A Question of Perspective

AwardNovem­ber has come crash­ing in, with adver­tis­ers’ ear­ly and relent­less push for Christ­mas. I, on the oth­er hand, am strug­gling to stave off the end-of-year book award sea­son blues that fol­low on the heels of this hol­i­day. I love Christ­mas but, for now, I’m cor­ralling my thoughts to keep them focused on, say, Thanks­giv­ing. Besides, I’ve plen­ty to hold my atten­tion between now and the end of Decem­ber. There are con­fer­ence pre­sen­ta­tions to com­pose, inter­view ques­tions to answer, guest blogs to write, fan mail to respond to, and, of course, scads of work to be done on var­i­ous works-in-progress. Still, it’s hard to ignore the lure of those best book lists. If only I did­n’t care.

At the ripe old age of 63 (63 is the new—what?), I’m fac­ing the hard fact that I may nev­er achieve some of my career goals. I may nev­er win that cer­tain award, receive that par­tic­u­lar acco­lade, attain a last­ing place in the chil­dren’s book lit­er­ary canon. It occurs to me, at long last, that my work may not be as wor­thy as I have imag­ined, that I have, per­haps, thought of my tal­ent more high­ly than I ought. Ouch. Whether or not that’s true, anoth­er thought has begun to creep in. What if the work was wor­thy, and what if I did win those cer­tain awards or acco­lades? How much would it real­ly mat­ter, in the end?

I’ve had a num­ber of elder­ly friends in the busi­ness who, at the top of their game, were acclaimed, estab­lished, even “hot.” But, in their final years, they were fair­ly unre­marked, large­ly unrec­og­nized, and—saddest of all—their works were most­ly out-of-print. I used to sym­pa­thize with them. Now, how­ev­er, as I approach a good old age myself, sym­pa­thy has turned to empa­thy. I real­ize I’ll be lucky to be remarked upon a gen­er­a­tion from now. Heck, even ten years from now, as fast as things are mov­ing, these days. Not exact­ly the immor­tal­i­ty most authors imag­ine! What is that line from Eccle­si­astes? Van­i­ty, van­i­ty. All is vanity.

At my church, we’ve been study­ing the Book of Daniel late­ly. There’s a lot in this book about vain­glo­ry, par­tic­u­lar­ly towards the end. In Chap­ter 11, there’s a com­pressed report of nations ris­ing to pow­er, often by virtue of intrigue, deceit, and hasti­ly arranged alliances, only to be sup­plant­ed by the next con­quer who comes along with visions of empire danc­ing in his head. None of the king­doms ever last, of course. In fact, many are lost to the annals of his­to­ry for­ev­er. Like I said: vainglory.

As I read Daniel, I real­ized nations aren’t the only enti­ties guilty of vain­glo­ry. I’ve been wrestling with a case of my own. I’m hard­ly pre­pared to employ intrigue, deceit, or polit­i­cal alliances to climb to the top of the lit­er­ary lad­der, but what if I did? I would all-too-soon be pushed from my perch by the very next hot author to come along. And she or he, in turn, would only enjoy the lime­light until the next hot author emerged, and so on, and so on. Don’t get me wrong: lit­er­ary hon­ors are love­ly. The more, the mer­ri­er, I say. But, here’s the kick­er: They sim­ply don’t last. If that’s true, and it is, why con­sume pre­cious amounts of time in their pursuit?

I know. It seems so obvi­ous, but it’s hard not to be ambi­tious in this world. We’re con­stant­ly bom­bard­ed with mes­sages that we deserve more, need more, should strive for more. The least lit­tle ember of dis­sat­is­fac­tion in us is fever­ish­ly stoked—by adver­tis­ers, talk­ing heads, and, often, well-mean­ing friends and fam­i­ly. The notion that acclaim is some­thing to right­ly aspire to is whis­pered in our ears, day and night. For­get the need for speed. We lust after legit­i­ma­cy, recog­ni­tion, applause! And, for me, the desire for acclaim is also wrapped up with the need to make a liv­ing at my craft. There is always the hope, mis­placed or not, that greater awards will lead to greater earnings.


It’s hard not to get sucked in.

There is a way, though. What if I stopped lis­ten­ing to the whis­pers of the world? What if I shut out all the voic­es except God’s and my own? Could it real­ly be that simple?

Years ago, I gave up my sub­scrip­tion to Pub­lish­ers Week­ly because every time I read an arti­cle about a ran­dom author who closed a deal on a six-fig­ure con­tract, it gnawed my insides. Why not me? I moaned. It took me awhile, but I even­tu­al­ly real­ized that was­n’t healthy. So, I can­celled my sub­scrip­tion and end­ed the insan­i­ty, which helped. A little.

In the years since, I have found myself cring­ing at the approach of book award sea­son. Hard as I’d try not to, I’d read the list of win­ners each year, and whine, why not me? Why not my book? (Remem­ber, that was before I came to the real­iza­tion that I might not be all that and a bag of chips!). Thank­ful­ly, as the years have pro­gressed, I’ve spent less time belly­ach­ing about imag­ined slights, and have learned to move on rather quick­ly to con­grat­u­lat­ing that year’s win­ners and hon­orees. I may not be new and improved, but I am get­ting better.

The oth­er day, I read a post about a young author who was recent­ly hon­ored with an oppor­tu­ni­ty that has nev­er come my way, and prob­a­bly nev­er will. And I sud­den­ly real­ized that’s okay. That’s his sto­ry, not mine. I can be hap­py for him and wish him well with­out feel­ing any sense of loss. He is doing good work, and he is being faith­ful to the sto­ries he has to tell. That’s as it should be.

Friends occa­sion­al­ly remind me that there are those who view my sto­ry with a hint of envy. Of course, I nev­er see things from that per­spec­tive, because my atten­tion is on what I haven’t yet acquired, or achieved, or done. Enough!

Last week, I can­celled my cable sub­scrip­tion. It may seem like a small, unre­lat­ed step, but it is one in the right direc­tion. There’s less sta­t­ic com­ing into my home, now. There are few­er voic­es telling me what I need, or deserve, or should want. After just one week, I’m already begin­ning to rec­og­nize the sound of my own thoughts, again. I’ve made space for my brain to breathe, cleared room for my inner self to reemerge, cre­at­ed qui­et in which I can exam­ine my own heart. In the qui­et, I can remem­ber what tru­ly mat­ters, can recon­nect with the pure joy of work­ing with words. In this third act, I can focus on mak­ing the deep­est impact I can, here and now, with the gen­er­a­tion of read­ers I’ve been giv­en. That’s the job. That’s the one goal com­plete­ly with­in my grasp. If I stick to it before, dur­ing and after book-award sea­son, I’ll have no time to wor­ry about singing the blues.

I can already feel a sense of peace descending.

4 Responses

  1. Amen, sis­ter. Preach it! 

    I’m a tad younger, but I strug­gled with these end-of-career, end-of-life ques­tions a cou­ple of years ago. I decid­ed that no one can know what more suc­cess­ful peo­ple go through in their per­son­al lives. And I would­n’t want to car­ry their bur­dens any more than any­one would want to car­ry mine. 

    As for being a mid-list writer, I’ve rec­on­ciled that I gave it my best shot. I did the work before me. And none of us writ­ers have con­trol over what pub­lish­ers select or do. 

    How­ev­er, Nik­ki, I don’t see you as mid-list like me. You are the best of the best. I have at least one of your books on my cof­fee table. Your poet­ry inspires, ele­vates the soul. I love your poet­ry and your kin­dred spirit. 

    Keep writ­ing and don’t wor­ry about the rest. Like I told a writer friend star­ing at 80, it’s not over till the nails are ham­mered in the coffin.

  2. This is a very good reminder. Each of us has her own path to forge and fol­low. I am 67 and don’t feel old or out of time yet, but I’m get­ting there. I haven’t had a book pub­lished YET, but am con­fi­dent I will. I’ve had work pub­lished in High­lights and High Five, but cer­tain­ly hope to accom­plish more than that. Noth­ing to do but keep on keepin’ on. Thanks for a help­ful post.

  3. Nik­ki, I sure enjoyed read­ing this. I’ve only had one nov­el pub­lished (which took me 11 years) and the thoughts of anoth­er one is both excit­ing and exhaust­ing. I remind­ed myself this morn­ing, before I read your blog, that my ulti­mate job on this earth is to please my Lord. When I know I’ve done the very best I can do, I have to give myself grace and move on. Book sign­ings, press releas­es, events, books in stores are great but they do not define who I am. My iden­ti­ty is Christ and to him, I’m price­less whether I’m a best­seller or not.

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