When I was in my 20s and 30s, I fell in love with Zen Buddhism, which, in retrospect, was a perfectly Scandinavian thing to do, and one of the Zen meditations I learned was: Imagine a future, where all your dreams come true. Especially at times when things aren’t going well in your life, spending ten minutes each morning focusing on a tomorrow where every hope is realized can be nourishing and energizing, a powerful salve for wounded souls. So this is a focus meme I’ve used pretty regularly over the past twenty-five years, meaning thousands of times closing my eyes, and imagining a perfect world.
Now that Rocket Men hit the New York Times’ bestseller list the first week it went on sale, and is getting acclaim beyond what anyone ever could have ever guessed, nearly all of my professional dreams have in fact come true … and I can’t believe, after all those times of imagining what it would be like, how absolutely wrong I was in those meditative states.
It turns out that, when almost all your dreams come true, you only get to sleep about four hours a night, but on tour you have to be up and energetic and charming and focused and ready to deliver the right material in the right form on a moment’s notice for hour after hour to nonstop all day. This means you flit back and forth, drunk with exhaustion and ferociously alert, on a personality seesaw, at the same time that you keep forgetting what time zone you’re in. The hotel phone rings, and a voice says, “We’re calling to make sure you’ll be ready for the show,” and you say, “What time is this show?” and the voice says, “It’s a 7:22 show” and you say, “But, what time is it now?” and the voice says, “It’s 7:12, your time,” and you say, “Oh no problem, I’ll be ready.”
Then, when you’re on these shows, and someone asks you, live on TV or the radio or for press, a question that doesn’t make any sense, or has nothing whatsoever to do with your book, you get to completely ignore them, and instead say, “You know, something that really interested me so much in doing the research for Rocket Men was, pigs in space.” And the host doesn’t care that you ignored the question, and the audience doesn’t care that you ignored the question, because it is a truth universally acknowledged that all Americans share the need for food, water, sleep, procreation, and the need to know everything they can about pigs in space. And if the host keeps asking you one difficult question after the next, you can ignore them all. You can say, “That’s an interesting topic. Another interesting topic is the three times while working for NASA that Neil Armstrong almost got himself killed.” And even after an hourlong show where you’ve ignored every single question and just said whatever you wanted to say, the host will sign off and turn to you with, “That was such a great interview!” and you’ll say, “I had an incredible time!”
When almost all your dreams come true, the reviews are so far beyond what you ever hoped that you become flummoxed, and mystified. You finish one and think: I can’t believe he said that. So you read it again and you see they’ve picked out some sentence from the book to highlight and you think: “But it’s just a sentence. why did they like that sentence?” Meanwhile, of all the tens of thousands of things you loathe about your book, none of the critical reviews address any of them. They pick on you for things you never imagined were a problem, and still don’t think so, and no one knocks you where you think you deserve it, so you’re even more baffled.
When almost all your dreams come true, all of your friends outside the book business think your New York Times’ review is wonderful and spectacular and glorious, while all your friends inside publishing think that the Times’ critic, with his constipated, whining prose, has some nerve complaining about Rocket Men, and we should find that little bitch, and kill him. And this is true even when the friend outside publishing and the friend inside are married to each other.
When almost all your dreams come true, your father writes a letter to his local paper insisting they give your book the attention it deserves, since it is destined to affect public policy. And you think, oh what a sweet daddy he is, I hope the editor doesn’t think he’s a nut. And then, two weeks later, the Washington Post tells the Augustine committee consulting President Obama on the future of NASA that they absolutely need to learn about Apollo 11, as the conclusion to their glowing review of Rocket Men. And you’re both giddy, and appalled.
And finally, when almost all your dreams come true, you spend a lot of time with tears in your eyes.