In my second work-in-progress novel (WIP2) the main protagonist utters the following phrase: “A responsible adult should be taking care of this, not me!” It’s not a good thing when a fictional character speaks with the writer’s voice, but Gareth and me are in 100% agreement over this. Gareth, by the way, is 32. I am 40.

When I was 10 years old, I couldn’t wait to be a Grown Up Man. My mom would buy the most delicious sweets – chocolate-covered marshmallows – and give me one a day. Perhaps two if it was a holiday. (For sake of transparency, that was Communist Poland and getting more sweets wasn’t as simple as popping out to the corner store, but try and explain this to a 10-year-old.) I promised myself that one day when I’d become An Adult I was going to buy myself those marshmallows and eat the whole box in one go. Twenty-five years later, after an exceptionally heavy shift at the forge I opened a brand new box of exactly the same marshmallows, and started eating them mindlessly. I made it through half a box until I began to feel sick. Clear proof that adulthood sucks – as a child I would also have gotten sick, but I would have enjoyed it.

When I was 12, I had my first crush. He was an old man, 20 years old, doing all the adult things like being photographed with a motorbike, wearing a leather jacket, being scruffy, hangin’ tough. He was Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids On The Block. Just LOOK at this chunk of a hunk! (Unfortunately I failed to find a photo with the jacket, the bike, AND the scruff all featured at the same time.) Sometimes he even wore a bandanna. I came off Donnie pretty quickly though once I laid my eyes on Seal. Holy Monopoly, THAT was a gorgeous man, even if he was somewhat decrepit (26 years old at the time). But he was such an adult, making music videos with his own music in them, wearing leather, being the God Of The Wilderness decades before Justin Timberlake recorded a song called “Flannel”. Seal gave heartfelt interviews where he spoke of his journeys to find his true self, and I read every word religiously twenty times until I could quote them. (No. I don’t remember them 26 years later. But if you need someone to quote every single Paula Abdul lyric, just let me know.) My true and deep love for Seal lasted until the moment he got rid of his dreadlocks. I was devastated. He didn’t even ask! But hey, he was an adult, and adults didn’t need permission from teenagers. One day, I promised myself, one day my very old husband Seal will HAVE to ask my permission. Assuming he lives that long, of course.

I believed my parents were Gods, because they made me. That was clear proof they had Special Powers. They also fought a lot until my stepfather disappeared, taking along all the money and leaving seething debtors to call my mom in the middle of the night. Since they were Gods and therefore infallible, it clearly must have been my fault, I realised around the age of seven. They were adults! They knew everything! They couldn’t have possibly been doing anything wrong! This meant it was my fault. I couldn’t wait to grow up so that I wouldn’t make my parents fight by being too dumb to understand how I was even doing it. Don’t worry, it only took ten years of therapy to get over those thoughts. In unrelated news, my therapist retired early, and is now travelling around the world on his private yacht.

I expected to gain the adult wisdom the day I turned 18. Nothing happened. Therefore surely I would receive my laminated adult card once I get my degree, I reasoned. It didn’t happen. My first job? Still nothing. I did, however, discover something when I was 18 and still studying. You see, one of my fellow students had an ancient boyfriend, whom we discussed every time we went out. He was 30. “Look,” we’d whisper when she couldn’t hear, “his face is all…droopy. AND he has wrinkles! AND he wears a Rolex, and everyone knows only old men wear those!” We even saw him wearing a suit once, and not because someone made him – he enjoyed wearing it! At this point my decision to become an adult started to waver slightly, but I still wanted to start feeling like someone fully in control of his own life.

This didn’t happen.

Things continued to go downhill when I lost my job at the age of 34. There we were, me and my brother, who was 27 at the time. It was difficult to convince me there was no mistake and I was the older one. My brother had kids, a mortgage, a responsible job requiring that he’d wear a suit and tie every day, a company car, a wife. I had a mortgage I couldn’t afford to pay, a group of friends with benefits, a lot of spare time, and very little money. In “Friends” terms, I was Rachel, he was Ross. Except we didn’t fall in love with each other, because that would be weird, and also his wife wouldn’t approve of that. But as even more time passed, I acquired a husband all of my own. This didn’t make me feel like a real adult either.

In case you missed this delicious interview with Kathleen Turner read it the second you’re finished with my post. The sentence that struck me the hardest was:

I remember I got sent a screenplay once where the character was described as “37 but still attractive.”

Obviously I know how Hollywood works. Yet still, my first thought was “OMGZ! I am 40. Am I even ‘still attractive’?” This thought never occurred to me when I was 35 (despite memories of the saggy-cheeked, wrinkly-faced 30-year-old boyfriend). My vanity quickly made space for crippling doubts: surely now that I am so old I should be able to figure things out without adult assistance. When I was 20, I used to think that I knew everything. Now that I am twice as old (excuse me while I decompose a bit) I keep on realising I know nothing, just like Jon Snow.

I mentioned “Friends”. When I used to watch it in the early 1920s when it came out, they seemed so…grown up. Silly, unrealistic, but old. I haven’t rewatched the series since it was first aired, but sometimes I bump into a clip or GIF, and I get confused. Surely it’s not possible for them to be younger than me. Is it? Are you telling me actors in movies and TV series don’t age while I do? That is so unfair! Where are my ten seasons of youth preserved in analogue and digital formats? (I’d also like to know where to find multiple credit cards with seemingly infinite credit, rent-controlled apartments, and being able to sustain a massive shoe collection whilst working as a waiter/waitress.) It gets worse. I am now a proper cougar. Jason Momoa is two years younger than me. So is Travis Fimmel. But nobody beats Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who is 29 and looks like this:

(Pictured above: a 29-year-old. Photo credit: xsport.ua.)

I expected age to bring God-like wisdom, ability to take care of my finances, chest hair, a full box of marshmallows, and most of all – the secure feeling that all decisions I make are correct BECAUSE I AM AN ADULT. Age, so far, brought me back pain, insomnia, grey hairs appearing one by one in my beard, and constant anxiety that all decisions I make are wrong. To quote the late *sniff* Sir Terry Pratchett, “…inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.” (Moving Pictures) How did Sir Terry know? Was it…gasp…from experience? But surely Pratchett out of all people DID acquire the wisdom, and possibly marshmallows…?

I both want a Responsible Adult to take care of me and make all my decisions so I have someone to blame, and dread such possibility. Because such a Responsible Adult would immediately out me to the world: haha! Look at this guy pretending he knows something! His ID is fake, he’s really still 12-years-old! Do NOT sell him those marshmallows, it will end badly!

I am now acquainted with words like “adulting” and “peopling”, and slowly begin to realise that most people seem to feel the same as me. Did I really fill the tax form correctly? Why is my shoulder hurting? Why is my leg also hurting? Where is my youngest kid? Worse, where is my 17-year-old kid? How do I even have a 17-year-old kid? Is this the right house to buy? Is this the right person to marry? Do I work enough? Do I work too much? Perhaps the midlife crisis is the manifestation of all those fears? My name is John but I go by Jax, and this is my red Porsche, babe. Let’s go for a ride. My wife doesn’t need to know, she doesn’t really understand me anymore, not since the– nevermind, come on, tell me how old I look. Be honest. I look like I’m in my thirties, right? Early thirties? Or: My name is Karen and let me tell you all about benefits of anti-aging organic-only gluten-free cream I bought from GOOP, OMG can you believe how great it is to drink a kale smoothie after your sunrise yoga? How old do you think I am? No, really? WHAT?! Look again in better light! And I will have you know that I feel so much younger inside!

So do I! I always thought ageing was something that happens to other people. I was prepared for the worst case scenario, i.e. myself getting older as well, but I expected rewards! Whoever came up with the idea that we should get older every single second should be fired. 0/10, wouldn’t buy again. Maybe I really should start paying attention to the “30 Things A Man After 30 Should Stop Doing” articles? Buy a suit? *shudder* Get rid of my decidedly non-adult hair? No, but really, how old do I look? I don’t look 40, do I? I look like I’m in my thirties, early thirties, right? Come on, tell me honestly, I look very young, right? But first let me buy you a drink…

Main image: a 40-year-old adulting like an adult person that he is.

Business Insider:

Barnes & Noble said that sales of books relating to managing and coping with anxiety are up 26% from a year ago.

The sales data shows that customers are gravitating towards workbooks and toolkits to try and manage the growing stress of “an anxious nation.”

“The Anxiety category has really popped in the last year as book buyers look for practical guides and strategies on how to manage anxiety,” Barnes & Noble’s senior director of merchandising, Liz Harwell, said in a press release.

I recently finished Matt Haig’s “Notes on a Nervous Planet”. I saw a lot of myself in it. Judging by the fact the book became a #1 bestseller, I am far from the only one to feel so. I nodded as I read about panic attacks, about fights with trolls on social media, the constant influx of bad news, the need to disconnect. On one hand, Internet allows us to get in touch with each other easier than ever before. On the other hand, however, Internet allows us to get in touch with each other easier than ever before.

I come from a generation born before Google existed. Yes. That’s how old I am. In fact, I was born before Internet existed at all. My first computer had 2 KB memory and loaded its tiny programs from tape. (For context: laptop I am typing this on has 8 GB RAM. This is four million times more. It’s not ideal. I hope to replace it with a 16 GB one, so it lasts me a few years.) I started a Facebook account with sole purpose of playing an illegal Scrabble clone with my workmates, and I did so reluctantly. I was among the last ones in the company to get an account. But I just wanted to play Scrabble.

Happiness in 2004, at a political rally. What is this Facebok you speak of?

Back in the day *harumph, get off my lawn* I had a blog called From The Life of Heterosexuals. It was a comedy blog. Sometimes “mainstream” readers would bump into it, and unleash their minuscule fury. I had blogs before then, and every negative comment made me spend sleepless nights, worrying – why don’t they love me? What have I done wrong? It was this blog, with people threatening to beat me up, assuring me they knew where I lived, etc. that made me stop worrying. Because those threats were just so amusingly ridiculous. I couldn’t find it in me to imagine that my blog nickname and posts about how funny it was that women worried their husbands were gay because aforementioned husbands peed sitting down (this was my first post ever) could cause someone to seriously threaten my safety. I was, luckily, right. Since then I received an actual death threat which sat in my “Other” mailbox on Facebook for almost a year before I read it. And I’m, relatively speaking, a nobody. That old blog used to get into top 30 most read blogs in Poland, but let’s agree that didn’t exactly lead to fame and riches. (I never monetised it, nor did I try to sell anything.) What did, however, happen was that I got anxious about producing The Content. My readers were waiting. I had to come up with something. It had to be funny. It became more and more an unpaid job. I cut the life support a few years ago. Some people still sigh wistfully when they remember the time the blog was active – it was truly loved (and sometimes hated). But I had a burnout from it. I could have plodded on. Lost readers, gained complaints it wasn’t good anymore. I didn’t. I said goodbye, started a very different blog, dropped that one.

Happiness in 2005. Still loving this hat. I mean, I got rid of it, but I wish I hadn’t.

The difference was that ten years ago trolls were basically spotty teenagers living in their moms’ basements. Nowadays they organise. So do cliques. Fan groups. There is increasing pressure both on Living Pretty #soblessed and on “you won’t take away our freedom of speech, you ‘bad’ ‘sick’ people, WRONG!!!”. This attacks us from every direction. One of my job titles back in the day was “social media expert”. But social media was very different eight years ago. The worst fires I had to put out concerned our servers not working as fast as they mostly did. Nowadays it’s possible to get under fire by retweeting something vaguely political. To get hundreds of strangers telling you they will slash your face, cut off your boobs or balls, kill your family. To get doxxed (have your personal data, including home address and credit card number, revealed in public). Those are all things that happen, and not just to celebrities. They happen to a lot of people who dare to speak out about more or less anything. No, I am not Felicia Day or Sarah Jeong. But in 2018 you don’t have to be.

This is only part one.

I’ve long maintained a theory that the increasing rates of depression and anxiety are fuelled by the sheer amount of news, and they are almost always bad news, pouring all over us. Our brains have not evolved as fast as computing did. I first used Internet in 1996. The first website I saw was www.petshopboys.co.uk. I made my own shortly after. No. You can’t see it. (I hope. Internet Archive has everything. Luckily even I can’t remember the URL of that website.) But the amount of news we receive in a day is larger than that a 18th century person would receive in their lifetime. And we have to process all this on top of, you know, having a life. We go to Twitter or Facebook for relief, only to find out about Cambridge Analytica, about how our data is mined and ruthlessly used.

I first quit Facebook a few years ago. My friend list grew to over 400 people, which I realise is very little compared to an average teenager. It began to weigh on my nerves, and create anxiety. Was the photo I posted good enough? It got four likes, but this other one got 25. Should I delete the first one? Do people hate me now? Oh Gosh, Karen posted another 50 photos of her baby drowning in poop, and got 500 likes. I DO NOT HAVE A BABY TO POST. I am over. Everything is over. And that was before certain politicians started making the news twenty times a day.

The first thing I did was pruning my friend list until I got down to 100. This proved not to be enough. Being on Facebook made me anxious. Not being on Facebook made me anxious. The amount of messages I received from strangers through my blog – and those were NICE messages! – made me anxious. I started to spend spoons I didn’t have to help other people until I hit the wall – hard. I requested people to stop asking me for personal help. I felt like a shitty person. I then deleted the account completely and started a new one. I had seven friends. But then people I really liked sent me requests. It was going well, until I found myself in the exact same spot as before, too anxious to even open Facebook. I had a Twitter, and whether I was even looking at it or not it kept on stressing me out as hell. Just by existing, and by me not existing on it enough. I was missing out on important news if I hadn’t checked the news sites at least eight times a day. I could possibly miss one email AND THEN WHAT.

I deleted the second account as well. The last drop was when I uploaded a photo of myself after corrective surgery to a closed group. Ever since then when I wanted to change my avatar picture the first suggestion Facebook made was this photo. I looked like a victim of violent fight on it, which was amusing after the surgery, but less and less amusing when I discovered this photo was impossible to delete. It did not appear in any of my albums. I would have to find the original post I made in the group. It’s a very active group, and I was very active in it. I found some posts with my photos and deleted them, but this one was hidden somewhere deep enough that I couldn’t get rid of it. Every. Single. Time. I tried to change my avatar pic I saw my bruised, battered face. The only way I could get rid of this picture was by deleting the account and starting another one.

Happiness in 2018. I wish I could have stayed in this tub forever.

Somehow in the last year or so I seem to have found a way to use social media and not be consumed by it. I do not use Snapchat or Instagram, because they don’t work for me. There are perhaps two photos of me that I put up, my avatar photo here and that one where I am in a hot tub in Iceland. Alone. Without my phone in my hand. Without Twitter, Huffington Post, CNN, BBC, etc. There are mountains, some snow, the magic of sitting in a hot tub while snow is all around me. I am able to disconnect. But then I get anxious. What if there is something I should know? What if something changed? In the previous centuries most people learned that there was a new king months or even years after the event. Nobody particularly cared which king they are never going to see unless they are sent to battle, unless the king was a particularly nasty person. Today I know about almost everything certain politicians do, despite actively trying to avoid the news.

Writing is my escape. So is, weirdly enough, installing operating systems on computers and fixing software problems. Listening to music (if I can hear it over the noises from the outside). Being in nature. Amsterdam doesn’t have much nature in it, unless you’re willing to brave crowded streets and crowded public transport in order to get to a crowded park.

Yes, Matt. Yes, Barnes & Noble. We are living on an anxious planet. We created it ourselves. We created the need that people feel to get plastic surgery so they look like filtered Snapchat photos. For someone born in 1977 this is a sort of anxiety I am very unlikely to ever feel. But, really…who knows? in 1996 I didn’t expect to ever find out Facebook was downloaded a billion times from Play Store, or that I would constantly see a photo of my bruised face without being able to delete it. I never expected people to willingly pay for devices that constantly listen to them. The article I linked to at the beginning of this post mentions fantasy books’ sales are going up as well. I can really understand why.

Main photo: ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ by Matt Haig. 5/5, recommended.

As mentioned previously, I am working on two books at once.

The first, ‘Storyteller’, is the novel set in Iceland between 1885-1920. I believe we are in final editing stages before querying agents. I would like to try traditional publishing for this one, which most probably means I have to have lots of patience. I am aiming at American market, which means my road to $ucce$$ is going to look like this (based on research and partly guesswork):

I have to find an agent. I know of people who had three rejections. I know of people who had more than 100. The process lasts a very long time, because there are many writers, not just me (shocking!) who would like to be published. Imagine you are an agent, and you receive 100 book proposals a week. Obviously, nobody has this sort of time – heck, I’m reading two books at once, and I’m on fourth day with Amanda Palmer’s ‘The Art of Asking’. (Recommended!) Therefore, agents require queries.

A query is basically a short summary of what the book is about, and why someone would be willing to read it. The query can’t be too long. Each agency (sometimes each agent) has requirements of some sorts. Those requirements need to be met, because otherwise you are not sending a query, you are sending proof that you are nowhere near published yet, and you already don’t care. Those go in the trash. This initial selection process is often done by interns, who have to go through 100 queries a week, and sometimes more. I am not jealous of their job.

The next thing to include (depending, again, on agent’s requirements) are sample pages. Five of them. Which means first five pages must be interesting enough for someone to want to read further. This is, of course, assuming the query didn’t land my manuscript in the trash already. When you get 100 books a week, and remember this is a conservative estimate, that means 500 pages to read in case all queries are murderously good. Some agents find time to respond with critique. Most, I guess, don’t. (Which is partly because enraged writers “respond” to them…) If my first pages are good enough, I will receive a request for partial (say, first 50 pages), or full (well, duh, full manuscript). And then I will WAIT, since agents tend to have a pile of books that they requested half a year ago. Which is because agents don’t just read the book within half an hour, then press the magical “publish” button. They actually have other things to do than read my masterpiece!!! Do they KNOW who I am?! (No. They don’t.) I am important and so is my work! But…so is everybody else’s.

Once I found an agent, which may take a month or a year or longer, the search begins for an interested editor at a publishing house. Again, editors receive a lot of manuscripts, although less than agents (whose job, among others, is to make sure the editor doesn’t receive 100 half-baked books per month just from this one agent). That editor must be interested in my genre, which for ‘Storyteller’ is historical fiction with fantasy elements. Sending a fantastic historical fiction to someone specialised in non-fiction is a waste of time, both editor’s and agent’s. And, dare I say, mine. Therefore I do the research to find an agent interested in my genre, after which the agent has to find an editor interested in my genre. This can last up to EIGHTEEN YEARS. So I may be in the situation where I have a super enthusiastic agent totally in love with my book, and then wait for years until the right editor falls in love with it as well. Largely because a genre might go out of fashion for a while, and there is nothing anybody can do about it, unless 100000 readers suddenly send a petition demanding immediate release of my book.

This is not the end.

Traditional publishing process takes many months. First of all, the publisher’s editor will request more edits from me, because that’s their job – make the book as good and marketable as possible.

Marketing plans need to be prepared. Cover designed. Layout done and approved. Galley copies read and corrected, because typos exist no matter what. Advanced review copies (ARCs) distributed among reviewers. I don’t even know what else, since I didn’t quite get that far yet. What I do know is that my book will not be published a day after the editor receives the manuscript from the agent.

All this means that if I pursue traditional publishing, I will wait for years before the book is out. Which is a part of how it works. First, though, I will have to deal with tons of rejections. Again, it’s not personal unless I have proven that I am a horrible person to work with (beginning with ignoring the agent’s requests – which are not what they are to make my life difficult, but rather to make the agent’s life easier). It’s just how things work. The editor might say the book is fabulous, then ask to add vampires and zombie babies to the book. It happens. Publishing is a business. Piracy is hurting it a lot. Competition is stiffer than ever.

I estimate if I am lucky ‘Storyteller’ might be released in 2020. At which point I better have another book ready to go. Because if I now take a two-year break and wait for ‘Storyteller’ to be published, I will find myself in a spot where I have no follow-up of any sort. Before I have a follow-up, it will be 2022. Before it gets published… etc.

The second novel, tentatively called ‘God of Fire’, is urban fantasy, where a bunch of Norse Gods decide a nerdy graphic designer from Amsterdam is the only person that can save the universe. No pressure. I finished the second draft, and sent it to beta readers. I made a mistake of asking on my Polish blog’s fanpage whether that one lady who commented on my old YouTube clip could contact me. Now I have 28 beta readers. Their feedback might come in all forms and shapes, including “I died of boredom on page 60”. I will be using this feedback to rewrite the whole thing until I feel it is good enough…to start working with an editor. (FYI, regarding ‘Storyteller’… So far I’ve been working with Crystal Clear Resources for 10 months, while writing the book took nine months.) There is a chance that feedback will be overwhelmingly negative, and then I will scrap the whole thing. This is why beta readers are incredibly important. I can’t objectively judge my writing.

Once I have that feedback, I estimate research and rewrites will take at least six months. And then I will be hitting the editor for help again before…that’s right! Querying!

All this, for some reason, makes me feel happy. I am not under pressure of any sort right now. I can go on writing, then querying and writing, then waiting and writing. Right now nobody except my potential readers is waiting for me to deliver anything. There are no deadlines. And if I run out of agents willing to look at my query, then I can self-publish and pray for the best. (Which is, by the way, why most authors who don’t publish one book per month on Amazon have day jobs.) Again, without deadlines.

I have no idea how this all is going to go. But that, too, is exciting. It will be considerably less exciting after my 100th rejection, I suppose. But I am not there yet. I will keep you posted.

Photo: working hard on research. If you like this picture, why not check our photo book on Etsy?