A few weeks ago, one of my dearest friends from college asked me for the first line of my book. I happily sent it to her, and then promptly forgot about it. But then I woke up the following Saturday with this strange feeling that there was something wrong with that first line. So I read it, carefully, looking for ANY error. Punctuation, grammar, anything. Nothing. But it still niggled at me.
My book is filled with lots of facts about my life. Very few facts about other people’s lives. Even fewer facts about life and humanity in general. And, because it’s a memoir, the whole thing has the air of fiction and there are lots of disclaimers saying that if you don’t like something about it, well, too bad.
But, in the first line of my book, literally the first line, is a glaring fact. An easily google-able fact. One that no one would really care about or even google, but still, a fact. And not just a fact that’s findable on the internet, but a fact that any good lawyer who pays attention to politics would know (so, theoretically, me). Specifically, the name of the case when the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare back in 2012, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. EXCEPT, the name of the case that I had written down on the very first page in the very first line of my book was King v. Burwell, the Obamacare case that the Supreme Court decided in 2015, shortly before I actually wrote that line for the first time.
It’s funny–the title of my book, Wait, It Gets Worse, has generated a lot of love and laughter from lots of people. A fact about which both my editor and I are immensely proud. The subtitle, Love, Death, and My Transformation from Control Freak to Human Being, has generated interest from those who don’t know me and some level of eye-rolling from those who do:
“Really, Lydia? You don’t think you’re a control freak anymore?”
Well, here’s the point of that subtitle, and in many ways the point of my book: I do still have a control freak, she’s just not in the driver’s seat anymore. So yes, she still completely flips out when something goes wrong. She still tries to manage everyone and everything, including the weather and toddlers. But, what I’ve gone through in the last few years has given me the freedom to (sometimes, not always) allow a different part of my brain to put her somewhere other than the driver’s seat.
“You, Ms. Control,” my brain can say once it recognizes that she’s about to completely take over all aspects of my personality, “sit over there and brainstorm solutions. Once we’re done managing the panic, you can step in on how to solve this problem. BUT ONLY if you can make sure that your solution doesn’t involve trying to force the skies to rain or a million other things over which you have NO control to dance to your tune. Got it?”
She’s not always delighted about it, but she has learned to sit down in these moments.
So, this is what happened that morning:
I bolted upright in bed where I had been doing my 6am googling. The confluence of emotions that hit me are still hard to separate into distinct words. Panic. Shame. Judgment. Guilt. And right when Ms. Control was about to send me out of bed and do God know’s what, my brain turned on:
“Lydia, this is okay. Not only does it not matter, but no one will notice.”
“BUT I’VE NOTICED AND NOW I KNOW AND I’M STUPID AND NOT CAREFUL AND DIDN’T FACT CHECK AND OH MY GOD OH MY GOD…”
I then proceeded to have an entire internal dialogue about how my book is about letting go of my need for perfection and control in my life. Perfection and control that my previous role as a lawyer required. Seriously, part of my job back then was to fact check everything approximately sixteen times. And that’s not my life anymore. And here I had made a mistake that my previous life had trained me to fix in the VERY FIRST LINE of my book. Not only was this ironic, it really was a perfect moment–a glaring example of taking the opportunity to practice what I preach. Self-love. Kindness. Forgiveness. Letting go. Seeing what happens. Working with my control freak to have her be helpful, not distracting and domineering.
She sat in her corner while I let the panic wash over me, again and again, until it was done. Then, I turned to her and said, “now what?”
She helped me draft an email to my publisher. In that email, she and I worked together to acknowledge that my book had already gone to print, so this isn’t something that either of us were expecting could be resolved, but perhaps for the second printing (if I’m lucky), it would be great if we could fix that line.
I then meditated, posted about it on social media, and moved on with my weekend. She paced the entire time, but she was firmly in her own room, not in charge of the entire show, so my weekend wasn’t destroyed as a result of my epiphany.
Monday morning, I got an email from my editor saying, I kid you not, that because there is a nationwide paper shortage, my book actually hadn’t yet been printed, and I had three days to make that and any other (very minor) changes that I wanted to the manuscript.
Ms. Control and I are both DELIGHTED that the book no longer has such a glaring factual error in the first line. I don’t want someone to be distracted by a huge error in the first line and think that the book isn’t worth reading as a result. She wants the book to be perfect. So, we’re both happy. She’s less happy about the fact that there are a few other mistakes throughout the manuscript, because of course there are and of course she is. But I know that nothing is perfect, and thank GOD I’m the one in charge these days. Most of the time.