I pulled from a few very real experiences when I wrote Mea Culpa. The first came from my ever-humorous dating life in my twenties. On a first “date” (we were introduced by a mutual friend at a bar, and we decided to take a walk while our compatriots kept the stools warm), I told a lie. I told a really weird lie.
The man, who was a chef-t0-be, asked, “Do you eat meat?”
I said, “Not really.”
Why that came out of my mouth is a complete mystery to me. Maybe because it was the nineties. Maybe I said that because we needed to reduce-reuse-recycle; because we were thinking globally and acting locally; because meat was murder. Or maybe I’m just awkward and inexplicable.
Cut to the chase. Several months of salivating over his culinary school creations while I nibbled on the side dishes provided a bulk of this story’s surface.
The other part of the veneer came from my time office-hopping in the legal world. There’s a typical dynamic, I think, present in most American office spaces. It’s rooted in desperation and absurdity, and I tried to bring some of that pageantry and hierarchical silliness into this story. It plays well with any theme of dishonesty.
Underneath all of that, though, is the core experience that I wanted to talk about without talking about it in a maudlin manner: trying to be someone you’re not in order to hold onto someone or something.
I think a lot of us can identify with a feeling of wanting very badly to be the right fit — whether it’s in a relationship or a job — and temporarily turning yourself into a lunatic through bizarre, Herculean efforts. And then failing at it anyhow. That’s where this story lives for me.
If I was trying to accomplish something when I wrote Mea Culpa, it’s what I’m always trying to accomplish when I write. I want to reach out through the muck and grey of living, and I want to hold every hand that needs grasping and whisper into all of the ears, “Hey, it’s okay. Me too.”
I want to make people smile.