I’m sure all adults could make a long list of constructive life experiences they avoid out of fear. When I was growing up, I was often coaxed into doing brave things for my own good. I gradually internalized the habit of pushing through my fears. But as an adult I also claimed the right to give myself plenty of slack, and to develop effective rationalizations. It has always been painful to admit that I am just plain “chicken” when faced with the call to grow.
I have learned to trust, though, that timing is everything. It is an act of maturity to resist the pressure, either internal or external, to do what my soul is not ready to do. When I wait, sometimes eons, for the ever-patient but irresistible nudges of Spirit, I always am greeted by joy.
The idea of attending a writers conference has sparked fear in me for quite a while. Although I started identifying myself as a writer decades ago, and publishing a book was hardly a passing fancy, I shuddered at the idea of schmoozing with other writers, drink in hand, or sitting down with some heartless critic who would tear my vulnerable, deeply personal writings to shreds. I preferred intimate, mutually encouraging women’s writing circles, though sometimes they had to be supplemented by thankless tasks like sending out query letters.
Why I changed my mind last fall was because the BookBaby Independent Authors Conference was to take place in Philadelphia, where I had once lived as a graduate student. I was looking for an excuse to visit a dear friend, and wander old haunts. Besides, the conference promised to be non-threatening. There was to be no touting of our works to agents, because we were self-publishing and not out to prove anything to the Powers that Be.
I nonetheless so dreaded the opening networking event that I fled that downtown bar within three minutes flat. I suspected we would be swapping business cards more out of a desire to appear interested in others’ writings than out of any genuine excitement. And I approached a larger networking gathering that first evening similarly jaded. My social anxiety was in full swing. I eventually found a side room peopled with a few low-key introverts, sitting quietly at little tables. This suited me better, somewhat like tip-toeing down the steps into a cold swimming pool. They actually proved rather friendly.
The next morning I strode down the nine blocks from my little Airbnb studio couch in Chinatown quite determined to learn what there was to learn at this conference. After all, I had paid my money, and flown hundreds of miles.
As it turned out, there was a lot to learn. I hadn’t known this — or had I? I knew my efforts at marketing my book, published three years earlier, had been pathetically inadequate. And I knew there were things an author was asked to do that were immensely time-consuming, or bordered on bragging (horrors!), or that might suck me up eternally into cyber-space. I also “knew” that publishing a memoir is a disheartening experience, and that typical yearly book sales in the single digits are one of the world’s best-kept secrets, second only (in my mind) to the agonies of childbirth.
I could easily have heard the whole series of presenters through this gloomy filter. Their focus on the endless demands of marketing one’s book properly (it seemed I had done everything wrong) could easily have taken me right down the path into a clinical depression.
Yet instead of being overwhelmed, I was inspired. The difference lay in the fact that my soul been prepared for this moment. Two weeks prior, I had attended a family constellation workshop. There I had explored the origins of my penchant for self-judgment, which had reached a fever pitch in the publication of my memoir, and was paralyzing my writing. I came to perceive my fear of “putting myself out there” in a new light, and allowed this new awareness to settle into my nervous system.
I arrived purposely in Philadelphia two days early, and became entranced again with the city where I had lived over forty years ago, in the throes of my first love, a year when my heart had been flung wide open, crushed, and strengthened. I walked for miles, identifying with my younger self, loving her, feeling her energy vibrating through me, surprisingly unafraid even when quite lost on dubious streets. I also spent a day with a soul-sister from that era, with whom I had shared life and deep suffering. So I was ripe for this writers conference. I just didn’t know it.
What I learned at the conference was that I am not just someone who happens to have written a book, but that my identity as a writer is core to who I am and what I can offer the world. My memoir, Ollie Ollie In Come Free, is the first in a series of such offerings. “I am a string in the concert of God’s joy,” the mystic Jacob Boehme once wrote. This was the message I was ready to receive.
I came to realize that marketing goals such as “defining one’s brand” can either remain hollow, contrived, and commercially driven jargon, or they can help to name what is in fact sacred to me, my unique mission or calling. I could choose to keep myself “pure” instead of wasting my time marketing, or I could enjoy whole-heartedly sharing my passion by noticing what enlivens me, and leaving the rest aside.
These revelations were both fresh and very familiar. They were entirely in keeping with the way I have always sought to live my life, not tangled up in others’ urgent to-do lists, but listening well to the inspiration of each moment, trusting it.