Thursday, March 31, 2011

Escape Artist: How Not to Write a Book

First, have a deep and abiding passion for cheap motels.

Second, have an idea for a book that you are sure will save your family from imminent financial collapse and wrest you from the emotional despair of having never achieved your potential.

Next, decline an invitation to a fancy writer’s retreat at a villa in France and instead Google “cheap motels” in your own vicinity. Consider, for a minute, booking the gem with the online reviews that boast cockroaches, mold, vomit, stained sheets and the final, winning comment: “If this is the only place you can stay in this city, go to a different city.” Chicken out and book, instead, the motel with the broken hairdryer. Use the $50 visa gift card your mother gave you for Hanukkah to confirm the transaction. Invite your girlfriend, who shares your conviction that Calgon will never be enough to take you away. Mark the dates out in your calendar with a sharpie so that in order to change your plans you will have to go to the store and buy white out, which you refuse to do, due to your office supply addiction.

As you pack, reminisce over all the places you’ve ever slept—from damp sleeping bags in soggy tents to hostel bunks to the executive suite in the Opryland hotel where your family was once upgraded on a lark. Remember how you dumped a whole bottle of shampoo in the Jacuzzi and then sniffed the sheets of the king-sized bed whose last occupant was Jon Bon Jovi. Get called “Klassy with a K.” Honor that truth.

Sing “Rambling Fever” loudly in the car before abruptly pulling into the parking lot which you have clocked at 2.1 miles from your own driveway. Drive an extra .2 miles to pick up a menu from a Chinese restaurant so that you will be able to shave 8 seconds off your dinner order. Check into the motel as the clock strikes three. You don’t have a moment to lose. Great things, you know, happen in pressure cookers. Put your laptop on the desk next to the motel stationery and then put the motel stationery in your purse.

Draw the curtains and take in the stunning view of the Auto Zone. Remember that you are close enough to home that your mother could drive by and wave at you through the window. Redraw the curtains. Unpack your red silk robe, because when else are you going to wear it? Forget to wear it. Spend the next twenty-one hours in your track suit. In the bathroom, put the package of Folgers in the miniature coffee maker that is small enough to put in your purse. Don’t put it in your purse. Drink the bathroom coffee out of a Styrofoam cup like it’s an Italian espresso.

Plan the bulk of your time around snack breaks. Where else would Jarlsburg cheese scooped up with a pita chip taste so good? Between the cherries and the olives, open your laptop. Decide that instead of a book, what you really need to write is a book proposal. Write three zingy chapter titles and as a reward, take a field trip to the lobby for more coffee. Back in the room, turn the lights out and switch on the battery-operated candle you brought for ambience. Sit cross-legged with your girlfriend, each on your own queen sized bed. Expose your deepest secrets. Re-plan your life. Consult your tarot cards. Laugh your mascara off. Open the mini-fridge and debate over which box of chocolate to open first. Fall into a coma like sleep completely uninterrupted by your dog, your cat, your husband or your son.

In the morning, write frantically for 15 minutes before running down to the all you can eat Waffle Bar. Use three or four packets of syrup. At check out feel like you are turning in your wild side with your room key. Bid a teary farewell to your friend who you will see next Thursday. Make the most of your 2.1 mile drive home to reflect on all you have accomplished. Listen to your husband explain that after helping your cousin move and cleaning up the vomit of the dog who devoured what was left of your chocolate stash, he fielded a call from your ex-boyfriend who drunk-dialed you from Europe in the middle of the night. Thank him profusely.

Then, start planning next year’s trip. Make it a tradition.

Published in Belle, April 2011


  1. I'm so happy there's a Valley!

  2. Love it, Valley. Always such a freaking pleasure to read your pieces.



  4. Love, love, love, love, love it!
    You're the best!

  5. *happy sigh*
    You had me at "bathroom coffee" but I nearly fell off my chair laughing with "battery-operated candle." Uh. Huh. I couldn't help it - the wrong image is indelibly inscribed on my brain, for which I also refuse to buy White-Out.

  6. I adore this. And you. (I had to come up with a new word because everyone else already loves you.)

  7. lol! valley you are the best! this is pretty hilarious.