Each of the four main characters I wrote about in my book is what you could call uppity. They don’t know their own place, or even knowing it, and being reminded of it, they choose to go beyond what is expected of them. I didn’t realize at the time that my characters were a product of my own audacity. But it is obvious to me now.
There was first “the leap”. For each of my characters it was there, boldly stepping out into the unknown in one way or another. And for me it was leaving teaching after fourteen years with just the vague promise to myself and others that “I’m going to write a book”. I remember students saying, “Oh, I guess we’ll be seeing you on Oprah when she selects your book for her club”, and it had the ring of similar statements we, as teachers, might say to students as they headed out into the world. The talented actor or singer might be told, “See you on Broadway”. I remember saying to students from the Communications Club, “See you on CNN.” And it was always meant by way of encouragement, of course, but did any of us really believe it was possible, those doing the complimenting or those being complimented?
I know when I started writing this book, all I initially aspired to do was to write it, and if I had to self-publish a few dozen copies to hand out to friends and family, well…that would be enough. Even as months rolled into a year and more, and the story began to take greater shape, as my characters began to take those leaps, there I was, still setting my sights relatively low. In talking about it with family, I’d sometimes make reference to writers who were influential to me, or how they did a certain thing and I was building on that…and it would always be followed with the statement, “not that I’m comparing myself to them.” It was an involuntary reaction, you see, as in strike patella tendon with triangular rubber hammer and watch foot kick. “Not that I’m comparing myself to them” became such an overused expression that it became understood…‘til then it went mostly unsaid, being understood and all…‘til then I stopped thinking it entirely.
And somewhere between the start of that second year and the end of it, I began to truly aspire. Aspiration, I came to understand, is a wonderful thing. Something changed in me during that second year of writing. I became uppity, no longer bound by the restrictions I’d placed on myself or allowed others to place on me: doubts, and what-not….the sort of “that stuff might happen to other people, but not to me/us” mentality….and the granddaddy of them all, the Irish Catholic imperative to be humble that can become so entwined in one’s DNA that it makes that reactive “not that I’m comparing myself to them” become every bit as real and involuntary as the patella tendon reflex. They all started to fade away in that second year. The bar was raised higher. And I allowed myself to dream…for me, this time, and not just “the others” who that stuff was always happening to. And nothing would ever be the same again.
(Continued next Monday…tune in Thursday for a culture/society/history reflection. That’s what I think this blog will be: Monday mornings for inspiration, Thursday afternoons for reflection. And if you like what you read, and are not being tracked by the FBI and need to stay off the radar, well…maybe you’ll consider following this blog…takes just seconds, I promise.)