Here is a good example of how stupid a reasonably intelligent person can be.
I have a graduate degree in Russian economics and when I was a young mother, home with my children, I got a freelance job writing about Russian history for a reference book. The job was a lot of fun because I had to make believe I was writing newspaper articles about great events in Russian history—Susan Breen at the execution of the Tsar, and so on. The money was okay, something like $50 an article, and everything would have been fine. Except that I came up with a brilliant plan.
Because I am so bad about saving money, I decided that what I would do, is hold off on submitting invoices to the publisher. I would wait until they owed me $2,000 (about 6 months work) and then I would submit the invoice and have a bundle of money, instead of the trickle I had been receiving. Clearly this was a very bad idea (and this is why today, I let my agent handle anything to do with money).
However, I worked diligently for six months, wrote my articles, accumulated my $2,000, submitted the invoice, whereupon the publisher immediately went bankrupt. I got one of those certified letters saying that they would pay me after they had paid off their major creditors. Such as General Motors, or something much bigger than Breen. Suffice it to say, I never saw a dime, though they did still go ahead and publish the book. So I had the joy of seeing lots of people spending money on a book from which I was receiving no money.
So why am I thinking about this now?
Because not long ago, I gave a talk at my library, and it was a lot of fun (and it turns out that a lot of people buy books at libraries!!!) But when I stepped up to the podium, I happened to look over to the shelves at my right and, lo and behold, there was that book. Staring at me. And so my first words to the accumulated library crowd were, “Damn it. They still owe me $2,000.” (Things got better after that.)
Afterwards I was thinking about how strange it was that that book, of all books, should be right in my line of view; and how odd it is when the past and present converge, a sensation I have been having a lot lately. Maybe it is simply a function of middle age, that I have lived enough of my life that every event in the present triggers a memory of the past. Or maybe there are force fields converging and I am at the epicenter and am about to explode. I suspect it has a lot to do with the dreamlike state of having my book published, and feeling my life take an unreal turn.
But the end result is that I find my 51-year-old self continually bumping up against my young self, as though we are both ghosts haunting the same bit of space. Isn’t one of the joys of writing to be able to spend time with your younger self again, and with the people who you knew and loved in the past? One of the great pleasures for me in writing The Fiction Class was that the protagonist’s mother, Vera, was very much like my own mother, who passed away four years ago, and so when I had the two of them talking, I could actually hear my mother’s voice. It was a great comfort.
Anyway, after the library talk was over, I went home and flipped through that book. (I do own a copy, though it is not worth $2,000.) I looked at the articles I wrote, and could still remember how proud I was of some of the language, and what pride I felt in writing it. Then I thought about how that $2,000 is probably worth $10,000 now and there is just no positive spin to put on this.
So what about you? What’s the most stupid thing you’ve done?