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.