It’s taken me a while to write this post. My inclination was to turn it into a comedy routine, as is often my inclination. Older people, and I tend to believe more frequently older women, soft shoe their accomplishments. Age is a con artist, robbing us of confidence even as we grow in experience.
Ultimately, I decided this news meant too much to me to trivialize it, so please, indulge me this story.
Nearly two years ago, and two months after my retirement from IBM, I attended a month-long writing course in Paris. The class was expensive. Signing up and paying in advance were the only ways I could ensure I would show up. To make this more frightening, the head of the course was one of my heroes of travel writing, Rolf Potts. He also became my advisor.
That first day of class, he asked me about my writing goals, and I told him that I wanted to be published by Lavinia Spalding in The Best Women’s Travel Writing anthology. I had read this book each year; friends had brought me an earlier edition when they visited Pat and me in Budapest. Yet saying this out loud made me feel silly. Delusional. Embarrassed. And yes, old.
During that month in Paris, I wrote a piece about a pig killing in Hungary. The timeline covered my entire three and a half years in Central Europe–from the early days in Slovakia when I learned pig killings were ‘a thing’, until I ultimately attended one just before my assignment ended with a work colleague who had become a very good friend.
I finished the first draft in Paris and continued to work on it for eighteen months. The early feedback was brutal. “Your ending is such bullshit!” “This needs a lot of work.” But I needed that feedback, and as a consequence, the piece improved over time. When Lavinia put out the call for submissions, I decided it was ready and sent it in. Months later, I had forgotten about it.
Then this happened.
Five days before Christmas, I received an email from Lavinia stating that she was interested in my story, but ‘it needs work and my timeline is insane.’
I set aside two days, at least 20 hours, and fretted over every word, addressed each of her questions and comments. If this piece perished, lack of effort would not cause its demise. On the third morning, I read it over and over and over before hitting send. Then we left to drive to Charlottesville to spend Christmas with our family.
During the car ride, I received an email back from Lavinia. BEAUTIFUL. That one word. IN CAPS. (Good news, I learned, feels better IN CAPS!) The pig killing piece took me 18 months to complete. By my best estimate, I made two cents an hour on it, but that doesn’t matter. This singular event is so much more fulfilling than anything I accomplished during my whatever-an-hour career at IBM. Happiness, it turns out, can’t be sold to the highest bidder.
One reason I have waited to write this post (or to tell my friends for that matter) is that I was convinced that through some cosmic mess-up my essay would dribble out into cyberspace, a 3600-word puff of diaphanous cloud. Or that a vegan publisher would pull it at the last minute. Or…. Or…. (Doubts, doubts, doubts)
I wanted to see it on my Kindle. To confirm its existence.
I did, and it’s there!
On May 15th, there will be a book launch in San Francisco, but I will miss it. I hope to make an east coast reading. And it looks like there will be a reading here, this fall, in Paris!