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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Much-needed elixir

"You’re in the book", read the subject line of an e-mail received two days before Christmas. Connie Schultz had just received the final page proofs of Life Happens from Random House and saw the column about a harried mother of three had indeed made the final cut.

She confessed to allowing herself to get excited about the book and sent me a link to the book jacket. It took my breath away for a moment as sheer joy and terror co-mingled in the same cup. Book tours, TV interviews, speeches. Eeek! She would do well, of that I had no doubt. The sheer joy and terror was my own at imagining myself in her place.

Six months later I’m a bit tardy as I walk into the Oberlin Public Library. It was standing room only and I found my friend and writing pal Cathy propped against the wall. I join her as Connie tears up after reading the column about her dad and his lunch pail. “I get so emotional lately when I read my columns,” she said later. Her life is very different from her days as a columnist and it’s obvious she misses it.

She quickly regains control and proceeds to spend the next hour entertaining the crowd of mostly gray-haired folks with tales from her writing life and from the campaign trail. She is a natural, so relaxed and confident and funny. Her columns take on new life when she reads them in her animated voice. Words pop into my head like pacing, timing, dramatic effect.

I feel small and inadequate in her presence.

While waiting in the book-signing line, I thumb through the pages of “Life Happens.” And there I am, on page 114. Me, my name, my blog.

As I read the thirty-eight-year-old mother’s blog entry, I could almost see a younger version of myself float by, like the Ghost of Mommy Past.

It doesn’t take long for me to feel not inadequate, but blessed to have the connection to someone willing to share her expertise as a writer and her insecurities and joys as a woman and mother.

Connie asks hard questions of me. What kind of writer do I want to be? What kind of writing do I want to do? What am I afraid of? Over a year ago she told me that my voice was important, she encouraged me to use it more forcefully. Sometimes I succeed; more often I cower back into my familiar place of fear.

As she readies her Sharpie before each signing she says, “Tell me about yourself,” and the men and women standing in line share a story that I’m guessing would help her come up with an original inscription. “Brilliant,” I thought, and tuck that morsel away for “someday.”

She doesn’t ask me that question. Instead, she looks at me as if she can see the frailties and insecurities I try so desperately to mask and writes exactly what I need to hear.

Last night I read through most of her book. I flipped back to the Acknowledgements page and was stunned at the number of people named there. Writing is such hard work that it’s nearly impossible to go it alone. She’s fortunate to have so many people providing feedback, nurturing her writing and encouraging her forward. That’s harder to achieve as an independent writer. Those people aren’t in the next cubicle; we have to go out and find them.

I found Connie — or maybe we found each other. She is the kind of challenging, encouraging, nurturing model I need. For now she’s busy with husband Sherrod Brown’s Senate Campaign. I know that. But I look forward to when the campaign is over and we can talk more about writing and mothering and being a modern woman and all those things that nourish the female soul.

Until that time, I’m refreshed by her energy and confidence. Thank you, Connie for seeing through me and providing the proper dose of writerly elixir. I am buoyed … for now.

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