second acts

How My Life Changed (and Didn’t) After Writing a Book

Illustration: by Paco May

“Second Acts” is a series about making big changes later in life.

I’ve got my getaway bags packed. As soon as I wrap things up here, I’m headed south, somewhere warm. I’ll buy a house on the beach. Friends will come visit me for weeks. No, months. I’ll have houseguests and like it. Everyone will love being around me for days on end. I will glow with a sun-kissed calm. I will shimmer in the heat. I’ll lead yoga retreats at sunrise and drink green blendery things.

In my second act, when I’m done here, everything will be different because I will be different, and then my luck will change.

This is not the first time I’ve plotted my escape. The first time was years ago, on Facebook, where I created a fictional character named Duchess Goldblatt for my own entertainment. (I didn’t know it then, but creating a powerful alter ego is a recommended therapeutic exercise for people who have suffered some types of trauma. It’s a clinician’s fake-it-till-you-make-it strategy: Change your perception, change your reality.)

And in one way, that escape plan worked: First on Facebook and later on Twitter, Duchess Goldblatt became a magical, greatly beloved character, a friend to all humanity, an ongoing example of practicing loving kindness. Today she has 50,000 followers and gets adoring fan mail. She lives in a fictional utopia where the sun always shines and the moon closes every three weeks for cleaning and maintenance.

I, myself, on the other hand, ordinary corporeal carbon-based being — well, let’s just say key people have gone to court to fight for their God-given right to escape from me.

But since I’d thought my way out of myself and into a different reality once before, I leapt at the chance to do it again. “Write a book about Duchess Goldblatt,” they said. “Tell us this magical being’s origin story,” they said. I thought everything would get better (more elegant, more restful, more classically beautiful and gently sunlit) after I published the book about Duchess and me. Becoming Duchess Goldblatt was supposed to be my ticket to happier days. People would have no choice but to love me because they would love the book (and frankly, how could anyone fail to? It’s a specimen of truth, beauty, and divine light), and that would transform everything. Creative and commercial success would draw people to me again. I’d have a full social calendar again, a house full of friends again.

If Hollywood has taught me anything, it’s that I’m one big musical number away from the redemptive, transformational power of love.

“How has your life changed since you wrote the book?” someone asked recently.

Change is constant, but it’s not real, I want to say.

This is the answer I know to be true. This is not an answer I can give.

“Sure, you can get divorced if that’s what you want,” our marriage counselor said to my husband, years ago, “but you need to do the work on yourself, or you’ll be right back here in five years with your next wife.”

That was prescient, as it turned out. He’s still him, and I’m still me, and the therapist was right: His second wife didn’t last either. There’s leaving, but there’s no way out, not from yourself.

On the other hand, I’m now a person who has written and published a book, so that was a life change. I can visit it in the bookstore and give it a fond little pat. I have a secret weapon now, my agent Lucy: She’s a force for good, going ahead of me in the world, elbows out, protecting me from things she knows will hurt. That’s a life change. (Word to the wise, girls: An agent is 50 million times better than a husband.)

I’ve done the scariest thing I could ever think of: I told the truth, and not a superficial truth like my name but the deep truth of my heart. I sent my dark little secrets out into the world for strangers to poke at with sticks. That was a change. People have written me letters to tell me how much they loved Becoming Duchess Goldblatt. It gave them hope and joy. That book will outlive me, the work of Duchess Goldblatt will outlive me, and frankly, that’s just as well. She can take better care of everyone than I can. She’ll stay here and run things, and I’ll slip out and escape to my new house on the beach. The beach house is pretend, a beautiful fleeting mirage, but so is she. And so am I.

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How My Life Changed (and Didn’t) After Writing a Book