David Kalish writes essays, novels, and plays. He is the author of The Opposite of Everything (WiDo Publishing, 2014), a romantic comedy and cancer story rolled into one. This post originally appeared in the Times Union blog where Kalish contributes regularly.
For several years now, my wife has urged me—in no uncertain terms—to submit an essay to “Modern Love,” a column in The New York Times that explores the complexities of modern relationships.
I hemmed and hawed. Despite having a compelling story to tell—how my cancer derailed our dreams and brought us unexpectedly closer — I knew my chances of acceptance by The Times were miniscule. Moreover, I was reluctant to revisit painful real-life material.
But Ingrid, who tends to speak from the gut, was insistent. “Just do it!” she said. “And stop procrastinating already.”
Turns out I finally got off my rump. And wouldn’t you know it? Today (Friday), for all my self-doubt, The New York Times published my essay, “A Path to Fatherhood, With Morning Sickness,” on its online site. The article appears in the print edition on Father’s Day.
How I made it into The New York Times is itself a story that bears telling.
I credit, in part, my wife’s persistence. Night after night, we’d be lying in bed with the newspaper spread out around us. After reading Modern Love, her favorite column, she’d blurt: “You need to be in here!”
I countered that the Modern Love column receives about 8,000 submissions a year, and publishes only 52 of them. I figured I had a better chance of getting smushed by a falling branch in the forest than getting accepted by the Grey Lady.
And while I’d covered much of our struggles in my comedic novel, The Opposite of Everything, I felt awkward as a writer reliving the same material as fact. By writing about yourself, you expose your choices in ways that can be discomforting. Plus the people I write about may not like what I write.
But even as I doubted, I played with material. I brainstormed ways to create a coherent story. A writing group I belong to offered me suggestions on how to improve my piece. And over two years, an essay materialized.
In early April, after too many revisions to count, I submitted my essay to the Modern Love editor, Daniel Jones.
A month passed by. One evening, sitting at the kitchen table with Ingrid and Sophie, I noticed I’d received an email in my inbox. I read it. My first reaction was that the Modern Love editor mistook me for another writer. Then I grabbed my head and paced the house and freakishly chanted: “Oh my God. Oh my God …”
One of our dogs started howling. Sophie was weirded out. “What happened? Was there another terrorist attack?” Ingrid asked.
I spit out the news. I was flabbergasted to say the least. The acceptance came at a time when my other writing has been in a rut. My family gave me a warm group hug.
Last week, the editor and I had a back-and-forth over the phone for about thirty minutes. He told me he’d been looking for a piece with a Father’s Day angle, and mine fit the mold. Feeling like I’d won the Lottery, I answered his questions on my essay and he told me he’d be cutting several hundred words so it could fit the space.
A few days later I received his edit of my essay, which I had a chance to review. My essay then went through copy edits, the last round. Throughout it all, I felt slightly incredulous, as if afraid to wake from a dream.
This morning, when I saw my essay in The Times, I finally believed that something nearly impossible had actually happened.
I’d beaten the odds despite all my insecurities.
As I say in the last sentence of my Modern Love essay:
Lumps and all, not a bad deal.