When Ben asked how I was doing, I didn’t expect to burst into tears.
It had been a rough week. Failed projects, miscommunications, wasted efforts. On Halloween I spent the entire day prepping for our neighborhood party. It’s a luxury to have an entire day just to clean and set and decorate– I was happily clicking through my list, checking off one task after the other, feeling pleased that everything was going so well. I made a double pot of soup and left it to simmer while I set up tables in the backyard. When I walked back into the house 20 minutes later, smoke filled the kitchen and the soup was irredeemably burnt.
I hauled the entire pot out to the side of the house, aired, the kitchen and bought hot dogs for the party.
No big deal. Everyone had enough to eat and the party was a success.
But I left that pot of burnt soup on the side of the house near the garbage cans, and as the bigger disappointments piled up that week, the soup became something of a symbol to me: wasted time, wasted money, wasted effort.
And then I got rejections from two publishers in one day. Now, two rejections aren’t considered a big deal in the publishing world. You don’t really get bragging rights until you have 60 or so. Still, these rejections were a bit worse– more like breaking up with a boyfriend, rather than never getting the first date. I’d had email and phones conversations with editors and sent extra material to review committees– I (foolishly) thought they might have a bidding war over me. And then they both dumped me within 24 hours.
But I didn’t tell anyone because it felt kind of shameful (two breakups at once!) and we had so many bigger things going on around the house. Until Ben called, and sputtered and choked with sobs.
I think a lot of life is like that, we try things, we fail and we wonder if we’ve just been wasting our time. It’s so easy to see when you should give up on a pot of burnt soup, but how do you know when to give up on an elusive goal?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not holding a pity party. I have a lovely, happy life and I’m grateful for every minute of it. I’m just puzzling over where to spend my time because it doesn’t feel like there’s ever enough of it. We visited our friend Lisa in the hospital this week. Five weeks ago she was in a car accident that nearly took her life. Seeing our energetic Lisa so frail and broken was very sobering. What the point of ambition? Shouldn’t we spend every day just drinking in sunsets and flowers and baby kisses?
With persistence, I know I could get my book published, but do I want to? It seems so small. Will it all be a waste of time? Does anyone really need another book on raising teenagers? Can I handle the inevitable negativity? (I got my first piece of hate mail the other day. That was fun.) Instead of writing about teens, I may just take a job teaching at the high school.
Back to Ben, because he said exactly the right thing and I think it applies to all of us.
Once I got past the sobs, I started whining, “I don’t know where to go from here. Should I rewrite my whole proposal? How do I figure out what they want?”
Ben replied, “Write the book or don’t write it. But don’t turn it into what you think publishers want. What makes you a really great mom is that you’re not afraid to be different, you never really cared about what anyone else thought and you did what you thought was right.”
And he’s right. That’s my superpower, all my tips and tricks rolled into one. My insecurities often cripple me out in the world, but in my home I know what’s right and I’m not afraid to act on it. Ben’s words feel like more of a success to me than any publishing contract.
So, I don’t know where I’m going from here. I’ve always loved the ‘makes good use of time’ comment, but right now I don’t know what that means. I’ll just keep plowing forward with a prayer in my heart and looking for the next signpost. I hope I’m not so busy trying to be somebody else that I don’t recognize my path.