Trying to Stay Afloat...
For me, so much of my self-worth feels tangled up with my writing career, and what it means to be successful there.
And in this publishing climate -- where being commercial can be more important than being good -- it's a tentative place to rest one's self-esteem.
Sometimes, I worry too much about what I haven't achieved yet, instead of what I have. Some of that is ego, sure. But part of it is truly the desire to leave some small, indelible mark on this world that actually matters.
So, while another day passed without an email in my inbox announcing a book deal for Frankie Sky (I don't matter! I don't matter!), I spent the afternoon at a local high school in one of the lower-income school districts (comparatively) on Long Island, not too far from my home. When I got home, I emailed this note to a few of my close author friends:
"If I ever complain again, remind me of this day."
The rest of this blog post is extracted from the remainder of my note to them:
The teachers, librarian, and principal were there to greet me, and were all so excited for my visit. The school had ordered 50 copies of my book this past fall after one of its awesome teachers had heard me do a reading at a bookstore and thought it would be a good addition to the curriculum, as the school teaches Of Mice and Men.
The students came in -- they had stayed after, by invitiation only, for extra credit, and there were 50 of them, one for each copy of the book that had been temporarily distributed in connection with the unit.
The kids were smart, engaged, warm, funny, and respectful, and completely enthralled with the book.
I talked about my journey to get published and how subjective criticism is. And, how to persevere when rejection keeps flowing in. I applied this concept to sports, art, and life in general. As I spoke, faces paid attention and heads nodded. As I spoke, I reminded MYSELF to heed my own words, if I meant them. And, I did. I meant them.
After, we talked about Nick, Jaycee and the Scoot. The kids asked endless (smart, amazing!) questions about the book. They wanted me to sign everything. Their tickets, pieces of scrap paper, bookmarks. They wanted to know if there's a sequel coming. They want a movie. And, most importantly, they want
my next book NOW.
I read aloud from the opening of Frankie Sky, and they went nuts for it. Even if no editors, yet, are. . .
At the end, the principal stood up and announced that, given the amazing display of enthusiasm he had just seen, he had decided to let the kids keep the books -- that the kids could take the 50 school hardcover copies home with them, if they wanted. It blew me away, but cheers actually erupted. I'm not kidding. As they ran up to get them signed, the principal held the late buses for 15 minutes...
Not a single copy of the book was left behind.
After the students left, the teacher who originally brought the book into the school told me she actually got teary-eyed at her principal's gesture, though she was not surprised by it because it is the kind of administrator he is. "These are not kids that are just given books, or that get to meet authors and talk with them . . . " she said.
As we walked to my car, she told me that the book stuff was all fun and cool, but that she was most grateful that I had talked about the subjectivity of art, and about rejection and perseverance. She said she could see the kids' faces taking it in, and internalizing it. She said she hoped that, if they took nothing else from the day, it would be that one thing, because it was a message they so badly needed.
Me, too, I kept thinking, me, too.
As for the book's future in the school next year, the principal assured me he'll be ordering 50 new copies for the fall.
Man, talk about your "shaky: districts. ;)"
I drove home elated, trying to memorize the feelings swirling in my heart and brain, reminding myself to hold onto the more important aspects of what I do.
I might not ever have the huge success I'm hoping for (whatever that is), but today, to a few kids, and a few teachers, for a few short hours, what I do mattered. To them, and to me.