It’s the last line in Some Like It Hot, one of the greatest American comedy films of all time: “Well, nobody’s perfect.” One of my favorite filmmakers, Billy Wilder, directed and co-wrote that film. When I lived in Los Angeles, I visited Wilder’s gravesite. Seeing his gravestone, like his body of work, served not only as a reminder that nobody’s perfect, but also that it’s important to laugh at oneself and at the things we cannot control.
I returned to Wilder’s gravestone via this photo a couple of weeks ago after I sat down with a brand-spanking-new copy of A Boy Like Me. My plan was a simple one – go through a few scenes aloud and pick one to read at my launch party. As Stephanie Gayle wrote in her insightful post, it’s important to practice for a reading.
Earlier this summer, I read the entire book aloud twice before submitting it to the publisher. It looked great. What came next was a comedy of errors; a lot of back and forth like any good farce. The first proof I received was textbook size and included track changes. After more back and forth, I received and approved a lovely final proof. Holding that final version in my hands, I sat down on my couch, feeling satisfied. I’d worked my ass off to get A Boy Like Me finished and published as the book I wanted on my bookshelf. Now I could have fun reading parts of it aloud.
Only I didn’t get past the second page. To my horror, on page two of this final copy, I found a word attached to another word in a sentence where it did not belong. My heart stopped. What? I didn’t write that word. It wasn’t supposed to be in there. I blinked and read the sentence aloud again:
None of that mattered because I somelooked up to see Tara Parks smiling at me.
Um, the word ‘some’ wasn’t supposed to be there. I picked up another copy. There it was again – the word ‘some’ randomly placed in the sentence. I jumped up off the couch and screamed, “NO!”
I ran to get that lovely final proof, the one I’d approved, the one now on my bookshelf. Had I missed some random word? I opened the proof. The added, mysterious ‘some’ was not there. The sentence in the final proof was as I’d written it:
None of that mattered because I looked up to see Tara Parks smiling at me.
I fired off several incoherent, inconsolable texts to Natalie, my girlfriend. She responded thoughtfully to each of them. Meanwhile, I went through all the emails dealing with the last proof and all the attachments. ‘Some’ was not there. Where did the added word come from? How did it get there? There was no explanation for it, like when a sock goes missing from the laundry. I’d never know what happened.
What happened next with me wasn’t pretty. My face contorted in ways that shouldn’t be seen by anyone. In my head I heard people laughing. Even though it wasn’t my error, I’d let down my team, my fellow writers and fellow readers. I’d have to borrow the large plastic head that Michael Fassbender wears in the movie Frank if I ever went out in public again.
Natalie came home and sweetly pointed out all of the typos we’d found in well-respected, published books, one example being a recent Pulitzer Prize winner. I pointed out to her how I scoffed at each and every one of those typos, like Henry Higgins scolding Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
Nothing could console me. Not even after the assurance that it would be fixed by the book’s release date for online sales as well as all future printings. I reminded myself that no work was perfect to the evolving, growing artist.
That’s the real reason writers have a hard time letting go of their work. We’re constantly growing as writers. Each passing day we’re better writers, better than our last work. We release something into the world, knowing when we look back at it, if we look back at it, we’ll find something we’d tweak, something we’d “do better.”
However, this wasn’t my error. I had no control over it, making it even more difficult to swallow. Nothing cheered me up as I glared at the piles of books in my home office. All I could see was that one error, the extra word in the sentence. Of course I knew that this little error in my little book was nothing compared to the tragedies and injustices going on in the world, the current events I covered daily for work. But, let’s be honest. What really had me freaked out was the idea of being laughed at, of readers and reviewers picking up my book, seeing the ‘some’ typo on page two and laughing.
Then, that night, in Hollywood, rap superstar Iggy Azalea fell off the stage while performing her mega hit “Fancy.” After she fell, she kept on singing, getting right back up on stage. Later, she posted the footage of her fall, writing:
Sorry but it would be a crime not to share this with you all, I know I laughed. #StillFinishedtheSongTho #KeptOnRapping #TheShowMustGoOn
I watched her video and laughed. I carried that laughter over to the mysteriously added word in my novel. I realized that I needed to share this blunder. Like in high school, the huge zit always seemed a little less huge when laughed about with friends. I thought of Billy Wilder and pulled out his gravesite photo. In that moment this post was born.
It’s true. Nothing and nobody’s perfect. Not even Some Like It Hot, which has a few goofs in it. It’s not about perfection. It’s about striving for perfection and learning, growing. These last few weeks have been a huge learning curve for me. And I’m thankful for it. A Boy Like Me is officially released to the world today. But it’s not the end of the journey. It’s the beginning. That’s why it’s called a launch party. There are more lessons to be learned and more laughs ahead.