That’s what someone said on Facebook in response to one of my recent blogs. Just that. “Boo-hoo!”
Then she—I assume it was a she, though there was no name attached—came back to clarify. “Well, after all, she’s published, isn’t she?”
And I laughed.
How well I remember feeling that way. It was a long time ago, but the memory is clear. If I could get published, if I could only get published I would never complain about anything again as long as I lived. Publication, I was certain, would open the door to eternal joy.
The blog this person was responding to was about school visits, about my no longer doing them and some of the reasons why. One of those reasons is that when I spoke in schools often, I began to find myself boring. I only had so many books and only so much to say about them and I got so tired of listening to myself repeating the same stories that after a while I didn’t want even to ride in a car with myself.
So yes, I am published and yes, I was complaining.
How clearly I remember attending my first writers’ conference. Harry Mark Petrakas spoke eloquently of the familiar despair that descended on him in the hotel room the night before. And I thought, “Oh, be quiet, man. Every single person in this room would give a right arm to be you in that hotel room.”
Now I can’t count the number of times I have inhabited that same despair-filled room. I remember waking once in the unfamiliar dark and asking myself where I was . . . not what room in what hotel but in what state. In my mind I went through a series of states, all of which I had visited recently, but nothing seemed right. I even sampled Canada. (I hadn’t been in Canada but I had been in North Dakota and received Canadian radio there.) I kept moving west until finally I reached California. Yes. That was it. I was in California. And at last I could go back to sleep.
Did I regret being published? Did I regret being on the road? No to both. Was I still grateful that night to be published and well enough regarded to be on the road. Of course. But that didn’t keep the night from being dark.
Someone else, in response to that same blog, took exception to my mentioning the teacher who sat in the back of the gym vigorously mining his nose for gold—or whatever precious stuff he had in there—during my presentation. She seemed to feel that my saying one teacher behaved boorishly impugns all teachers.
The truth is, though, that teachers are among my favorite people. Maybe not the nose-miners in full view at the back of the room—or even the paper graders, paying no attention to what I was feeding their students—but most of the rest. They are part of that small population who care about children and about children’s books and the bringing together of children and books as much as I do. How can I not like them?
Unfortunately, though, being published doesn’t open the door to eternal joy. Or make an endless series of hotel rooms appealing. It doesn’t even keep the nose miners out of view or make my own repeated stories more palatable. Nor does it make me immune to criticism. I suspect most people go through their entire lives without having to face the kind of hard-hitting criticism every published writer receives and must learn from and learn to set aside.
Being published, however, does one thing. It tells me that somebody out there wants what I love to create, that people I will never know are reading and caring about my work. And that is huge. The “boo-hoo” lady is right. I have been published, after all.
And yes, I am grateful.