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# 62--Of Sledding and Books


It occurred to me the other day, my two-year-old son between my legs as we hurdled down a steep hill in a blue plastic sled, that this was an insane thing to do. My son, sitting bravely face first as we plowed into whatever fate awaited us, might have felt something of what I felt, but, albeit, from his perspective. What I felt, was that here I was, the parent, the mom, and we were flying down a hill and I was trying to hold onto my child but I didn’t know if I could protect him from anything because it was all going too fast. I felt, for that whole ride, impotent.


When we landed in a pile of snow that sprayed into our faces and made him, suddenly, cry, and me laugh—a post terror, ‘we’re alive!’ laugh-- which then made him laugh, I asked him, hopefully, because maybe this hadn’t been as terrible as I thought, “Want to go again?”

“No,” he said without even thinking it through.

“You sure?” I believe in getting back on the horse, I think, don’t I?

“No. Go Home.” I guess I believe more in validating feelings than getting back on the horse, so we went home.


This was one of those parenting moments, where if it were a cartoon, you’d see me, the mom, with my shoulders caved in and I’d be slinking home behind my child feeling like I’d failed an important parenting lesson: Do not terrify your child by taking them down a steep, icy hill in a sled when it’s 10 degrees outside with winds gusting at 30 miles per hour. Who ever told you that was a good idea? And, also, I’d scared the living beejesus out of both of us. Since then, he only wants to go in his small wooden one seat sled, the kind you pull around fields and through woods and down the sidewalk just after it snows. He can control that vehicle better and his Mom isn’t sitting behind him letting whatever happens happen—I’m pulling, which gives me a useful, parental task.


Having a book come out, as mine is about to next month—and a memoir, too boot--is sort of like being in that sled—only in this case I’m alone. But I’m just as terrified of the pile of snow or that thicket of trees or whatever awaits me at the bottom of the hill. Only here, at least, I’m not worried about my son’s fate so much at my hand. I’m just worried about this other child of mine, my book, and it’s fate.


The other day I invited three other women—all from Maine—who all have wonderful books coming out around the same time as mine, over for tea. They are Susan Conley whose memoir about moving to China and getting cancer is called The Foremost Good Fortune; Sarah Braunstein, whose much anticipated novel is called The Sweet Relief of Missing Children; and Melissa Coleman whose memoir This Life is In Your Hands is about being a child of the back-to-the-land movement. It was a lovely tea; I’d made a pandowdy—a custardy cake atop berries--and we all drank lots of strong tea and ate some strawberries and worried about having books come out and laughed about the inanity of selling a book and then we all hugged and they went home. It was nice to have a rare moment with people who are going through almost exactly what I’m going through. Also it was remarkable because, how often does this happen: four women who live within twenty minutes of each other all have books come out at the same time? And three are memoirs? Anyway, I’m so grateful to have them—Susan blazing the trail with her book, which is the first to hit the shelves this coming week—to celebrate and commiserate with; to say I got this horrible review or I got this lucky break with; to have jitters and confidence all in the same sentence and not feel odd because they get it—having a book come out is like, again, being in that sled: exhilarating and, yet, terrifying.


So, in the next few months I will be doing the full court press to sell this book. I’ll be emailing notices of readings and posting it on my blog; I’ll be hounding you to buy the book (or, at least, get your friends to buy the book); I’ll be asking you to order it early as that matters somehow in the fate of how the book does in the long haul. Most of what I’m doing—the harassment---is not personal. It’s what I’ve been told will sell a book in this day and age when our attention spans are so short that all of the effort that goes into making this one little book suddenly gets reduced to whether someone is willing to invest 23.99 in a story, an experience--a private experience, even.


From where I sit, a lover a books, a person who has always believed my best friends were in books, I’d like to say this: My book more than a story, it’s a gift. I hope that doesn’t sound hopelessly self-important. I mean it in the most earnest way.  I wrote this book not so much to tell my story, but more so that anyone who’s gone through anything tough and kept going, kept hoping, kept dreaming, could pick it up and find a friend in me. While I wrote Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home, I was listening to Scoot Simon’s interviews on NPR with families in Cleveland—dads who had been out of work for months, grandparents trying to buy one week of groceries on ten dollars. I kept writing for those voices because I wanted, somehow, to give the book to them. To make them feel less alone.


Someone once said to me that falling in love is a gift and when you start a new relationship you might say to the other person, “here is my heart, it is yours to break.” Well, here is my book. I offer it as my best effort of love and candor; I offer up my story to become your story and your neighbor’s or your brother’s. I wrote my book for you and me.


Love, Caitlin.

Posted on Sunday, February 6, 2011 at 08:36AM by Registered CommenterCaitlin Shetterly | Comments5 Comments

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Reader Comments (5)

Nice piece, Caitlin. I hope you don't have too many rough sledding moments when you are out on the road selling your book when you want to say, "No. Go home."

Can't wait to read it. Good luck!

February 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Good luck!

I'm another Caitlin with a memoir out April 14 from Portfolio, "Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail", with some similar themes to yours -- re-defining success and connection in this recession. I went from a Daily News staff job back to freelance to a hospital bed with pneumonia from overwork -- to a retail job at $11/hr to get some cash in hand. But I stayed for more than two years, and what a worldview it offered.

You're fortunate to have nearby friends who know what you're about to face. It's an exhausting/fun marathon.

February 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaitlin Kelly

I'm so happy for you that you have friends nearby who are going through similar stages and can relate to you and what you're going through! What a wild, amazing ride. And I bet, someday, your little guy will be willing to try sledding down an icy hill again.

February 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Your book is a gift and I thank you for it! I'm on Chapter 19 and am so appreciating your honesty and openness. Thank you to you and Dan for sharing such an intimate time. It's a beautiful love story. A modern love story.

April 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I just read your book today--picked it up at the library. The subject interested me. I made my own pioneer woman journey to California in 1989, had two children there, and should have left my husband there when I returned to the Midwest.
I finally left the husband in Indiana and came back to Missouri, where the last 12 years have been an odd mix of divorce and single motherhood and finding second chances, including a wonderful husband I married after dating 11 years.
I am leaping into the void and helping a friend write a book, leaving the comfort of a sensible job with benefits. I'm sure people think I'm crazy.
But your book makes me brave--so thanks. I laughed and cried my way through it, with our calico cat stretched out beside me.I also dreamed my way through all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and I've made the pilgrimage to her home in Mansfield, Missouri--the same town as Baker Seeds. I have her cookbook, which I had to have because I loved her kitchen so much and it has pictures.
I was reading through your blog post and when I read this one about you sledding down the hill and scaring the crap out of your son, I had to laugh and write you.
I grew up in Wisconsin and have just about killed myself going down the bluffs of Lake Michigan hoping my friends would catch me at the bottom so I wouldn't go into the wooded hill. They didn't, and I crawled home across the street where my doctor dad informed me I has sustained a Charlie Horse (a friendly name for a super-deep painful contusion) by wrapping my leg around a tree.
Thanks for writing such a true book--I'll suggest it to book clubs and friends and pass along your great gifts.
Oh, and I love Greg Brown too.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

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