When I was twenty-four and just a baby goldsmith, I decided I wanted to show my one-of-a-kind jewelry in a New York gallery. Most of my friends were just out of college and I wanted to think my self-taught education was in line. I steeled my heart, borrowed a typewriter, enclosed some slides, and mailed off an inquiry to the best fine art jewelry gallery in Manhattan, located on Fifth Avenue across from MOMA.
Pigs fly; I got a positive response by return mail and then borrowed money to buy the gold and gemstones for the new pieces. A few weeks after that, I boarded a plane wearing jeans and a t-shirt, carrying a backpack with new collection of work tucked inside. Such a risk. It all felt like watching a foreign film–precarious and surreal.
I checked into the Fashion Institute Dorm, changed into a ridiculous white dress with huge shoulder pads that made me look like an aircraft carrier, and set about walking the two miles to the gallery. That way I’d have plenty of time to get up a good head of anxiety and blister a toe in my new shoes. The meeting was a blur; I remembered to shake hands when I met the gallery director. In a conference room, I pulled my work out one piece at a time and he critiqued as I went, using phrases like “negative space” and “visual tension.” All I could think was Just say it–not acceptable, you don’t need to explain how bad my work is… and then he finished with a question, “Can you leave the pieces with us today?”
The rest of the day is even more of a blur. I blistered the rest of my toes going back to the dorm; I might have skipped most of the way. When I got some of my wits back the next day, I called the gallery to thank them again and got the news that one piece had sold already.
I said the word out-loud: Artist. Calling myself that name in my basement studio was one thing, but now I’d crossed a line. Okay, skipped over it really, but it changed things. Over the next year, I had work in galleries across the country, and almost as an afterthought, my work got more popular at home. I also lost a couple of friends. They stepped away quietly but I noticed. The attempts to reconnect failed. Is there such a thing as success guilt?
Maybe you know the feeling. A dear friend plans a wedding on the heels of the worst break-up of your life. You get a promotion in your dream career when your sister is out of work. If you’re in a place of scarcity it can feel like there isn’t enough luck to go around and one person’s gain depletes your possibility. Or if you’re the one with good news, you bite your tongue because mentioning your good fortune would be like rubbing salt in the their wound. Most of us have been in a place where it takes as much courage to say congratulations as it does to put on the white dress.
A year ago, I crossed another line. I went from writing endlessly in a little studio to holding an actual physical copy of my memoir, Stable Relation, in my hand. When I exposed it to the world, and I exposed myself as well. It took Zen-like focus and wild audacity. I knew a hard reckoning would come. On the high side, no silly white dress.
Writing is like constructing Frankenstein. Playing god with an 80,000 word manuscript, and when it’s finally done, being brought to your knees, trying to wrestle five words into a byline. It’s a hope that your words will catch the wind and at the same time, the profound understanding that you are less than a fleck of dust in this big, complicated world. It’s yelling, “Hey, look at me!” and knowing that your underwear is on your head.
And then, I saw a photo online of my book on someone else’s tablecloth and my mind imploded. In the next few days, more readers posted photos of the book and Stable Relation became my traveling gnome. I was over the moon. I was hiding under my bed.
Reviews started coming in and most were positive. People commonly said that they couldn’t put the book down; they’d finished it without taking a breath. Where’s the next book?
Wait! This literary “snack” had taken me two and a half years to write, a few thousand dollars, and a serious time commitment every single day since. What’s the word for simultaneously choking and laugh-howling with horror?
A year later, this is what I notice: I can laugh without choking again. My list of improbable things has been severely edited and my battered confidence is standing steady. I’m word-fearless and inspired to write stronger every day. I even dabble in poetry; fearless I tell you!
I’ve received heartfelt emails from kindred spirits in other countries, made friends with people I’m in awe of, and my rural mail-carrier told me her mother loved my book.
Now and then, I notice something missing. Someone missing. I don’t need a parade but those who have remained silent are noticed. I hope they’re well. What does it mean when we choose to miss events in our friends lives? When we don’t acknowledge passages like divorces or children born or new paths taken? Have I offended them? Could it be that our emotional landscapes at odds with each other?
I spend so much of time trying to be a human thesaurus, always searching for the right words to understand these inexplicable contradictions. All the while I’m painfully aware that I can’t control how those same words will be heard…in my writing or in my life.
In the end, maybe assuming good intention is a more productive use of energy than doubting motives. Change has an ironic sense of humor and we might do better to smile and act like we’re in on the joke, even in hard times. The other word for that is grace.
To my blog readers here, I’ve used this space to transition myself into my new surroundings. It’s been the place where I confess my dreams and my shortcomings. I wander around in old pajamas and spill coffee on my keyboard. Mainly I sit in slack-jawed amazement, balanced between wild joy and abject dread. If you have been with me here from the start, what tolerance you’ve shown. I’m sure I haven’t thanked you enough. I’m equally sure you can’t know how much your support has carried me. It’s been the very best part.
Thank you. Big. Always.
It was a privilege to work with you on this book, Anna. I’m so glad your story is out there in the world for others to read, relate to, and derive hope from.
Oh, Elisabeth, it’s me thanking you. Writing a manuscript is a big deal, but just the start. So glad I found you, your editing help was indispensable. Dare I say it? I actually learned things! Hope you are well, thank you forever.
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I have read both your books and am always waiting for the next blog to be posted. Love your style of writing, to me it feels like having a conversation with a nice cup of coffee at the kitchen table . Just love it!
Thank you so much. I work hard to write for that conversation! It’s a noisy world of words out there and it’s hard to stand out. Thanks for your support. So glad you liked the books. I am tinkering away on two more.
Okay, I have strung out Relaxed & Forward as long as I can (one chapter a night), but I am at the end now. Your blog will carry me through to the next books. They are not just about horses & riding, but LIFE. I just wish you had been born in my generation and had all that equine wisdom to share in the ’70s when I tumbled headlong into riding, breeding, & showing, learning by doing. Calming breaths, and thank you for many nights of insightful reading.
I think I was born in your generation! I was trying to learn it all back then, too! Thank you for seeing past the barn; horses are a parable for so many things. And I’m typing as fast as I can.
Beginning reading this, a smile just spread across on my face and took on a life of its own…( and now is a bit of a grimace as I try to find thet words to leave a comment offering). i just felt/feel so proud of you! Proud is a bit of a silly word, but my Palomino responds really well to it! And I don’t feel separate from the pride, joy and inspiration which I feel for you. You allow us all to understand that we all share this journey and therefore the joys and awe of it too.
I do feel sorry/compassionate for those who may have “lost” contact with you and who you may have reached out to and felt a void in return. I feel the shared journey of our longing for harmony and connection and of the sweet commonality of the heart that still binds us, even if words are never exchanged.
I must say that the inspiration that coursed through me (a bit extra charged due to the rarity of a 4:00 cup of coffee) was such a gift. I read this post as my partner sweats away at proof reading (for the 40th time) her first self published mystery cozy. And the inspiration and fire of manifestation is in the air. Thank you for fanning the flames and basking in the glow with us all. Oh and for the vision of you in your white shoulder padded silhouette!
Well, see, this is my point. What a great comment. Thanks for being proud of me, I started out pretty shaky, so I’m proud, too. I think in the end, we relate to people as WE are… meaning an inspiration or a poke in the eye, depending on which edit we’re on. (I might have done 200. Not kidding.) I think I have learned over the years to let friends fall away…I miss them but I also trust them. Change happens.
Thank you so much for coming along for the ride. I’m nowhere near done yet. And my best wishes to your partner. Woohoo, it is a big dang deal, that’s what I know. Thank you, Sabina.
I have also lived this story in New York City. I would love to tell you mine and have us both say in unison… “I know me too… I know”
I read your blog as a touch stone as I have been living aboard my yacht for many years. Your words keep me in touch with Colorado and my horses who are being cared for by a dear friend who is a very talented equestrian with a ranch in the Sierras.
I will contact you when I trailer my boys from California to my new place in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas.
I hope you are still reading comments and this reaches you.
Hi Kim… I do remember you, living in motion… welcome back home. Let me know if you’re in the neighborhood. Thanks, Kim.