And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
It’s really amazing how many times I can tie something back to my favorite television show, The Waltons. This, then, is the story of Little Literary Lion.
I was around 23 years old when I first saw the episode of The Waltons called The Book. At this point, the show was off the air, but was run in syndication on the Family Channel. I was hugely pregnant with my first child, and I was struggling to figure out what being a writer meant, now that I graduated with my degree and I was on my own and, amazingly, publishers were not breaking down my door to offer me a contract. In this episode, John Boy is discouraged when he’s raked over the coals in his first serious creative writing workshop in college. John Boy’s mother, Olivia, picks up on his discouragement. There is a new business in town called Majestic Press. She brings John Boy’s selection of short stories to the publisher, and lo and behold, they accept them. Unfortunately, and too late, they find out that this is a vanity press, or a self-publisher. In the end, all they have is a box of 50 books and a bill for fifty dollars.
Before they know this, a professor stops John Boy on campus, and says, “Mr. Walton, you’re getting to be a regular literary lion!” And later, Olivia says to her husband, “Imagine! Our son, a literary lion!”
At 23, and for all my life, I wanted to be a literary lion too. That phrase stuck with me.
In Manhattan, outside of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, there are two very well-known statues of lions, also known as Literary Lions. Since the 1930’s, they’ve been named Patience and Fortitude.
I wanted to be a literary lion. I wanted to have patience and fortitude. These are so necessary to be a writer.
And so, this led to me always wanting to live in a place with a lion out front. A regal lion. A literary lion.
LITERARY LION #1
When we moved to our current location, I despaired of ever having a literary lion. Instead of living in a place steeped with history and classic architecture, we chose to move into a brand new, industrial style, modern live-where-you-work condo. AllWriters’ is on the first floor, and we live on the second and third floors. But on a shopping trip to Sam’s Club, I came across a large fiberglass and resin sitting lion. He looked…very literary. So I brought him home and sat him in a little cutaway by our front door. He lasted about a year. I drove home one day and saw all these black pieces on the road. I wondered what it was. Then I saw that Literary Lion was missing. Someone attempted to steal him, but then must have grown tired of lugging him and dropped him, where he shattered. A part of me shattered too.
LITERARY LION #2
But I wasn’t ready to give up. Sam’s Club still had one left, on clearance since he was last summer’s stock, and I brought him home. He actually lasted a few years. Then I found him sitting in the middle of North Avenue, just waiting to be hit by a bus. Again, abandoned by a thief, but at least this time, not dropped, but left for certain death. I brought him home and moved him into the classroom, where he sits to this day. I vowed to buy a concrete Literary Lion, who would be too heavy for a thief to take.
LITERARY LION #3
On June 15, 2011, I drove to O’Hare Airport, to pick up my daughter who was flying home from grad school in Florida. My middle son came with me. On the way home, we stopped at Garden Star Garden & Art Gallery in Kenosha. I passed this business many times and I always admired the amazing array of concrete statues on display. This time, I stopped, on a lion hunt.
And I found him. Little Literary Lion. He was smaller than #1 and #2, but he had an intelligent and benign face. He wanted a conversation, not a kill. And he was heavy as hell. My son and daughter both struggled to carry him and put him in his place. At that time, it was at the base of my hibiscus tree, in a pot outside the studio. During the summer, Little Literary sat in a jungle of potted flowers. And in the winters…well, he put up with the snow.
In April of 2014, I added a Little Free Library to the front of the studio. Little Literary took up his post under it. I often heard people talking to him as they looked through the books. Children in particular took delight in the little lion. Students spoke to him. He became a guidepost – “You’ll know you’re at AllWriters’ when you see the concrete lion sitting under the Little Free Library.” I gave him a pat on the head every time I filled the library with more books.
Last week, someone took Little Literary Lion. He’s gone. Whoever took him had to work as a team with someone. All I know is he’s missing. Someone also stole almost all the books in the Little Free Library. And this is about so much more than a missing garden statue.
I want to be a literary lion. I want to have patience and fortitude. And I want to believe in the common goodness of people.
This year, I turned 59. Obviously, in 2020, I’ll be 60. One of my favorite books is Elizabeth Berg’s The Pull Of The Moon. In it, a newly-turned 50-year old woman enters a time of personal grief. I read the book when I was 36, and I grieved for her. Then I read it again when I turned 50, and I grieved with her. There is a line in the book that says, “The season of losses is upon me.” She was talking about her daughter going off to college. The loss of many things for her physically as her body changed with age. My youngest daughter just went to college and my oldest daughter just moved away to Louisiana to teach at a college, both within a couple weeks of the other. My body has now dealt with cancer.
With turning 59, I’ve ached with these losses, but my aches are particularly sharp around dreams. There are things I want to achieve that I haven’t, and I know the likelihood decreases every year. Having a book made into a movie. Being on the New York Times Bestseller List. Having Oprah on my speeddial.
And, you know, being a literary lion. Despite 10 books published, the 11th book accepted this week, and who knows how many stories and poems in magazines and anthologies… “Ms. Giorgio, you are becoming a regular literary lion!” has not happened to me.
It’s been hard to think about.
And so the disappearance of Little Literary Lion is like a metaphor to me. My literary lion has disappeared. Just like the dream.
Add to this the feeling that the world has spun into such a negative cycle, I can barely breathe. I struggle daily to find the good. Just in the last week, there’s been the impeachment hearings, a video of a koala screaming in pain while being burned by out-of-control fires in Australia, a video of a tiger being so abused in performance in a circus that she had a seizure and was then dragged by the tail and had a bucket of water thrown on her before being beaten. In front of an audience that did nothing. There’s been more school shootings and attacks.
And the books from my Little Free Library, meant to provide entertainment and solace to those who love to read, were stolen, along with my Little Literary Lion.
In this world, not even a little literary lion was safe.
So things turned pretty black for a bit. Yes, I am going to turn this into a moment of happiness.
On the AllWriters’ Facebook business page, on Thursdays, I leave a tip for writers. This week’s tip was how to make yourself pay attention to the positives, like acceptances, and turn away from the negatives, like rejections.
Last night, I stood by my front door and looked at the empty space where Little Literary Lion used to be. My heart ached. And then I said, despite the clichés, “Healer, heal thyself. Practice what you preach.”
Two people stole Little Literary Lion. Too many people to count are trying to find him for me. The community has shared my posts, the local Waukesha Patch did an article, and I am receiving emails and phone calls of support, along with photos of a variety of concrete lions to see if they’re mine. People have shared tales of stolen gargoyles and angels, all of which were way more than gargoyles and angels.
Which means there are still more good people in this world than bad. I lifted my eyes from the dark shadow beneath my Little Free Library and I looked at the light.
As for me? Did you see that one line in the middle of this? My eleventh book was accepted this week.
MY ELEVENTH BOOK WAS ACCEPTED THIS WEEK!!!!!! Its title is No Matter Which Way You Look, There Is More To See. It’s a full-length collection of poetry.
I’ve had patience. I’ve had fortitude. I still do. And I AM a literary lion. Despite no movie. Despite not being on the New York Times Bestseller List. Despite Oprah not having a clue who I am.
Let me tell you, she should.
And who knows? Maybe Little Literary will still find his way home. To those who are helping, I can’t thank you enough.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.