also a contributing writer for In The Know Traveler. Jenn is currently at work on her first manuscript, a collection of comedic essays.