When I wrote my first book, my parents were both still alive. I’ve always been the weird one in the family, the one who didn’t make sense, who wore Snoopy shoes and had a weird voice, and was born 14 years after my closest sibling. I never felt like part of a family, but I always felt like my parents liked me okay.
While I grew up, my parents were divorced. My dad was a mechanic and a truck driver. My mom was a real estate agent and then an dental supply company office manager. I saw my dad on Sundays when he remembered. He was an adorable hobbit man, but pretty forgetful, honestly. So, after years of being weird trying to be a poet and things, my first book came out. One of the first blog interviews asked me:
Now that you’re under contract, does your family better appreciate your writing?
This is a hard question.
This is what my dad said when it happened, “Someone bought your book? That’s great. What’s it called?”
“Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend.”
We were on the phone.
My dad began laughing, “Ho boy. Ho… boy. Wait till I tell your Aunt Athelee that one. Tell me that again. .. Gay what?”
“Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend.”
My father then laughed some more. “Let me write that down. That’s really the title? Ho…boy. Hahahaha…. Ho . . . boy.”
Then about six months later, I was talking to my dad on the phone while simultaneously trying to make vegan shepard’s pie and he said, “How many books have you sold?”
I told him.
“Three? Three! In less than a year?”
“Yep,” I said, dicing onions, which always makes me cry.
He was really quiet and then he said, “Your grandfather was a really literate man. He was a great reader, you know. And my mother…she loved poems.”
“I know that, Dad,” I said, wiping my eyes with a paper towel that smelled like onions and only made things worse. I started snuffing. Dad didn’t notice.
But then he swallowed so loudly that I could actually hear it over the phone and he said, “I’m dyslexic you know. I don’t read very well.”
“I know, Dad. You’re super smart though,” I said this because sometimes my dad forgets that he is super smart because he only went through to second grade. He felt like everyone else in the family, in the world, was smarter than he was. He felt wrong.
The silence settled in and he finally said, “I’m just really proud of you. You know that, right? I’m really, really proud of you.”
So, even if no lovely people ever buy my books, at least I know that I did something that made my dad proud.
This it the Dana Farber certificate my daughter colored when my friend Lori ran the Boston Marathon. My dad died of cancer. He liked tractors.
When I sold my first book, my mother said, the way my mother always said, “Oh, sweetie. That’s so wonderful. I knew you could do it. I am so proud of you. My daughter, the writer.”
To be fair to my sweet mother and to be honest, this was what my mother said about everything I do. Like the first time I made an angel food cake she said, “Oh, sweetie. That’s so wonderful. I knew you could do it. I am so proud of you. My daughter, the angel food cake maker.”
The name of the second book wasn’t much better. My dad kept laughing. Even in my ‘glory’ moment, I amused the hell out of my family due to my complete lack of glamour, and my complete lack of normal.
The rest of my family, I think, were appreciative of the fact that I sold a couple of books. It makes me more legit to them somehow. Which is strange, but typical I guess. In our culture it often seems that the process of learning and creating is often only considered worthy if a tangible product comes from it and if that tangible product has market value.
But to me… the big value was that I made my dad think about his parents and think about books and think about me and made him proud.
So where’s the wisdom in all this? Um….. I think that in our rush to produce, we often forget the joy in discovering. Our culture doesn’t make that easier on any of us, but there’s this great, beautiful joy in discovering, in being quirky, in playing, in creating just for the sake of creating.
RANDOM WRITING EXERCISE:
Write one random word.
Without thinking about it write another random word next to the first word.
Start a new line and do it over again.
You’ll get something like this:
Brussels sky bugs
Dad silences dog writes
Eat trucks Nebraska
And it’s so weird, right? It’s like an almost-poem, but not quite. You should do ten lines of this and it’ll seem like a pretty bad poem, but that’s the point. The point is to make you not try to be perfect, to free up the random muse inside you so that you can write your story or your poem or your novel and be okay with a crappy first draft, or a rough sentence. Writing is work, but it is often play, and we forget that in our quest for product in perfection. So go play! You don’t even have to be a writer. You can find play in everything you do. I believe in you. Sparty does too.
Sparty believes in you. So do I.