I Came All This Way to Meet YouPosted: January 16, 2023
I Came All This Way to Meet You: Writing Myself Home
Ecco (January 11, 2022), 253 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon paperback $17.99
I am always ready to read about writers, and if it is a memoir so much the better. I knew I had done the right thing in buying I Came All This Way to Meet You when early on I read, “I fully understand what the words do for me: when I write, it’s a place I can go to feel safe. It has always worked that way for me, ever since I was a child. The safety of a sentence.” That resonated.
Jami Attenberg reflects on her life as a writer and she is honest about her struggles. She describes a book tour for an early novel in which she drove around the country in her own car, knowing that her bank account would be empty when the tour was over. And the tour did little for her book sales. She writes about doing commercial writing to pay the bills and subletting her New York apartment while she went to live in Seattle for no good reason.
In fact, Attenberg writes a lot about her living situation. She describes living with friends while pursuing her craft. She recollects living in a Manhattan apartment when she had a high-paying, high-power corporate job, and giving that up for a Brooklyn apartment in a building where other tenants like herself were trying to escape the New York rat race, but where the landlord was not keen on making repairs. Ultimately, she was able to buy a home in New Orleans where she could have guests rather than be the guest.
Attenberg tells us how her original publisher dropped her because of dismal sales, but she found another publisher where an editor saw the potential in her work. She was able to make book tours on the publisher’s dime, including trips to Europe. But anxiety over flying and other stresses brought their own issues. She found herself consuming drugs, both prescription and illegal, and abusing alcohol.
The author is also honest about her health and her love life. She tells us more than we need to know about her uterus which betrayed her, the pain and discomfort she suffered, and the freeing hysterectomy that she put off far too long. Attenberg writes about her attempt to make a relationship work, about the disputes and arguments, and how she second guessed herself, wondering if doing something different here or there might have made things different.
We also learn a lot about her father, who spent his life in sales. During the lockdown in 2020 Attenberg was living in New Orleans and her parents in Florida. She took the opportunity to do a phone interview with her father and obtain some of the detail she had not known about his long career. Her father’s philosophy was that selling is selling and if you can sell one thing you can sell anything else. I found this section rather tedious and uninteresting, but it was simply an interlude in a book that otherwise fully engaged me.
Attenberg brings it home when she writes:
Whenever my life turns into any kind of cliché, I am furious. Not me, I want to scream. Not me, I am special and unusual. But none of us are special and unusual. Our stories are all the same. It is just how you tell them that makes them worth hearing again.
She’s right, as painful as that is to acknowledge. I admire Attenberg for sharing the truth about who she is and how she sees herself.