The Story About The Book I Almost Wrote

This morning, I woke up with a song stuck in my head. I haven’t heard this song in a long time, I haven’t thought about this song ever (at least not consciously), and I haven’t woken up with any song in my head for a while. So, I thought it was odd when I found myself singing it as I got ready for class, but quickly forgot about the moment as I headed to my 8am lecture. It took me all day — a bizarre Leap Year Day, I might add — to realize that the singer (Davy Jones — a name I, admittedly, didn’t know) died today.

Life is weird. Sometimes I try to make sense of things that are not meant to make sense, and I look for meaning in meaningless accidents. I don’t do it because I’m bored or hopeless, I do it because I sincerely believe in learning from life, and sometimes I try to learn something at the wrong moments, over the wrong people, from the wrong lessons. It’s like I’m constantly working on one giant puzzle and I’m convinced there are pieces missing (you know that moment when you’re convinced it’s not you, it’s the puzzle that’s wrong!? Just me? OK then…), when really it’s a brand new box, and I just haven’t found some of the right ones yet. But, for what it’s worth (and let me tell ya — it’s worth a lot these days!), I’ve finally gotten most of the straight edges in place; everyone knows that’s the first step, then you fill it all in.

Crumbling Wall. Dolores, Argentina.

Last week, I found out that a book project I had been working on fell through. It’s strange, because I don’t feel sad at all. In a way, I feel really happy — maybe even relieved — and I am confused by this reaction. Most people are giving me the absolutely appropriate and kind words that I would think I’d need. But honestly, I feel good about this dream-crushing experience! I call it that because technically this was a life long dream-opportunity that arose out of the pure certainty in my heart/mind that it would somehow come true. When life actually matches up with the dreaming, I have trouble believing that it’s real. But, even after getting my golden ticket — the most unlikely happening at the most bizarre time — reality still sneaks up and wins.

For those who don’t know, by a stroke of serendipity, the moment I quit my writing/editing life and began volunteering as a physical therapy aide, I found myself tending to the sprained ankle of a new patient. As I set her up with ice and electric-stimulation (better known as e-stim, for anyone who’s ever found him/herself beneath its oddly buzzing patches), she asked me how I got into physical therapy. Without wanting her to know how truly inexperienced I “technically” was (going through a total of one year of physical therapy myself didn’t exactly count as “experience”), I told her I was actually a career-changer just getting into the field. She sounded interested and asked me what I did before? I love this question, because the last thing people expect is for me to say “I was a travel writer living in Ecuador.” But it’s true, and it makes me happy every time I say it!

This launched an interesting conversation, during which I announced that writing will always be my first love, but that I had also always secretly wanted to go into healthcare. When even a dream job in South America didn’t cover up this inner urge, which I had tried for years to cover up by adventures and disguised satisfaction, I realized it was time to bust a move (so to speak). In a way, I felt like the ship I was on (publishing) had just hit an iceberg, and I could either stay on and know my likely fate, or jump off the sinking ship while I still had enough fight in me to swim to a lifeboat. It took me several jobs to realize that I didn’t have to get paid to write; if I loved doing it, I could do it no matter what, and still have a different career. So, I took that knowledge and finally (after MUCH thought, and in a way, none at all) began to run with it.

Unfortunately, I have a lot of dreams. Dreams don’t just “come true” — lemme tell ya! You’ve got to work hard (in some cases, work your ASS off) for them, but these “dreams” don’t come with promises of any kind. To my delight, the woman with the sprained ankle asked me more questions, and I happily answered them. I explained how I was a bit adventured-out after getting sick in Ecuador, getting my heartbroken over too many over-the-top romances (including a couple unforgettable international ones… mmm mmm), and, frankly, I was out of money. But I mentioned that even though I was switching career paths, I had to write a book about all my adventures because they were too crazy, wonderful, and sometimes heartbreaking not to. I felt like the only one of my friends going through the wonderful mess of questions with only temporary answers that I was going through (which is probably not true at all, but I’m waiting for you all to blog about it!), but I knew there were plenty of other people out there who may have wanted to simply know they were not alone. She asked me, “what kind of adventures did you have?” So, as she had 20 minutes to go with her ice and e-stim, I began to tell her.

Walking along the peak of Pichincha Volcano. Quito, Ecuador. (15,500 feet high)

It wasn’t until the end of our conversation that I asked her to tell me about herself, and what she did for a living. Her response intantly sparked one of those magic moments in life when you just KNOW something crazy is about to happen in your life. She said, “Actually, I’m a literary agent…” I gulped, laughed, let the words blow up in my heart, and said: “OH.” I knew this was it. THIS was IT.

~Magic moment!! ~

Then she asked me the question I didn’t even know I had been ready to answer for years. She asked, “How serious are you about that book?” My response was immediate: “I am DEAD serious. I’ve already started writing it…” She gave me her card, told me to email her with a little more background on the story. I told her to watch out if she wasn’t serious, because she was going to get an email from me the next day. She laughed and said she was serious. Clearly, so was I.

In that moment, I knew this was going to happen. It was always going to happen. I always BELIEVED this was going to happen, but at this point — fresh off of me quitting the writing/editing world  and admittedly not brilliant– I just didn’t have a clue HOW.

A 30 page proposal and three sample chapters later (which I wrote in three weeks, mind you), I was signed with the agency. Within one week of signing, I started my post-baccalaureate pre-med program at NYU — my “new” life.

People often asked me how the hell I planned to both write a book and pursue one of the most intensely competitive/time-consuming academic endeavors I could possibly have chosen, and honestly, I had no idea what I was really getting myself into. I actually believed I could do both, because I had to! When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity knocks on your door, you let that stud in.

As I studied my brains out, I realized how hard it was going to be to write at the same time (about REAL people – scary, to say the least), but I had to make it work. Around the holidays I got a call from my agent. It could have been any news, and she wanted me to call back immediately. I was suspicious.

Sure enough, after all these amazing dots lining up and a little “fairy dust” (as my friend calls it), she got a job offer in another part of the country, and had accepted. Just like that, I knew this was it. Even though my project got passed along to the president of the company, I knew I wouldn’t strike gold twice; not everyone is going to love my story enough to work their butt off for it, and I had found my golden ticket, the one person in the world who sincerely did, but I wouldn’t dream of getting two golden tickets. A couple months of edits and lingering hope later, the end of this opportunity became reality, and my dream book has been put back in the mental bookshelf for now, while my biology and chemistry textbooks remain open in my hands.

I am going to write this book. It is absolutely not “the end.” But frankly, I’m relieved that I don’t have to write it now. School is my absolute focus, above anything else right now. It is my new dream, my new passion. And while writing will always be there, and will always be incorporated into my continuously odd, bizarre, and (to me) exciting life, I’ve got some final touches to add to the ending of my twenty-something story.

This song that I woke up with today seems evermore fitting as I get myself ready for bed tonight. So, I leave you with it, and with this promise: I will write a book. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I will. Until then, I’ve still got my trusty blog. So thank you for being a part of it, and my ever-changing, always unpredictable, sometimes incomplete yet deeply gratifying story… so far.



February 29, 2012 · 9:13 pm

4 responses to “The Story About The Book I Almost Wrote

  1. Geordie

    Hey Tavel,
    Just one more story that will make the actual book even better. Who wants to read about someone who succeeds on their first try? You’ll just be that much more relatable to your audience. 🙂 Plus think of how many more adventures there are to come and how much more interesting your perspective will be on everything that’s come before! Even more excited now for eventual, actual book, whenever it finally does become reality!


    • travelswithtavel

      As always, G, you get it! Thanks for the comment and for all your help along the way. I’m feeling good about it all, so until the next attempt! And yes, why let the story get boring?


  2. Funny, I was just wondering about you and this book yesterday. I haven’t been on twitter at all and wondered if I’d missed the news. It is funny how sometimes life has a way of working out, even unexpectedly, in the best way for the moment.
    Good luck with your studies!

    • travelswithtavel

      Thank you so much, Kate! I so appreciate the kind words, and the fact that you thought of me and the book at all! I think you’re absolutely right, so cheers to that 🙂

      Take care,

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