And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Last week, I received a phone call from someone who told me he decided it was time to write his book, something he’d been wanting to do for decades. He was dealing with cancer, he said, and the outcome was uncertain, so he needed to do it now, or possibly never do it at all. I arranged a face to face appointment and he came in early this week.
He moved slowly past my window. I could tell he was in pain. If I had to guess, I would say he was in his early 70s. When he opened my outside door, I called out to him to come right on in and make himself at home.
He moved around my classroom table and chose to sit to my left. Placing his manuscript on the table with a sigh, he sat down, and then turned directly to me. “I have to tell you, first of all,” he said before even saying hello, “I just finished reading your book, The Home For Wayward Clocks.” He paused, and then said, “Your book made me cry. And it’s the only time I’ve cried over a book in my entire life.”
So when you write, there is hopefully praise for your book. And then there is PRAISE. Quietly stated. Not gushing. Just stated as fact, in two simple sentences.
We spent our time talking about his life, and about his need to write his book now. His feeling that he’s running out of time. “I don’t know that I want to publish,” he said. “I just want to get it written.”
By the time he left, he knew, and I knew, that we would do just that. We’ll get it down.
I am very aware of the timing of his arrival in my life. The Home For Wayward Clocks was my very first novel, accepted when I was 49 years old, published when I was 50. Next week, my 14th book, 7th novel, Hope Always Rises, will be released. And I am now 62 years old.
This man wants to get his book done because he doesn’t know the outcome of his cancer. About the time I turned 60, I noticed a difference in my own attitude toward what I was writing. Everything I write now is written with the sense that it could be the last thing I ever write. Consequently, I pour everything I know, everything I’ve learned, into whatever I’m working on. As a result, Hope Always Rises is the best thing I’ve ever written.
Though at the time, thirteen years ago, I thought The Home For Wayward Clocks was the best thing I’d ever written. And that was without the pressure of wondering if it would be the last.
And now, that man cried over it, for the first time in his life.
I think, since turning 60 and moving on to where I am now, at 62, I’ve been writing, and possibly living, with forward-facing blinkers on. If you don’t know what blinkers are, beyond your turn signals in your car, they are what you see horses wearing alongside their eyes, that prevents them from seeing to their left and right. I have only been looking at the next thing, not what I’ve done that led me to here.
For all I know, Hope Always Rises might be my last piece of writing that people read. Or…it might be Don’t Let Me Keep You, the novel I’m working on right now. Maybe it will be “River’s Edge”, a poem that was just accepted for publication this morning, or “Retreat”, a poem that was accepted for publication a couple weeks ago. Or “The Greatest Of These” or “First”, short stories that were just accepted to a magazine and to an anthology over the last few weeks.
The point is, after I escorted this man out my door, I came up here and stood for a bit, looking at the shelf where my published books sit between A to Z bookends given to me by my husband. I tapped each book, quietly saying the titles out loud.
And then I put the blinkers away.
Everything I’ve ever written, I put everything I know and I’ve learned at all those points into it. Instead of just looking forward to what I hope the next piece is, I need to broaden my view to all that has come before.
The Home For Wayward Clocks made this man cry over a book for the first time in his 70-odd year life.
And, to broaden my view further, I am going to pour everything I know and I’ve learned into him too, as he works to get his own book written.
I think I’m going to like seeing without blinkers.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.