California Redwoods, ALS and the Elephant in the Room

I’ve reached an age in life where writers I knew “way back when” are achieving significant success. I count film makers, top-selling authors and trend setters among my long-time friends. These are content producers who have gotten lucky after making their way into their writing room for  the 6,500th time.

For writers, professional jealousy can be the five-ton elephant in the room that seems to be devouring our share of the canapés tray. If our friends get to the tray first, then logic tells us there won’t be anything left by the time we get there.

But I just had a lesson taught to me by Anita, a lovely woman visiting me from Seattle for a trip to the California Redwoods.  She’s a much better writer than I am. She’s spent her career in the Foreign Service, living in Europe, South America and points between. She writes masterfully, but for whatever reason has been unsuccessful in finding an agent and subsequent publication. And here she is, thumbing through Cholama Moon, my new novel release, genuinely thrilled for me. “I am proud of you,” she says. “You are so successful in your field.” Successful? She’s traveled the world alone. She’s written a memoir that should be a chart topper, and she’s happy for me?
I heard the words and it struck me that she has all the reasons in the world to think that life is unfair. Because of course it is. But she understands that my strengths do not have the power to cast shade on hers. In fact, we benefit from association with each other. Having friends is called “networking.” It’s what we spend hours doing on social media. Having successful people on speed dial is a good thing—right?

We’ve all experienced the downside, friends who disappear at the first sign of our success, who fail to buy our books and who remain strangely silent in the din of applause that follows our publication. We are hurt by the betrayal of friends we have supported, who fail to support us when our time comes around. But I suspect that we forgive ourselves when we do the same thing to them.

One of my biggest boosters is a woman who has suffered from ALS for the past decade. She’s confined to a wheelchair now, but she encourages me with every breath. She’s taught me to let the small stuff go and concentrate on the journey ahead. Her message is: Be gracious, buy books and write reviews, don’t worry, be happy.

Share the canapés. There’s enough to go around. What fun would the party be if we were the only ones there?

How about you. Any five-ton elephants in your writing closet?

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