There were greasy hot dogs on the counter. Four of them. Naked and un-bunned, flopping around inside a glass Tupperware dish for all the world to see.
I had many questions, including “are these for sale” and also “where are the onions,” but perhaps the biggest question I had was:
WHO PUTS HOT DOGS IN THE FRAME WHEN TAKING A PHOTO FOR ZILLOW? Zillow, as in, the real estate website where other people look at photos and decide if they want to buy your house?!
I'm guessing Jim Bob here thought the hot dogs were a nice touch. And (maybe???) they could have been (???)—it's a stretch, I know—were they at least styled with a little Grey Poupon and a bowl of rose water on the side. But these little pig missles just looked like a line-up of cold, limp cadavers sitting there next to a neon blue plastic fork and 16 oz. thermos from Tiny Tim's U-Pull-It. (Or something.)
I won't even get into the sausages. I mean, should I get into the sausages?! They were there, too, and if I happened to guess, I'd say they were deer sausage—as is common in the region—and you should know that if I ever happened to be on Family Feud, and Steve Harvey happened to ask me, “name something you should never put in your Zillow photos,” I would ALSO emphatically add “ground up deer bladder”
But hey, it's a free country, which explains why there was also a bookshelf in the shape of a canoe. Not just in this listing, but also in another listing right down the road, in which there was not only a bookshelf canoe, but a coffee table canoe, which tells me (a) clearly some people really have it together; (b) some wood carver is out there making bank; and (c) I am 100% not into trout enough. Or whatever people with canoes are into.
If you haven't gathered, I was in full-on creep mode on Zillow last night. I hang out on Zillow way more than is socially acceptable, because this is how I
build my self-esteem research places. Most people look at Google maps and Trip Advisor and listicles of Top Ten Things to Do Downtown; me, I go straight inside people's houses! Why go anywhere else? You can really get a feel of a place that way.
Not like I didn't know what this place felt like. I did. I do. It's my hometown.
And the reason I was looking on Zillow at my hometown is because my friend Brian just bought a place out that way, and it's on a lake, and he ALSO bought a golf cart, and then I thought: WELL MAYBE I, TOO, CAN BE THE POSSESSOR OF SUCH FINE ITEMS. (The last time I was on a golf cart was in 1999 when I started dating a basketball player who thought I was outdoorsy.)
So I started to poke around—nice lake, nice land, nice Budweiser cooler—when suddenly a listing came outta nowhere and punched me in the mouth: a tiny little house at the end of a field. I recognized it immediately.
“Do you think we could afford it, mom?” I had squeaked, then age sixteen.
“Oh, it is cute.”
“Think of the garden you could have here!” I persuaded.
“I don't know about living right next to the railroad tracks….”
“Oh, but it's so much closer to the school!”
I would've said anything to get us out of the trailer we lived in. But as much as my mom and I liked to daydream when we took our rides, the truth was, we couldn't afford anything else. The little house cost something like $80,000 then: four times where we lived. And that was nothin' compared to the cul-de-sac houses I dreamed of at the end of town; the ones with two stories and slate blue vinyl siding. (I automatically categorized anyone who had vinyl siding as R-I-I-I-I-CH.)
So when I spotted that little house on Zillow last night, I lurched forward. What was the inside like of this little home we had once dreamed of? Who lived there now? What was my (almost) alternate version of reality?
Nostalgia in the throat.
Registered the price: it was selling for $130,000 now.
Image by image I scrolled, eyeing past the mailbox in the shape of a bass, the wild-wild west pistol on the wall, the very same stained-glass rooster lamp my mother and I had once owned.
And then I saw the hot dogs. Oh, the hot dogs!
I really thought about those hot dogs, you know? I mean, it prompted me to think about everything. As I looked up at my brand-new, freshly painted white ceiling—the one with the recessed lighting I recently had put in over the fireplace of my historic, listed-on-the-register building here in the middle of one of the most renowned neighborhoods in America—and I said out loud, to no one in particular: “Oh my god, I live in a palace.” I live in a fucking palace. It is by no means the size of a palace, but it might as well be BUCKINGHAM.
It hadn't fully registered, maybe ever, just how far I've come—because nothing ever does when it happens in a series of 100,000 tiny, microscopic moments.
It hadn't fully registered that the home I now own would have been my 16-year-old-self's greatest dream—her most exquisite fantasy. And then I looked over at the staircase—the one I complain about daily, because #groceries—and thought about how it was once my ONE big childhood dream to have a staircase. That was it, that was the dream. I didn't care where they led or what they were made of—all I knew was that the thing I coveted most was stairs. Stairs meant you had enough money for two floors, not just one. Stairs meant there was no way you lived in a trailer.
And oh, the floodgates! The floodgates opened, and there I was sitting there with my perspective in my hand. How hadn't I taken the time to really appreciate all of this? How had I become the person who was all, “ugh, this hardwood needs to be stained darker,” and “the fireplace mantel isn't French enough.” Oh, and don't place your vintage wine on the marble coffee table—or a fistful of lemons! (Gotta watch out for those assholes.)
Who am I? What is this reality? How did it all come to be? How did I get from Point A to Point [Insert Futuristic Alien Alphabet Letter].
And god, you know? I know the answer. I really, really do.
It was writing.
It was always writing.
The words I've put on the page since I first started writing in a diary in the first grade have acted like tiny little buoys, giving me something solid to grasp onto, always. Throughout any sense of uncertainty or volatility or wobbliness, there have always been words. They have been a grand tool—my greatest ally. They have allowed me to create from nothing. They are an infinite source of power and punch when I might not otherwise have had access to it.
That's why I'm so obsessed with the act of writing. It is not some fluffy little “nice-to-have” skill, like being able to roll your tongue or take mind-blowing photographs of hot dogs, ahem, but a very real and tangible access road. Wherever you want to go, you can get there with great writing. Great writing is the North Jersey of New York City.
The only reason I made it out of poverty was because I had this advantage. Since the day I stepped foot into that school, I had this advantage: every spelling bee, every essay, every open-ended test question; later, I had the advantage when it came to scholarship applications, and college admissions; further on I had the advantage when it came to cover letters and resumes, master's degrees and marketing work. And today it's quite clear that the only reason I have anything at all—especially this incredible staircase—is because I kept writing. I wrote for myself, I wrote in public, I wrote for customers, I wrote for clients. I wrote blogs, and I wrote newsletters, and I wrote tweets, and I wrote books. I wrote scripts and I wrote copy; I wrote sales pages and I wrote descriptions. And now, I even write & edit books for other people. Like, by the year 2025, if I have things my way, I'm pretty sure every book you read might secretly be written by me. 🤣 #goals
And so it only makes sense that I've always had this sort of quiet determination to give this gift to other people—to somehow, some way, share the advantage. Give other people directions onto the road.
While I've always offered writing workshops throughout the years, the thing with a workshop is that it happens one day and then it's over. Would the creativity & inspiration & joy of writing really stick for people? Maybe…but not likely. Most people still dread having to “produce content.” Besides, it was always hard to get through everything I wanted to teach in 2 or 3 hours. And then what? Where does the exposure come from afterward? We live in a world infested with humdrum, boring, cliché, entirely predictable, tired, painful writing. And you are what you read, right?
So, I decided to do something about it.
I'm SOOOOOOOOOoooOOOOoOoOOooOoOoOo delighted to be launching my brand-new creative writing newsletter, coming June 28th. (!!!) And accompanying the newsletter, I'll also be launching some really fun products, books, manuals, lessons, subscriptions and classes ALLLL about teaching you how to transform your writing, copy, content, descriptions, and writing style from dull and lackluster, to fresh and effervescent. You and I are going to have a ball!
But most of all, it's going to give you a really unfair advantage.
A secret handshake.
A VIP pass.
Access to wherever you want to go.
A supermodel's body for your sentences, and a scientist's mind for your ideas.
They won't be able to take their eyes off of you.
And you won't be able to take your eyes off the page—because you'll be having so much fun writing? You might not ever stop. You might write your way into an all-new life. You might write your way into an all-new career. You might write your way into a home with light-colored hardwood, a fireplace mantel that isn't French enough, and a marble table you can't squeeze lemons on top of.
And that's only the beginning.
Just wait until you see the hot dogs.
My brand-new creative writing newsletter is launching June 28th, 2021—mark your calendar! I'll reveal the name next week. You are gonna BARF—and it's gonna be grand.