This Side of Paradise
I got a call a couple of weeks ago from my agent delivering some news that no author wants to hear, and, as a first time author, I didn’t realize was a possibility. Basically, she told me that my book sales are so low that my publisher probably will not consider a project from me again, and because other publishers can look at my numbers THEY are unlikely to consider any books from me either. It’s also most likely that my books will go out of print. The path of this conversation was so dire, I almost half expected my agent to finish it with, “Oh yeah, and I just got off the phone with your vet and your cat has some disease contracted by your book sales, so he is TERMINAL TOO.”
I got off the phone, my mouth hanging open, and did what any self-respecting person facing THE DEATH OF A DREAM would do: I LOST MY SHIT. I spent the next few days flipping between emotional channels of devastation, rage, optimism, resolve, and back again. I felt like I had been fired from a job that wasn’t perfect, but that mattered to me, and I thought I’d be with for the long haul. Not so. Graham gave me all the pep talks that you get when you are fired: this is an opportunity, not a death sentence, etc. Sometimes I was receptive, sometimes I resembled a sarcastic drunk, slinging bitter observations and laughing too loud at my own jokes. Then the channel would switch again and I would be optimistic all over again, commanding my insides like some army taking over a small country. It was exhausting. Finally, I decided I needed some space to think things over.
Since I was 9 years old, drawing in my little homemade bound books, I had the dream of publishing my own book. I wanted to make children’s books, and then I wanted to make my own comics, and then I wanted to write short stories and novels. I never thought about making a self-help book until I got the idea for The Artist in the Office, but in life’s odd Rubic’s Cube puzzle, that’s the book I ended up publishing.
I remember the evening after I got the call that it had been sold, I walked to meet Graham and my friend Jose, feeling like there were light rays bouncing off of me. At last, I had broken through that thick wall that had always divided me from where I had always dreamed of being. I was meeting the end of my years of loss and yearning. I had MADE IT! Then, like so many, this bride soon realized that her whole life she’d been dreaming of THE WEDDING, only to find herself MARRIED–which is a LIFETIME longer than that one attractive day you wore a dress and ate cake. Every how-to author says this, but none of us would-be authors believe it for a second. We just want what they have–or at least the visible attractive parts of what they have. I used to think: just GET ME IN THERE, I’ll be fine! I didn’t realize that selling a book would take away some of that itchy pain I’d hoped to heal, only by replacing it with other different forms of itchy pain.
Last week, while switched to the optimistic channel, I started to think about my books and what making them has meant to me personally. As it happens, a lot. They taught me not only HOW to put pictures and ideas together, but they taught me that I COULD. They pushed my visual work to new heights and gave me confidence in both my abilities and my ideas. Sure it was nice to get paid to do the work I loved to do. It was nice to have editors that I loved to work with and who told me I wasn’t just pretty, but smart (ladies, that goes double for you!). But that stuff really won’t be the stuff that stays with me in the long haul–in the years to come, when I do or don’t have relationships with other publishers, or when I am staring at the blank page again and again. What will stay with me is how far I have come creatively with the making of these two books. They brought me here (maybe even to YOU, dear reader!). They brought me far from the person and hopeful artist that I was in 2007 when I made that first zine. I will always be grateful for that.
Someone asked me recently what my relationship was to confidence and I wanted to start slinging sarcastic jokes left and right, the way I do when I am put on the spot and I really want to run for the door. Confidence isn’t something I’ve long been acquainted with–it’s been a lot of tippy toes and inching towards to get a GLIMPSE of confidence, only to see her slip out the back. But then I thought about self-trust, something that I have been actively working with, and that’s when I realized that’s all confidence is–self-trust. Making my books helped me with that too, but honestly, publishing those books sometimes SCREWED with that and the phone call from my agent was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. At least for a few days. When I could hear myself again, I realized this really was an opportunity–an opportunity to embrace the inner voices inside me that have said, I am tired of trying to help the self self-help. I am tired of the business of creativity–I just want to be creative. I just want to keep going where I am supposed to go, not where I think I should go. I don’t want to be inspiring, I want to be instructive. I might never publish a book again (oh the horror!), but I might be doing the work that is true and that matters to me–wherever that might take me. Maybe my books will go out of print, but that isn’t what my son will care about, or even what will matter to ME when I cross the finish line.
We never hear about the quietly great life. We only hear about the larger than life and the larger than life failures. I used to think that my life mattered only in those two categories, but really I just want the great life–quiet or large, big city or small town, whatever it is, as long as it’s mine. I think, in all honesty, I see how this is possible perhaps for the very first time.
To those of you who have bought my books, thank you a million times over. Maybe you got it just to support me, maybe you got it as a gift or for a gift. Maybe you got it because the message spoke to you and your life. However the case, the gesture cannot be added up in numbers for me. It means more than the sale. It means my work did its job and found itself a home in the world. It means, I made it–to you. Thank you.