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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Our little-girl hearts

The strangest things can reduce me to tears.

The first time I saw the movie version of “Little Women,” starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon, did I cry when Beth dies? No. I sobbed, I mean uncontrollably, when Jo opens the package to learn that her book has been published. Such an accomplishment for a woman, particularly in the 1800s. Of course, I had read the book several times and knew the story intimately, so I’m not sure why that moment stuck me so.

All I can come up with is that it hit a chord deep within me that perhaps until that moment I hadn’t known existed. And every once in a while, I’ll remember the profound emotion I felt watching that scene and wonder to myself what it means for me.

Since I was in third grade, writing has been the only thing I’ve wanted to do with my life. When spoken words fail me (often), it’s the written word on which I can count to accurately express my feelings. Throughout my high school and college days and even early into my career, my dad who has always been my biggest supporter, used to say to me, “When you win the Pulitzer….”

My mom once said to me that she was concerned that I felt pressured by his words. I explained that I never took them literally. I knew that he meant them as an expression of his respect for my talent. But deep down I think we all harbor hidden desires for such recognition. I mean, what writer wouldn't want to win a Pulitzer? And at the same time, having that kind of white-hot spotlight sounds positively horrifying to me.

All those fears of feeling a phony, a poseur, inadequate, unworthy come rushing to the surface and cause near panic. When I say I fear both failure and success, that’s what I mean.

But I’m encouraged today because I have a new model for handling success graciously. Connie Schultz wrote a most beautiful column today thanking the many readers and supporters who have congratulated her on her Pulitzer win. It was a moving tribute, particularly for any female who was deemed “the smart one” in the family, or the one who personified "sense" in the vein of "Sense & Sensibility."

I wasn’t going to write about my good news this week. I wanted to be cool and detached like all those New Yorkers whose every gesture telegraphs, “But, of course, I won.”

Then it hit me: I don’t live in New York, no matter how much black I wear … in this part of the country it’s just plain rude not to say thank you.

Then she goes on to tell the story of a father of three daughters who twice attempted to call to congratulate her. A factory worker, like Connie’s dad was, he simply wanted Connie to know that he makes his daughters read her regularly and tells them that they can do anything with their lives, no matter what their dad does for a living. Connie is living, writing proof.

A father’s love for his daughters is a mighty powerful thing. And though they may be of few spoken words, particularly as we grow older, their ability to whisper of faith in our deepest desires speaks volumes to our (still) little-girl hearts.

Thanks, dad, for believing in me even when I don't believe in myself.

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