A couple of times before I had tried living the dream. As it turned out, I was only living in a dream world. I decided Christmas 2003 I would claim my book deal. I was, after all, on a winning streak… one for one. In 1991 upon submitting my first-ever manuscript, a riveting piece called, “Creating Camelots,” I was published in The English Journal. I had known I had a winner, so I wrote past maternal guilt. Every mommy knows that it’s impossible to shake off a tenacious toddler. We can run but never hide. Even Calgon can’t take us away from a boisterous baby pulling up on the tub, then trying to eat our bubbles. So in order to concentrate, I had to reframe my thinking. Contrary to her crying and clinging, Taylor liked playing under my computer table while I tried to write. The one-year-old’s death-grip on my right calf was her way of contributing to the writing process, forcing the blood up from my leg and into my brain. No doubt she understood that I had chosen a teaching certificate over a law degree to allow me more time at home with her. Likewise, I had gladly bid acting good bye when, opening weekend of my debut in Blithe Spirit, I found out I was pregnant. At the end of the show’s run I retired from community theater to focus on the family. So of course she supported my plan to launch a writing career from home. And on the off chance she didn’t…well, she would adjust.
A mere twelve years and a lifetime later, I sat down to try writing again. This time my kids were older, and I was better informed. I had read about the realistic timeline of getting published—the year or two required for a book to come off the press. (Of course, I chose to ignore the bothersome fact that this timeline referred to the period AFTER a book was bought by a publisher—that the period BEFORE a book was purchased could be years..even decades.) It all sounded so simple. Textbook stuff really.
So after hiring a professional photographer to do my cover shot, I cast my net far and wide– sending my proposal and sample chapters to everyone listed in The Writer’s Market. Then I waited, confident the calls would begin as NYC publishers would fight to wine and dine me, vying for the chance to snap up my first masterpiece. I didn’t want to jump at the first advance that came along and miss a bigger check offered later. If I made at least the $15,000 all reference guides said I should for a first book (I wouldn’t presume I’d have the luck of Nicholas Sparks and snag a million dollars the first time out), I’d have enough for an Xterra and a laptop. My then thirteen-year-old Volvo would be retired at last. Once I accepted the best deal, I would simply finish the book and look forward to the call coming that would place me across from Katie Couric on The Today Show. We’d both be wearing pumps and pencil skirts and she’d be asking me how it feels to be a best selling author. My NOT getting published seemed as unlikely as her leaving NBC and defecting to CBS…
Into the Cave
Already a legend in my own mind, I entered my cave (our basement family room) in 2003 to work on my one-and-only computer—a green bulky iMac– a prehistoric and PIP model. (PIP stands for Pre-iPOD—the eighth natural wonder of the world because it made Macs universally cool. Well, the iPod plus iTunes and the marketing campaign that pits the paranoid, paunchy PC Patriarch against the hot, hip Mac Daddy.) And for the next eight months, my basement– though damp, dark and lightly scented with our dog’s pee– became my writing cell. But I couldn’t complain–not after visiting Patmos on a cruise of the Greek isles. After standing in the black niche of the cave from which John humbly and peacefully wrote the Book of Revelation—the concluding chapter of the hottest selling book of all time– writing in a cinder block basement didn’t seem such a sacrifice. There I spent every free moment of ’04– weekends and summer break– working in self-imposed exile.
Finding the “bright side” of writing underground when other obstacles presented themselves wasn’t always easy. First I had to condition myself with an “Early to bed, Early to rise” mantra if I wanted to beat the kids to our only computer. Next, I had to learn firsthand that the best defense is a good offense. To hold off Taylor’s blitz to Instant Messenger and Cole’s run to Zelda Online Player’s Guide, I had to tackle our phone aggressively. To prevent telemarketers from waking the kids, I started each day by taking the phone off the hook and smothering its cries with my pillow. This kept my kids out of the game and bought me more time, that is until they enlisted more team members–The Boys of Summer, five neighborhood kids who daily hoped to wake Cole so he could come out to play.
Once Taylor woke up, trying to defend the computer from her downstairs– while simultaneously guarding the front door from the boys knocking to wake Cole upstairs– required a defense strategy that would have stumped even Bear Bryant. So choosing yet another offensive move, I invented a new rule–no one could approach the front porch before 1 PM. I soon discovered two loopholes in this edict. One, it didn’t cover backyard strategies the boys used to wake my son– like jumping on the trampoline or shooting hoops underneath his bedroom window. Squeaky springs and balls bouncing off the backboard were signals I hadn’t counted on. Second, compliance with the 1 PM rule probably never happened because Cole said he “forgot” to tell them about it in the first place. Once the boys broke through the lines and rescued him from the house, it was harder to concentrate on writing, what with hip hop blaring and bottle rockets exploding.
Out into the Sunshine
I did finally achieve enough lockdown to send off my first book proposal and sample chapters. In doing so, I had temporarily tasted the joy of working all day in my pjs. Like Claire dressed in her nightgown as she leaps across the stage in The Nutcracker, I, too, saw dancing visions of my own fantasyland. Financial Independence. A life of typing away on a laptop from my deck swing—kids gone to school—nothing but the tranquil company of Annie, my golden retriever; Precious, my Persian; and the occasional annoying squirrel. Just mockingbirds singing—my own version of Mockingbird Hill—my grandparents’ farm which to me had sounded like a utopia.
My grandmother, Mama Lou, would tell me stories of its magic and take me there via her magic carpet—her rocking chair. My sister and I would sit on each side of her on the wide oak armrests traveling to grand destinations. Sometimes we’d stop at Parisian sidewalk cafes—in reality her couch and tv trays.
Wishful Thinking: The Glass All Full
Most of my romantic ideas probably started in her living room. Because I learned to visualize early—of say, casually chatting with Queen Elizabeth when my grandmother’s rocker dropped me off in London—I had no trouble sustaining the habit of dreaming big even as an adult. That coupled with discovering certain Bible verses– like the one that says God owns the cattle on a thousand hills; or the one that says God is able to do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine, hope or dream. I still believe that with God, nothing is impossible. But sometimes I forget that His plans for my life may not dovetail with mine–or at least not on my schedule.
Thinking all things are possible can be problematic. So is being impatient. Setting my sights so high has plummeted me to abysmal lows, explaining why in seasons of tail spins I’ve succumbed to depression. At times I’ve been bitter, proving correct whoever said a cynic is a disillusioned idealist. Many people, like My Sister the Realist, would say I set myself up for disappointment. Her motto is to never get too excited about anything. That way, you can’t be let down and labeled a sucker. She also cautions me on a regular basis not to believe everything I see in the movies.
But with the forgetfulness of Disney’s Dori in Finding Nemo, I always bounce back and just keep on swimming. I’ve been called a hopeless romantic, but I prefer to call myself a hopeful one. And then some people call me crazy. No doubt the owner of a local match making service for “busy professionals” thought I suffered from delusions of grandeur. She became irritated when I complained about the men she kept sending my way. I had been very specific about what I was looking for. Finally I cut to the chase: “Don’t you have anyone there who resembles, oh, I don’t know… George Clooney?” To which she flatly replied: “No, we don’t have movie stars as clients.”
Little did she know that with the eternal sunshine of a delusional mind, I had once planned every detail of the first time I’d hang out with my dream posse—three women who had also suffered but had used their pain to help others. Three women who were interesting, classy, fun, and fashionable. Three women who put their designer jeans on one leg at a time. Three women who I felt could become my closest friends if we were ever given the chance to meet. So going beyond merely visualizing my first night-on-the-town with Princess Di, Oprah, and Jackie O, I hired a seamstress to make me a full- length, royal blue velvet cape. How cool to end up in the 90s as their Fourth Musketeer–even more than in the 60s when I was Annette Funicello’s fellow Mouseketeer. Of course, due to untimely deaths, my dream was never realized. And though my cape still mocks me from my closet, I haven’t given up on other “impossible dreams.” Like meeting Johnny Depp over coffee to discuss politics and other “deep things.” And I don’t have to bother with wardrobe details, since we’ll both be dressed in jeans and black t-shirts. Yea, in my dreams.
But even if my active imagination roams too far because of my optimistic bent, my grandmother’s influence, my selective reading of the Bible, and my watching Roger and Hammerstein’s production of Cinderella a few dozen times, seeing myself as a successful writer seemed more a practical goal than an unrealistic fantasy. In a Hail Mary attempt to sell that first book and at the risk of seeming more like a groupie than an equal, I asked for an audience with the Queen. For real this time.
(to be continued in Part 3…Pleading My Case)