And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
So this week, my 10th book, due to be released on September 26, showed up by surprise on my doorstep, and today, I drove to Techny, Illinois, to lead the AllWriters’ Annual Retreat. We have a full house this year, 23 writers representing 10 states under 1 roof, and I pretty much sang the whole way. This is my favorite weekend of the year. And the moment of opening the box and seeing my tenth book was just…mind-altering.
I can’t tell you the moment when I first started writing, but I can tell you the moment I realized I was a writer. Before that moment happened, I spent a lot of time, once I knew how to read, tracing the pictures from my picture books and then rewriting the story the way I felt it should be written. I’m told it was sort of spooky to watch me play, because I would set up my toys (mostly Breyers horses and Barbie dolls) into a scene and then sit back and stare at them. In my head, a whole story was unfolding, with dialogue, characters, plot. When it came time for the scene to change, I would move the toys, then sit back and let it all play out in my head again.
When I was in the fifth grade, way up in northern Minnesota, a new English teacher named Mrs. Faticci introduced Creative Writing Thursdays. We had to have a separate notebook just for that, and I remember carefully picking out a blue one. On the cover, I wrote in block letters, MY CREATIVE WRITING. I wondered what it would be. On the first day, Mrs. Faticci told us she was going to put a record on the record player (please don’t say, “What’s that?”), and we were to listen to the song and write down our impressions. The song was “Oh, Shenendoah”. After we wrote, she had us each go to the front of the room and read our results. The kids had lists and senses – there’s a boat, I hear the waves, etc. When it was my turn, I read an entire short story. Characters, dialogue, setting. Conflict, resolution. When I finished, the room was silent. I thought I’d done something wrong. But all I’d done was write what appeared in my head as I listened to the music. I was ready to slink back to my seat when, from the back of the room, Mrs. Faticci whispered, “Oh my god, Kathie. You’re a writer.”
I will never forget the absolutely physical feeling of something settling into place inside of me. That’s who I was. And now I had a name for it. I was a writer.
Even now, I get goosebumps.
The thing is, and I’m going to be lecturing on this later tonight, when we find our place, land on our path, learn who and what we are, we seem to believe that everything is going to go smoothly from then on. For years, we’ve heard lectures on Follow Your Bliss, Live Your Dream, Do What You Love. But no one says what should come after that: Follow your bliss, but it won’t always feel blissful. Live your dream, but sometimes, it’s a nightmare. Do what you love, even when you hate it.
Holding that tenth book in my hands this week – I felt that physical settling in again. All was right. I’d started here, and I’d ended there, just as I was supposed to. And in between, a rollercoaster daredevil ride that left me wanting to throw myself off the tracks from time to time. That filled me with self-doubt and depression. But that ultimately, I just kept following.
My first short story was published when I was 15. My first novel was published when I was 51. Well, three months short of 51, but 51 nonetheless. And yes, I see the 1-5 and 5-1 of those numbers.
When I held that book this week, and then on the way here, driving to the retreat that I’ve led for 13 years now, I felt that settling. It hasn’t been easy. Not at all. But it’s who and what I am.
And you know what? It’s been worth every rejection slip. Every difficult moment that comes with running a small business. It’s been worth it. And I would do it again.
Our paths aren’t made of rainbows. They aren’t even yellow bricks. They are rough and bumpy and totally hard to find sometimes.
I am so happy to be where I am.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.