Jayma Anne Montgomery
Jayma's Inner Universe of Madness
You may or may not be aware but I recently published my first book. I am no Ta-Nehisi Coates, but I am committed enough to the craft of storytelling to commit myself to the lifelong process of learning how to do it better than the time before, every single time. There are other writers out there who excel at genres that I do not. I also respect the craft enough to get out of the way of those who execute those genres better than I do and stick to what I do best.
Ok, that's enough prefacing.
I spent the better part of eight solid months grinding away at this book. I made a conscious effort to scale back my medical life to part-time. In my head, I was reducing my workload by 50%. In reality, I probably reduced it by 15-20%. It's better than not at all. Give a girl some credit for at least making a solid effort.
I blogged consistently for over a year, something I have tried and failed at many times over the course of my adult life. I throw in a master's degree in creative writing, not because I am clinically insane, but because I want the benefit of being taught and critiqued by professional, experienced writers who have no interest in shameless flattery or indiscriminate cruelty.
Amidst cartoonish hijinx and unforeseen delays, the book went live on April 19th, mere days before the book launch event. Did I neglect to mention this visionary vanguard? It was this massive feat of event planning involving many layers of merchandise creation, event print content, marketing, media, and bringing together various people to tackle things that I had the good sense to recognize were far outside of my wheelhouse.
I hired a PR strategist and enlisted friends and family to help with running the event, setting up the live stream, taking photos, making a video, checking people in, handing out swag, making sure food and drinks were in adequate rotation, giving out raffle prizes, etc, etc, ad infinitum.
Fast forward to the following morning. I woke up feeling equal parts hung over (it was an alcohol-free event) and like I was coming down with COVID for the third time (I wasn't). I was completely hoarse, epically exhausted, and aching down to my toenails. As I proceeded with my day, then ensued a series of emotional breakdowns the likes of which not even the wonders of my beloved SNRI could counteract. The events of the day prior were almost entirely a blur. I couldn't recall entire conversations or key moments. There were some silent short films on instant replay in my mind and a particularly jarring memory of reading an excerpt from the book that was honestly the most vulnerable and terrifying feeling I have had in a long time. I felt exposed and regretful. What in the world had I done??? I might as well have done this thing buck-naked while juggling purple poodles. Full-fledged panic attacks and an anxiety black-out are what we call that, folks. Apparently, I had demanded a lot of myself, and my mind and body had effectively short-circuited in protest. Fair deal.
This is my best attempt to explain this bewildering phenomenon: In the Broadway musical Wicked, the opening number of Act II sums it up beautifully. In this number, Glinda the Good Witch leads the surprisingly nuanced song "Thank Goodness."
Consider the closing set of lyrics:
That's why I couldn't be happier. No, I couldn't be happier, Though it is, I admit The tiniest bit Unlike I anticipated. But I couldn't be happier, Simply couldn't be happier, Well, not "simply" 'Cause getting your dreams It's strange, but it seems A little, well, complicated.
There's a kind of a sort of cost. There's a couple of things get lost. There are bridges you cross You didn't know you crossed Until you've crossed!
And if that joy, that thrill Doesn't thrill like you think it will Still-- With this perfect finale, The cheers and the ballyhoo! Who wouldn't be happier? So I couldn't be happier, Because happy is what happens When all your dreams come true.
Well, isn't it?
This is such a fantastic example of art imitating life to a tee. Glinda portrays toxic positivity, self-deceit, and the exhausting performance we expect of our public figures, note perfect. She has a coveted title, power, an adoring public, and has secured an engagement to the man of her dreams. She instinctively knows how to soak up the victory in the limelight, but her song betrays that she is actually miserable.
The cost of this victory is the loss of her best friend, remaining silent while this friend is openly slandered for the benefit of her ambitions, and orchestrating marriage to a man who is clearly no longer in love with her for reasons she is yet unaware. Wow, right? And also, that outfit is just breathtaking! I might need to borrow it for book launch #2 (which will definitely roll out in a much less extravagant fashion than book #1).
Anyway, like Glinda, I'm learning (not for the first time) that "happy" isn't what happens when all your dreams come true. Dreams are short-sighted because they have no basis in reality. They cannot and do not account for inherent consequences. Having a book with my pen name stamped on it is just the end result. It's the process behind it that truly matters.
I faced down my inner critic, many of my inner demons, and the lie that my traumatic experiences required me to believe in order to remain lord and master over my life--that I needed to remain silent about it all. The book was never the prize--the healing that took place because of the book was and still is.
But the built-in cost that I couldn't possibly have calculated is the tremendous psychospiritual backlash. And it ain't over. In fact, this is only the beginning. And so friends, I can now unreservedly tell you that "happy" is what happens when you stop looking to your outcomes and your circumstances to determine your self-worth. Happiness is always temporary and we should enjoy it while it lasts. But choosing to be joyful amidst the fallout of this triumph is what will last. My joy rests in my faith in a just, compassionate G-d who has transformed my terrors into a breathtaking work of art. This isn't me bragging. The book is good and I'm darn proud of it. I couldn't be humbler--and I couldn't be happier.