As of this past week, you can now purchase my novel here or download it from Barnes & Noble or iBooks. Obviously, this is something that I should be feeling very excited about. And I am. But I’m also feeling kind of squidgy about it too. Part if this might simply be the fact I caught the cold that’s been making the rounds at school and being sick always makes me feel not quite myself. Part of it is that I experienced enough frustrations and delays over small technical issues related to the publication that I got tired of the whole business and am simply relieved that it’s finally over. But part of it is going public with this and having it all out in the open.
I used to read interviews with actors who said they never watched their own films, and I always thought they must be lying. Ridiculous! How could they not watch their own movie? But when I started re-reading my own novel after it was finally official, I immediately started seeing things I wanted to fix or change. I had to stop because it was making me feel kind of awful. So, actors, my apologies. I now understand. Someone once asked me, “How did you know your novel was really finished?” and the honest answer is that it’s not. If I let myself, I could continue revising and rewriting for the next five years. I am pragmatic enough to recognize that this wouldn’t be a very good use of my time, but a forced letting go isn’t quite the same thing as a peaceful/satisfied feeling of “hey, this is really good! I’m finished!” I am from a family, after all, where my brother once had to advise my sister that “sometimes, it’s okay to be sub-optimal” and that’s now become a kind of mantra for us.
This post in itself is evidence of why I’m not very good at self-promotion. I read an article a couple years ago that said, “If you don’t believe in your work 100%, why would anyone else?” That’s haunted me ever since because I don’t think there’s been anything in my life that I’ve done/created that I’ve believed in 100%. Or even 90%. I think I’ve made it into the 80th percentile a few times, but that’s about it.
Which is why it’s been such a tremendous blessing and challenge to have friends and family who believe in my work more than I do. They’ve been announcing it on Facebook with all kinds of complimentary descriptions. They’ve been telling their coworkers. They’ve been calling me and e-mailing me about how excited they are for me. The challenging part is that it’s been really hard for me to resist the impulse to qualify their enthusiasm with all the thoughts running through my head (“well, it’s not THAT good,” “You do realize I won’t ever even come close to being famous, right?” or, for those who haven’t read it yet and are expressing excitement, “It’s okay if you don’t actually like it”). I’m the killjoy at my own party. The blessing part is that, as uncomfortable as some of this is, these dear friends and family members are helping me be who I am, which is someone who loves to write and who, ultimately, wants to share that writing with others.
When I was in the eighth grade, someone talked me into playing the piano in the school’s talent show. It was a piece with a lot of trills and runs that, because I was shaking so hard from nerves, I completely mangled. I walked off the stage too miserable to even cry, and as I blindly pushed my way to the exit, my P.E. teacher, Mrs. Mahlstedt (who used to lead us in aerobic routines to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and “Papa, Don’t Preach” that left me feeling very conflicted), stopped me. “Katherine!” she exclaimed. “That was so beautiful!” I thought she was just saying that because she was a teacher and that’s what teachers get paid to do–say nice things to miserable kids even if it means lying through their teeth. But when she kept raving about my playing over the next few days, both to me and to others, it occurred to me that what I heard myself play might not have been the same thing she heard me play. All I heard were my many many mistakes. Mrs. Mahlstedt just heard some nice piano music and it made her happy.
Now I’ve got a whole community of Mrs. Mahlstedts, and while it’s hard–even a little painful–for me to prise a few fingers off my own view of myself and my work (I do so like to be in control, even if it’s a negative control), I am profoundly grateful for the love that forces me to. True geniuses persist no matter what with their art, but I am no genius. I am an ordinary person who needs others to believe in me, encourage me, support me, and remind me that even flawed things can bring others pleasure. Thank God.