I wrote in a blog post recently about how exposed parenting makes you feel. I said there were a lot of phrases out there to describe what it was like to be a parent — walking around with your underwear on outside your clothes, or letting your heart go traipsing about outside your body.
This is also more or less what it feels like to release a book into the world. So unless you are the sort of person who’s never been fazed by having your internal organs go on junkets, or who would just as soon give a speech in your underwear as fully dressed, you have to find some defense mechanisms for dealing with book releases — particularly if, as I did this month, you have two in rapid succession. My defense was to watch romantic comedies back-to-back on Netflix streaming.
It was pretty successful, both as a defense, and purely as a form of entertainment. I’m not sure I can even remember all the ones I watched, but two stuck with me, and both, it turns out, were at least in part about what it takes to be a writer and to expose one’s self in the world. Also, they were both exactly the sort of romantic comedy that’s perfect for streaming on Netflix—too offbeat to win over theater audiences, the kind of sweet-but-bizarre indie mess you have to either love or hate — in short, totally Wonktastic.
The first was The English Teacher, starring Julianne Moore and Greg Kinnear. It’s the story of an uptight, self-contained high school English teacher whose life has gone on unchangingly in that mode until one of her ex-students, a playwright, comes back to town. There is so much that’s delightfully surreal and downright wonked in this film — from a meet cute that includes pepper spray to a love triangle that would make diehard genre readers weep and throw the book against the wall.
Part of why I loved this movie so much was that it reminded me that not every story has to be a blockbuster. Sometimes there is a story that is just so silly and cute that it makes you smile. It doesn’t make everybody smile. It makes some people mad, even. But it makes you smile, and it improves your day, and this — I have always said — is why I bother to tell stories. So in the midst of all the release madness, this was not only a fun movie to watch, but also a reminder that telling a story has value that makes the stress of putting it out there in the world worth it—a thousand times over.
A few days later, I watched My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, which incongruously (to me, a child of the 80s) stars Alyssa Milano. The premise of this movie is that a woman who has resisted love for too long suddenly finds herself meeting two perfect men in one day (one is a goofy aspiring writer, the other a handsome, successful businessman). This movie has a love triangle so thorny, you spend almost the entire movie wondering how it could possibly work out. I am here to tell you that it does, and that, as is Wonk’s wont, its resolution will make half of you smile and half of you scream. (Hint: They don’t live happily ever after as a threesome.)
When I first started watching this movie, which includes a disturbingly realistic agent rejection of the aspiring writer character, I didn’t think I was going to be able to hack it. I don’t watch romantic comedies to be reminded of the reality of my life. But it was just so cute, Alyssa Milano so surprisingly good at what she was doing, and one of the two romances so beautiful to watch unfold, that I forgave it for reminding me about the career I was trying not to think about. Plus — it contains a twist that maybe everybody else on earth saw coming, but that — as a writer — I just loved so hard.
Watching these movies on Netflix also reminded me of the long tail stories have now. Once upon a time, if you made a movie that no one watched, that was the end of it. But now stories have a long life out there—on Netflix, on Hulu, as indie books on Amazon, and of course, all the places pirates steal and hide them, for better or for worse. It’s like the sound we send out into the universe, hoping that long after we’ve recorded it, some form of sentient life on a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away will hear it, pull signal from static, and know it’s not alone.
Watching those two goofy, imperfect, romantic comedies, I was above all aware I had company in the universe. Deeply relieved. And suddenly possessed of a renewed conviction about the importance of pouring words out into the void, because when the scrap of a human voice reaches the right ear days or weeks, months or years or millennia later, it makes a difference. To one, single, solitary, you, at that one, perfect, receptive moment. You are not alone.
Everything else, all the difficulties, the stresses, the sense of exposure—it’s just static.