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April 11, 2008

Katie & Armando, Part II

Sarah Everhart had lived two houses down from Katie and Ernie for five years. She’d felt envious on more than one occasion of Katie’s childless freedom, jealous of the tiny convertible she drove.

“That woman will not appreciate that car until she has a baby of her own and can’t find room for the car seat and the diaper bag,” she told her husband, as Katie tore off with the radio blaring some unintelligible Spanish ballad. “She better enjoy it now.”

Three weeks later, as Sarah fixed her makeup for the KABC news interview, she wondered what awful criminal had found Katie in her car, top-down, music loud. She wondered if the ten pounds added by TV cameras was a myth. She said aloud to her husband, “If there’s anything good to be said, at least they didn’t have children. Can you imagine?”

- - -

While Sarah Everhart was readying for her close up, Katie was lying on a double bed in a beachside motel in northern Mexico. She stretched, slowly, feeling each muscle. She liked the burn, the deep down ache, that came with every stretch. It had been a good night, a crazy uninhibited night, and she rolled over into the empty place where Manny had been and rubbed her face into his pillow. She could still feel him, male and warm, and their smells mixed together on the rumpled sheets and pillows.

Her kidnapping had gone exactly as planned. Armando had met her at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot of a West Los Angeles mall. Her two duffel bags, both new, carried the only reminders of her past life. That’s how she thought of it now -- her past life. She had gone shopping for a few new things, some T-shirts and shorts and a backless dress that Ernie would have been embarrassed by. He maybe would have remarked she ought to hit the gym a few times before wearing that dress in public.

Armando had told her exactly where to park, the structure was old and the only security cameras were at the front entrance. She had thrown the duffel bags into the back of his waiting truck and kissed him on the neck. They both acted like it was a little weekend trip, no big deal, just park your car in that spot right there, OK?

As she pulled herself into the passenger seat of Armando's truck it crossed her mind that Ernie would just now be getting ready for his 10 a.m. staff meeting. The whole day was just beginning, really.

She pushed that thought out of her mind, shut the truck door and pocketed her old car keys. She’d get rid of the keys somewhere else.

They had missed the worst of the morning commuter traffic and Armando pulled the truck onto the freeway headed south towards San Diego. They didn’t talk much, didn’t stop even for gas. Manny had been as prepared as she was.

Even if Katie had backed out at the last minute you could always use a full tank of gas.

Poor Katie, she has NO IDEA what she's gotten herself into. She's a coward, really. But a romantic coward I guess. It's hard to like her sometimes.

When I first introduced Katie & Armando, I was talking about how at some point "Katie & Armando" had become synonymous in my life with "Someday." As in, "someday I will have a life that is perfectly settled and then, when that ideal time arrives, I'll have the time and energy and know-how to make my dreams come true."

I was surprised how many people emailed me or commented that they related to my craziness. And even more surprised by how many people confessed that they had a Katie & Armando of their very own -- they wanted to write their own book or build their own proverbial ark or travel somewhere or organize their craft room or decorate the house or plant a real garden or find a new job, but were also putting it off until "someday" when conditions were just right.

Some folks said "someday" stayed far away because they were too afraid of the problems that might happen or situations that hadn't yet transpired. It was interesting and surprising to me to hear it because you know, I thought I was the only one who worried about that stuff.

One evening last fall I was driving home from work in my Jeep. It was late, I'd been working some long hours to complete a project and the bus only runs until 6:30, so I'd had to drive for two weeks in a row. Traffic was bad and I was grumpy and hungry and I was really angry. I'd had a bad conversation with someone and we'd argued and I was crazy upset about it.

That night I spent the entire drive home having an angry and cutting conversation with the offender. She wasn't in the car with me, mind you. We weren't on the phone. I was completely alone, and I gave her a piece of my mind, oh you know I did. I carefully rehearsed how I'd say each verbal bombshell and when I thought through her every response I got angry all over again. I felt betrayed and misunderstood and I kept on and on at it, saying and re-saying everything I wished I'd said the first go around.

When I pulled into my neighborhood I noticed my house looked weird. It looked weird because it wasn't my house! I was so wrapped up in my mental dramatics that I had turned onto the wrong street. That's when it dawned on me -- I must have spent a good hour and a half having an imaginary confrontation with someone who was most likely already home and having dinner, blissfully unaware of me and my emotional tsunami. I'd not only re-hashed the event twenty times, I'd conjured up an entire NEW argument and given us both speaking parts in a play of my mind's making (my speaking parts were far more eloquent, of course.)

I'd wasted all that energy on one thing that was past and something new that hadn't even happened yet.

And in fact the big, eloquent and acerbic confrontation of my imagination never happened. The next day I woke up and shrugged the whole thing off. The person I'd quarreled with left me a conciliatory voicemail and in time the entire event just washed away, all that energy wasted on nothing. Crazy.

I'm glad I pulled into the wrong driveway that night. It woke me up a little, snapped me out of my head. I try to catch myself before I get too far inside my head with stuff like that anymore, like spending three days before my dentist appointment already feeling the pain. I try not to waste two weeks before a vacation worrying about the stuff that could go wrong. Sometimes I can't stop the chattering in my brain so I get out a pen and a piece of paper and I write it all down, every worry and every fear and every possible scenario of doom. Then after I record every free-floating anxiety (and it can take some time you know, I've had five pages single-spaced, back and front of worry!) I write down exactly how I wish the event/trip/conversation would go. After I'm done, I fold the whole thing up and put it away in a shoebox. One day after I die, someone's going to find that shoebox and have a hearty laugh at Ye Olde Crazypants. But it helps me in the moment to get all the worry out of my head and into some one else's capable hands. In this case, it is the shoe box's capable hands. Whatever works, you know?

I get a lot of emails asking about how to write, or get published, or get past the fear and anxiety of what might happen "when..." I never have all the answers. Everyone is different and I'm certainly not an expert anyway. I've addressed as many questions as I could in other columns, and I'm happy to do what I can, I know how good it feels to complete something and see it through and if you want it then I want it for you, too. I want you to have your someday.

A few folks who specifically mentioned book-writing as their own personal Katie & Armando talked about the fear of failure ("someone will reject my submission...") and conversely, the fear of success ("I might have to go on book tour and people will be disappointed to meet me...") Having been in both places, all I can say is that these fears pretty much have zero to do with the work, which is writing the book. Once it's written, once it's completed, then you can start to worry about the next step. And then after that, the next. If you try to worry about all possible problems and roadblocks and failures and successes and reviews and readers and events at the very beginning, you will never put pen to paper. And without writing the actual work, none of your fears mean squat anyway.

I know people want me to be able to give them details, a plan, the specific bullet-points and mechanics of exactly how to get published. A powerpoint presentation would do nicely! But I can't give it to you -- I don't have the answers. I don't know what will work for you. I don't know where you are in your head or your plan or your book. I do know that worrying about all the what if's will keep you far away from your goal. All that wasted energy on something that hasn't even happened yet.

When you do have questions about the mechanics -- how to get started or where to go once you've got a manuscript -- there are plenty of great resources out there far more knowledgeable than Ol' Crazypants. Spend a few hours in your bookstore or library looking at the bazillion guides for aspiring writers. Go up and down the shelves and find books like yours, see who your competition would be and see who publishes them. Then go online and find out if they take submissions. But even if you know all that you still need something to submit. So put your fears in a shoebox and write. If you find you need external motivation to write, there are tons of groups you can join and workshops and classes and online this and that.

There's professional help available, too. My friend and publicist Kim Weiss has a whole business devoted to helping people along the process, her website is called Help Me With My Book.com (I love that name!) and Kim and other professionals like her can help steer you in the right direction and coach you on things like platform and proposal and marketing.

I hesitate to give advice on this or anything, I think advice is probably the one thing truly more divine to give than to receive. But I get asked for advice a lot when it comes to writing. All I know for sure is that if you worry so much about things that haven't even happened yet you can worry yourself right into paralysis. Don't get so worked up about a future that hasn't happened that you stop making progress right now. Right now is pretty much all you got.

I still catch myself sometimes having those imaginary conversations, trying to re-say something in just the perfect way, or worrying about the future. I try to stop myself before it goes on too long. I sometimes have to write a letter to the shoebox. Then I breathe and try to remind myself that all I have control over is this very minute. Worrying about the ending is silly. No one knows how it ends! The ending isn't here yet -- all that's here is this one moment, this one paragraph, this one conversation.

Sarah Everhart sat down with the reporter from KABC. She hoped the news crew in her living room only noticed the antiques, not the coffee table from IKEA.

"Will the coffee table be in the shot?" she asked the photographer.

"No," he said. He was adjusting the light, moving it into the right position. "Can you turn just a little to your left please?"

Prompted by the reporter, Sarah gave a character description of her neighbor Katie. Sometimes she trembled while talking about the day Katie had gone missing, and at one point she started crying. Just a few tears, though, not enough to really make her mascara run.

"I just want her to be OK," she said. "You never hear about stories like these turning out very happy."

That part of the interview was used to promote the story on the ten o’clock news.

- - -

"A local southland woman is missing this evening, and police and searching for leads in the case."

Cue soundbite.

Posted by laurie at April 11, 2008 11:10 AM