Discover more from Notes from Amy Spalding
The Greatest Thing that Ever Happened to Me
For once I am not being hyperbolic. OK I guess I am. I am who I am.
It was the early aughts.
A lot is going on here with me. I have travel coming up soon, the beginning of promoting At Her Service (available for preorder now!), and I am excited as heck for this! A few years ago (pre-Covid, if you’re wondering), I started getting really bad travel anxiety, which sucks. I’d spend the entire lead-up to a trip gripped by an assortment of fears. Because this is no way to live, I’ve been working hard at casting those aside and focusing on my excitement instead. It kind of works! It at least works better than focusing on all the doom-and-gloom my brain loves serving up.
I feel time’s passages in a variety of ways (my worsening close-up eyesight, work anniversaries, friends’ kids being old enough to start school/drive/vote/etc.), and thought about the fact that the stories we tell all the time, the stories our best friends are tired of hearing, have withered quietly away and anyone new has heard other, newer stories far too many times instead.
And so it had been awhile since I had told the story of the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. It was in Kentucky, in the year 2004 or so. When I lived in St. Louis (where I grew up and lived until I moved to Los Angeles), my friend Christie lived in Louisville (technically she lived in a smaller town in Indiana called, and I jest you not, Floyds Knobs), and we were both creative and annoying (maybe that part was just me) souls who wanted to live in big cities once we had gotten our shit together. We spent many weekends roadtripping between each others’ homes because if there’s anything that makes the frustration of not-quite-having-one’s-shit-together-yet life less, well, frustrating, it’s hanging out with your friends who are in the same predicament.
The focus was usually—as it still is for me when planning travel and friend hangouts—food and where we would be procuring it. This particular morning in Floyds Knobs we went to the nearest Cracker Barrel, because, when in Rome, etc. Our waitress was extremely friendly, and almost immediately she said something very flattering to me!
“You look like a celebrity!” she remarked in an ecstatic tone. “I can’t think of her name! Do you know who I mean?”
We didn’t. In general, I do not look like celebrities, and vice versa. I am a fat weirdo who tends to ignore conventional beauty standards and therefore these types of things are rarely said to me. But I was excited to find out!
Every time the waitress came back to top off our Diet Cokes or bring our breakfast, she’d say something like, “This is driving me crazy! You look SO MUCH like her!”
The tension was building. Would she remember before I finished my cornbread and other assorted carbs? Would Christie be able to help her solve this mystery? Would this prove too distracting to later focus on our inevitable twenty-seventh rewatch of a bootleg video of the Kennedy Center’s production of Merrily We Roll Along?
Finally, our meal nearly over, she strode confidently toward us.
“I figured it out!” Her tone was triumphant. “I know the celebrity you look like!”
We were on pins and needles. I can’t imagine Academy Award nominees feel any more nervous while watching that envelope be torn open.
“It’s a cartoon bear!” she announced.
We stared at her. My self-esteem, dear readers, fell back to its usual low level. Perhaps lower. What even is self-esteem when one looks like a cartoon bear?
“You know who I mean,” she said in a conspiratorial tone to Christie.
Christie, who did not know and was not about to become implicated in any of this, shook her head.
“She looks just like you!” she insisted. “You know who it is!”
Christie was not onboard. Neither, obviously, was I!!
Our meal ended. For a long time, this was where the story ended. Not with a bang, but with a cartoon bear. My mysterious celebrity doppelganger. But about ten years after this happened, I was telling this story in Los Angeles. And a friend immediately said, “Oh, I know who she means. You do look like her.”
“It’s Pammy Panda,” she said.
I’m sure I scoffed. However, this was a friend I was more than mildly intimidated by. I googled Pammy Panda.
I don’t know what to say except that this is a dead ringer for early/mid-Aughts Amy with her dyed black hair and black eyeliner and penchant for wearing hot pink.
Still, I haven’t been to a Cracker Barrel since.
Below, I have extremely smart and ACTIONABLE advice from one of my favorite writers (since before I even knew writers personally!), Sara Zarr.
I have one of the greasiest faces in the business (any business) but it’s been OK because I’ve lived in LA for the last twenty-ish years. However, 2023 was the year LA became swampy, and my beloved mascara was smudging on my face every freaking day. I googled “best waterproof mascara” and was surprised a cheap option was the first one, but I like saving money (she says after purchasing yet another custom commissioned cat portrait) so I ordered CoverGirl’s Clump Crusher Water Resistant LashBlast mascara, and it hasn’t smudged once. (I’m still eager for swampiness to (fingers crossed) die down so I can go back to Benefit’s They’re Real, but this is a good tide-me-over-until-climate-change-wait-it’s-not-getting-better-oh-god anyway I’m doing great).
I’ve been reading John Paul Brammer’s work, especially his ¡Hola Papi! column, for what feels like a million years, but, yes, I recently subscribed to his Substack because I needed his RHONY coverage, and I was correct to do so. (Savvy readers may notice this is a graphic of his audiobook because that’s the closest thing I could find, whatever!)
Everyone has recommended Maintenance Phase to you already, I know. I myself have! This week’s Soy Boys episode made me laugh so hard, though, I wanted to recommend it again, such is my (parasocial) love for Aubrey and Michael. (Also, if you aren’t fat, listening to this podcast will probably make you a better citizen to the fat people around you, and I would like that!)
I know I have posted about it before, but to me there is no better summer-harvest recipe than Smitten Kitchen’s tomato and corn pie. My favorite part is actually the biscuit crust. If you are afraid of homemade pie crusts, this is a super non-fussy easy one to learn on. DO NOT BE AFRAID! I was once afraid, and look at me now!
Get Your Ask On
How do you balance your dayjob and other responsibilities with your writing career?
SZ: Okay, this question jumped out at me because I've recently started trying a new thing around this issue, and it's working well! In addition to writing my novels, I also teach for an MFA program and take on one-on-one coaching and consulting clients. There's also all the life admin stuff that seems to constantly encroach on everything (dishes! laundry! pet care! car maintenance! dental work! maintaining relationships! getting my Sims through college!). I've never been very good at transitioning between tasks, especially (and sorry to use these annoying buzzwords) between deep work and shallow work. Probably no one is good at that, but we keep trying to do it anyway.
I kept trying things like...write in the morning and do everything else in the afternoon, or vice versa. And I mean, it didn't NOT work. I still got my books written. But I hated the feeling of always wanting to stray off-task or like there was some little bit of life admin that needed my attention.
A few months ago, I figured out that I'm fortunate enough to have the kind of schedule that would allow me to protect a couple of days a week from the oozing seepage of life and work admin. So I blocked out Tuesdays and Thursdays from wake-up time to dinner and marked it on my calendar as "busy/not available." On those days, I do not make appointments, I do not spend time in my inbox, I do not do writing admin (like social media, making cute Canva graphics, etc), I do not do client work, I do not do student work, I do not think about bills, I do not take calls from my mom to "go over [her] will." I do not even LOOK at my Sims. I put those days in a lockbox, if you will.
Though I may write almost every day, these days are designated Writing Days, into which nothing else is allowed—inasmuch as is possible, anyway. Those days are good for longer stretches of writing and thinking, as well as reading, and I never have the niggling feeling, "I should check my university email" or "I need to take a quick look at my grocery list" or "When will my Sim complete his term paper??" I know that I will get to those things the next day, which will be more than soon enough in 99% of instances.
Not everyone has the luxury of blocking out entire days like this, of course, but there may be a chunk of a couple of hours, a couple of times a week, that you can commit to and protect with extreme ferocity and rock-solid boundaries. It creates a powerful mental habit, and feels good to keep your promises to your writer self, which needs your loyalty above all else.
If you have any questions about writing, publishing, revising, genres, querying, being on submission, etc., reply to this email and ask! Your question may be featured in an upcoming newsletter!
At Her Service is coming in February!
(And it’s on NetGalley now!)
A sweetly sexy, thoroughly modern new novel about single life, social media, career goals, and making the bold move to grab your own happiness—and write your own love story.
Max Van Doren has a wish list, and a great career and a girlfriend are at the top. But despite being pretty good at her job as an assistant to one of Hollywood’s fastest rising talent agents, she has no idea how to move up the ladder. And when it comes to her love life, she’s stuck in perpetual lust for an adorably perfect bartender named Sadie. Her goals are clear—and Max has everything but the self-confidence to go for them. Even her mother seems to assume she’ll be crawling home to her childhood bedroom at some point . . .
When Max’s roommate, Chelsey—an irritatingly gorgeous and self-assured influencer in plus-size and queer spaces—offers to sponsor her for a new self-actualization app, Max gives in. If she can’t run her own life, maybe an algorithm guiding her choices will help? Suddenly Max is scoring big everywhere, and her dreams are achingly close to coming true. But when one of Chelsey’s posts reveals Sadie’s part in the app’s campaign, Max is poised for heartbreak on all fronts. Tired of the sponcon life with its fake friends and endless selfies, Max realizes that to have true influence, she’ll have to find the courage to make her own, totally authentic way in the world.
“At Her Service is a painfully relatable story of finding the courage to reach for what you really want from inside the messy reality of your twenties. It made me snort with laughter more than once, and anyone who has ever taken comfort in a queer dive bar will be so invested in Johnny's—and its hot bartender—right along with Max. A wonderfully hopeful, queer, LA love story.” —Anita Kelly, author of Something Wild & Wonderful
Yesterday I DM’d a friend whose 8-year-old is interested in updating her aesthetic to “scene” and it’s just all stuff that makes me feel like it is simultaneously 2003 and also that I am extremely old.
Thanks for reading Notes from Amy Spalding! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.