Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hi, I'm Jacqueline

Crappy Polaroid photo of me, courtesy of Rock Star Daddy

My first impression of Jacqueline was ditzy, not because of what she had to say, but because of her mannerisms. I had yet to read her excellent memoir. She sat on a panel about finding your “hook” at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It was May 2011 when she shared wisdom with eager onlookers who hoped to glean information that might guide us on a similar path to literary success. I took notes. I always take notes. At the time, I had braved a few online creative writing workshops, but I hadn’t written my essay collection. I wouldn’t do that for three more years.

“My novel was pulled out of the slush pile,” she said. “I sold it and the memoir together. Just write a query letter and send it out. With nonfiction, you don’t have to have the whole thing done. Write a kickass proposal. Ask an agent to see a good book proposal before you write one.”

I probably nodded my head and thought, Good. I can get a book deal before I actually write a book.

Four years later, this thought is laughable. I did not take the advice that worked for her. I wrote my whole essay collection and am still editing it. No agent has seen it, and I haven’t started writing my book proposal yet. I want my book to be as complete as possible before I send out a query. That’s just how I roll. Everyone’s process is different, and that’s okay.

But then she said something that stuck with me, and until I perused my notes recently, I hadn’t remembered it was she who’d said it—a mantra I found myself repeating as a I tackled the scary task of laying out my love life on paper in all its gory, unflattering detail.

“It’s freeing to give up privacy. Write your book as if no one is going to read it. I tricked myself until the last minute into sharing stuff that’s really hard,” Jacqueline said.

It’s that middle sentence that got me: Write it as if no one is going to read it. I listened. I did that. In some small way, I have Jacqueline to thank for what my essay collection is in the process of becoming: honest, gritty, and sometimes unapologetic. I still don’t think the public is actually going to read it, but I have every intention of publishing it—someday. I, too, am tricking myself.

After that first panel, I read Jacqueline’s memoir. I was impressed and pleasantly surprised. (I haven’t read her novel.)

I encountered her again, this time face-to-face. In the beginning of 2013, she guest taught a personal essay class I was attending at UCLA. Jacqueline happened to be a dear comrade of my instructor, who has since become both a good friend and a life-changing mentor. We’ll call her Fairy Godmother. On the day Jacqueline visited our intimate group, we writers had already bonded. I’d become particularly close with a beautiful, witty student eight years my senior. I was friends with her for about a month before I realized I’d seen her on the big screen before. I didn’t recognize her; she doesn’t wear makeup off camera. I only thought of her as my hysterical buddy who speaks her mind, not as the ‘90s cult classic she is.

She and I sat next to each other during every class after we both showed up carrying backpacks like teenagers on the first day. We were an hour early and waited nervously in the hallway, teacher’s pets before ever meeting the teacher. We’ll call my new model-actor friend A List.

I brought my copy of Jacqueline’s memoir to have her sign it when I knew she was coming to class. When I approached her, I introduced myself.

“Hi, I’m Jacqueline,” she said.

“I saw you on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books,” I said. “Would you sign your book for me?”

She obliged.

I told her I, too, write about my romantic entanglements, and my goal was to complete an essay collection. This is what she inscribed on the title page:

“February 2013
To Chelsey – Some girls kiss and tell. Can’t wait to read yours!
Best wishes,

I have amassed quite a collection of signed books, so I was happy to have this interaction with her.

I saw Jacqueline at the book festival again a couple months later. This time she was on a fiction panel. I don’t write fiction, but I attended because I wanted to gather more juicy nuggets from her triumphs. For some reason, I was fascinated with Jacqueline. Maybe it was the way she pulled off looking “expensive” while wearing jeans, or projected “girly” in a flowery dress, despite a blanket of tattoos. Maybe it was the petite nose ring or long, wavy brown hair. Or maybe it was that I was jealous because we’re the same age and she’s widely published, and I’m not—not yet.

In my notes from this second literary panel, she said, “Treat the most despicable characters with compassion,” and “start from the ending.”    

The following August, when my 10-week UCLA class was long over, A List and I went to Fairy Godmother’s birthday party together. We got there first, just like at school. Jacqueline was second to walk through the door. She brought her rock star husband and their young son. She saw A List sitting on the couch next to me.

“Hiiii-yeeee,” she said to my blonde friend, like they’d been best friends for years. Jacqueline had only ever seen A List during that one class period when she filled in for Fairy G.

A List gave me a quizzical look.

“I don’t think she knows me,” she whispered out of the side of her mouth.

Jacqueline turned to me.

“Hi, I’m Jacqueline.”

“Yes, we’ve met before. I’m Chelsey. I was in Fairy Godmother’s class too.”

“Oh yeah!” she said.

“Maybe she just remembers me from TV or something,” A List said when Jacqueline was out of earshot.

Before others arrived, the party was awkward. Trying to be polite, I bent over and asked Jacqueline’s son, “What’s your name?”

“Leave him alone and he’ll be your best friend later,” Rock Star Daddy demanded in a bitter tone.

A List and I shot each other another look, our eyes wide.

Okay, Rock Star Daddy is mean. Stay away from him.

But I knew these people had to be nice because they were friends with Fairy G and her husband, the nicest people on the damn planet. So I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and they warmed up.

I ended up having a nice chat with Jacqueline about her two-year-long adoption process. She was open about their struggles. She explained emotional details. It was a deep topic for light party conversation. By the end of the afternoon, Rock Star Daddy and Jacqueline both hugged me.

“Nice to meet you,” she said.

“Nice to see you again,” I replied.

On a sunny afternoon soon after, I had sushi with A List, and as we were walking to a chocolate store afterward, I mentioned something about Jacqueline’s memoir.

A List stopped walking and put her hand on my arm to get something straight.

“We hate her, right?” she asked.

I could only laugh.

Next, Fairy G asked me and A List to attend a cozy, invite-only literary event hosted by Jacqueline and her friend, who is set to be played by an Academy Award winner in the movie version of her memoir. The party was held at an author’s home who works for the LA Times and just published her fourth book. 

The invitation excited me with its list of credentialed women. I was being invited into an inner sanctum to which I longed to someday belong. I would get to be part of the cool kids, if only for an afternoon.

It was May 24, 2014, and I was two months away from finishing the first draft of my essay collection, which I’d started in January, exactly one year after I met Fairy G. I would be surrounded by brilliant, funny women who used phrases like “my agent” and “my publicist” and “optioned,” women who’d had essays in The New York Times “Modern Love” or Salon or any other top-rated publication for people who write the kinds of material I like. These were my people. Plus, there would be mimosas.

I walked into the host home alone. I had been waiting outside for Fairy G and A List but had gotten eager. I walked up to Jacqueline to say hi and thank her for having us.

“Hi, I’m Jacqueline,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Yes, we’ve met before. I’m Chelsey. I’m friends with Fairy G. I was at her birthday party. You know, with A List?”

“Oh yeah!” she said.

When Fairy G and A List arrived, Jacqueline ran up to them and said, “Hiiiii-yeee.”

I was starting to wonder what it was about me that didn’t strike a chord. While I don’t always remember names, I remember faces. How could she not at least remember my face? Is it because I don’t have an IMDB page or a best seller? I wondered.

“Jacqueline introduced herself to me today,” I said to Fairy G later when we were eating fancy do-it-yourself salads and fresh fruit.

“Are you kidding?” she asked.

Three months later, Fairy G invited me and A List to a literary salon of the same name, only this time at Jacqueline’s house. I again walked into the female writer fest alone. Jacqueline’s house was beautiful. The living room and kitchen can only be described as one wing of what looked to be a multistory structure on a hill overlooking a pool that could either have been hers or the neighbor’s. I couldn’t be sure. In any case, it was spacious and modern, the very definition of “open concept.” I walked straight up to Jacqueline again to greet her.

“Hi, I’m Jacqueline,” she said.

“Yes, we’ve met,” I said. “I’m Chelsey. Fairy G and A List are on their way.”

“Oh yeah!” she said.

I poured myself a mimosa and piled up another free plate of fancy gourmet catered brunch and waited to be enlightened during another Q & A session, this time with a hilarious woman I’d just seen on Bill Maher.

“Guess what?” I asked Fairy G later when we were outside avoiding the escalating crowd noise.

“Jacqueline introduced herself to me again today.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she asked.

Jacqueline’s light bulb had only gone on when I mentioned A List. Is it because, unlike A List, I have never been on Girls? Is it because my biggest claim to fame is a former Batman asking me about Facebook and Twitter at a birthday party, or the time Gretzky bought me three martinis? I guess that puts me somewhere down on the K list—or at least K list-adjacent. A List had broken up Ross and Rachel. She’d kissed Ben Stiller. Adam Sandler had screamed at her to get out of his Van Halen t-shirt. Is that why Jacqueline remembered her?

And really, who the fuck cares? A List doesn’t. So why do I? I enjoy Jacqueline’s literary events, but aside from writing, and that I’ve seen her husband’s band more than once, I don’t think we have all that much in common. I have met interesting women because of her whom I connect with more than I obviously connect with her, so why is it important that Jacqueline remembers me, at least enough to ask, “What’s your name again?”

Jealousy is a bitch.

This January, Fairy G invited me and A List to Jacqueline’s winter party. This time I brought a friend, a like-minded writer who, like me, has yet to get a book deal. My friend and I parked far from the party. We were in Silverlake, after all, and it was raining. We trudged up a hill with umbrellas to Jacqueline’s office and were greeted by Rock Star Daddy. He was friendlier this time—and child-free.

“Hello! Welcome to the party!” he said.

“That’s Jacqueline’s husband,” I whispered.

“I know,” my friend said.

I had warned her in advance that Jacqueline never remembers me.

We walked up to Jacqueline.

“Hi, I’m Jacqueline,” she said, smiling.

I placed her hand inside both of mine firmly and looked intently into her eyes.

“We’ve met before. I’m Chelsey. I’m friends with Fairy G and A List.”

“Oh yeah! Out of context…” she said.

We couldn’t be any more IN context, I thought. You follow me on Instagram. We’re facebook friends. I’ve been to your house. You’ve probably read the one essay I have in print; it’s in Fairy G’s anthology.

Men have fallen in love with me with fewer run-ins.

I was starting to think maybe my first impression of her was more correct than what her insightful writing style suggests.

My friend and I found the largest room in the office, Jacqueline’s workspace, sipped red wine, and snacked on vinegar potato chips. Instead of talking to the cool kids, we nervously stuck to our own corner. It was like a segregated junior high school lunchroom until our backup arrived. In the spacious room overlooking a busy street was a long table with stacks of books for sale. The authors were in the hallway chatting with other seemingly important, talented people. I noticed an essay collection I currently had on my nightstand.

“I have this one, but I haven’t read it yet,” I said to my friend.

The sullen teenage boy who sat next to the calculator and credit card machine said, “That’s my mom’s book. But her other one is better.”

I fully intended to purchase the “better” book, but he disappeared early, presumably because he was bored. So did Rock Star Daddy. For the same reason, I suspect.

I kept staring at that collection of pretty books all night, thinking about all the other books I’d bought at Jacqueline’s functions. There’s always a table of delicious books for me to ravage.

One day my book will be on that table, I thought. Then she’ll remember me.

Suddenly, this became a goal, a remote, but achievable one.

A List and Fairy G arrived.

“Hiiii-yeeee,” Jacqueline said.

She grabbed A List and yelled, “Selfie!”

Jacqueline held up her phone to take a photo. In fact, she took photos of herself with everyone in the room but me. I know this because I saw her Instagram feed later. I’m ashamed to say I “liked” a couple of them.

Her husband did, however, take a photo of me with his fancy Polaroid camera when I wasn’t looking. It’s terrible, but I kept it. (See above.)

“Guess what?” I asked Fairy G. “Jacqueline introduced herself to me again tonight.”

Fairy G put her hands over her face.

“Oh my god,” she said.

“Every time she introduces herself to you, a piece of me dies inside,” A List later said.

But Jacqueline and I made a little progress that night in her suite-mate’s adjoining, claustrophobic office. She remembered my name long enough to introduce me to someone else at the party, about five minutes. Then, at the end of the soirĂ©e, I told her, “I’m going to your next salon.” (I am now officially on her email list.)

“Oh good!” she said. She then revealed the super-special-secret guest for the salon after the next salon: a famous person married to another famous person.

When I show up to Jacqueline’s house next week, I might walk up to her and say, “Hi, Jacqueline,” so our usual dialogue is rendered impossible. No matter. Like I said, one day, when my book is on her table, she’ll be chummy.

Jacqueline is releasing her second memoir soon. I have every intention of reading it, and dammit, I’ll probably like it. I will continue to read her blog too. Because it’s good. Despite her inability to find me important enough to recall, I am grateful for her written words and the advice she’s given that has resonated with me.

I wrote this essay the way she would have wanted—like it won’t be read—because I know she’ll never read it.