Well, That Was A Shitshow: Putting Life Back Together When It All Falls Apart

April 26 2019 | arielmstallings
This isn't the cover, it's just a hilarious photo I took in a photobooth in 2016, mid-shitshow.

I owe y'all an update about my next book, the recovery memoir that was called ONWARD, then Offbeat Resilience, then Shitshow After-Party and now (hopefully its final title!) Well, That Was A Shitshow: Putting Life Back Together When It All Falls Apart. It can be a challenge to talk about a book when it's still taking form, but here's what I can tell you…

HOW DID WE GET TO THIS SHITSHOW?

Let's start with this title: Seal Press, the publisher of my first book, Offbeat Bride, acquired this book under the title Shitshow After-Party.

A few months into production, I got an email from my editor, letting me know that the sales team at Hachette (the publishing group that owns Seal) had some concerns about the title. "There's a lot of enthusiasm for the tone and concept (and the book!)," she told me "But also concerns that some readers will perceive it as something it isn’t—either 'a shitty after party' or 'having a shit show after a party,' etc."

"Ok," I said. Then my research associate Caroline and I spent half an hour brainstorming a dozen new titles, and "Shitshow to Afterglow" was what shook out.

[UPDATE JUNE 2019: …And then the title was changed again. For those keeping track, this is the fifth title. Now it's Well, That Was A Shitshow. Fingers crossed this title sticks.]

This is the kind of thing that would have driven a younger Ariel crazy — the publisher changed their minds! Why don't they respect my title! Bla bla! This Ariel, however, understands that this is the price of admission when working with a publisher.

If I wanted total control, I would self-publish — and in fact that's exactly what I did last year with PROS BEFORE BROS. I wanted total and complete control over absolutely everything: title, interior design, cover, every single word in the book, the art, the marketing plan, the sales and distribution, ALL OF IT. 

Having gone through the publishing process with each of Offbeat Bride's three editions, I totally get it now: if you want total control, you self-publish. If you want someone else to publish your work, you relinquish control. It's a surrender practice. I knew that I wanted someone else to publish this book (for so many reasons, some of which I'll get into later), so working with a publisher was a very conscious choice. I reviewed the contracts carefully. I know this process intimately. I relinquish control.

 

WHAT'S THIS CURRENT VERSION OF THE BOOK ABOUT?

It's still about recovering after a loss. It's still about grief, growth, rebirth. The book uses a similar format as Offbeat Bride, which is to say a mix of memoir, balanced with service / self-help / prescriptive stuff. In the same way that Offbeat Bride wasn't about telling you how to have exactly my wedding, Shitshow isn't about telling you how to have exactly my kind of emotional recovery process… rather, we're using my process as a launchpad to hopefully inspire, entertain, and support readers in finding the shape of how their process might feel.

I think healing is mostly about intent — my process included everything from wailing at a grief retreat (humbling) to learning how to shoot a handgun (terrifying). I practiced meditating (poorly), talking to a rainbow-haired therapist (loudly), and mindful burlesque training (I am touching my arm, there has never been an arm like this before!). I tried sequin dresses, sound healing, studying epigenetics, and a self-driven daily neighborhood practice where I complimented as many neighbors as I possibly could in a desperate attempt to more connected during a very lonely time. I tried getting spanked, I tried building crying altars, I tried pull-ups at playgrounds, I tried learning about attachment theory. All of it was healing.

Each chapter shares my story, and then my research associate Caroline helped me weave in research and evidence-based resources and sidebar rituals and journal prompts and quotes for contemplation. The hope is that this service writing will translate my flailing into actionable ideas that will help readers discover their unique path through their own shitshow.

This is most definitely NOT a book about the specifics of my shitshow. If you're looking for lurid descriptions of my divorce, you'll be disappointed. I've learned that the specifics of a crisis are just content… it's way more interesting to see what emotions and stories emerge, watch how you learn from it, and what you choose to rebuild.

Ultimately, the fire that burns down your life isn't that interesting (it was hot and horrifying and hurt — what else do you need to know?). The real story is in the shapes you see in the specs of ash in the air as they drift into the burned out pit that was your life. And then, even more interestingly: wtf do you DO with that burned out pit?!

Shitshow is a mix of my personal experiences, and then a lot of research and thoughts about stuff like trauma recovery, therapeutic modalities, historical contexts on grief ceremonies, thoughts on scientific non-dualism, attachment theory, and whatever else I can squeeze in. I'm having to watch myself carefully because I want to include every single thing that helped me, in the hopes that maybe that one particular thing that I squeezed in might be the exact right thing for that one reader who needs it… but ultimately it's a memoir/self-help hybrid book and not a cure for cancer or world peace.

WHAT'S THE TIMELINE?

Caroline and I are finishing up the manuscript in the next month, and then the book is off to Laura, the editor at Seal Press. Then come the revisions… yet another surrender practice.

In May, I'll be headed to New York to meet with the sales and marketing team at Hachette. I may have spent the first 15 years of my career working in marketing, and I may be fluent in the language of marketese… but I'm looking forward to working with marketers who know the specifics of book marketing WAY better than I do.

At this point, I'm smart enough to know my limitations, and I've spent over a decade in my own weird offbeat ditch, doing this one particular kind of thing relatively well… but honestly, who knows what I could have done with the Offbeat Empire or my writing career if I'd been smarter or braver or less isolated.

I'm proud of what I've accomplished with my business and the long-term sustainability, but I've mostly toiled away in my own little corner with low stakes and low revenue. I recognize how I've held myself back by being simultaneously convinced that the mainstream media is rejecting me, while also completely isolating myself and almost never publishing my work anywhere except for my own platforms… so, like, how smart am I really at marketing?! HA!

Shitshow will go through the editorial process this summer, and then head off to design and production… the latest I heard, it'll be on shelves in June 2020. 

Thanks to each of you who've been cheering this project along — some of you for many years! Writing the early drafts of these chapters back in 2016 was part of what kept me alive. Even if the book just quietly drifts into the sunset after publication, the process (including y'all's encouragement) has meant the world to me, and transmuted a lot of pain and contractedness into an creative, expansive journey. 

    • Oh, man, T. I hear you loud and clear. Midlife is quite a ride. So much growth, so much ego death, so much opportunity.

  1. I’ve been following for a while…. and always enjoy the learning process just seeing y’all walk through things… been going through my own personal transformation as I dig out things sitting inside for 20 years and going through high risk pregnancy …dealing with family and working on my passions … let’s just say the last 5 months have been a hard look at my life … and it’s worth every ounce of pain I’ve been walking through to find that glow!!!! All my best to you Ariel!!!!!! And now my little girl is 2 … and such a little human!!!

  2. Ariel – I have been following you since 2009 and I have to say, the writing you’ve shared related to this topic/process has been some of my FAVORITE writing EVARRRRRRR. Seriously, a deep thanks for sharing so much of what you’ve learned in vulnerability – I am so excited for this book.

    • Thank you, Kristi! It's been a fascinating process to try to reassemble both my life, and the way I write about it. At first, I was deeply resistant to this book being structured as any sort of advice or how-to (because part of this process for me was understanding just how little I know)… but as the years have gone on, I've seen how much I gain from folks who are willing to share their own processes.

      The material that's been the most useful for me has come from folks who aren't like "do it like this, because I'm an authority" but from a place of sharing dispatches from their own personal development trenches. I don't want to tell anyone how to do anything (I'm no authority, and I'm exhausted from years of pretending to be one on the internet) but it feels gratifying to hopefully provide container for others who are deep in it, doing the work of rebuilding their worlds after a burn-down.

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