We all begin as no one. It’s our natural state. (For the moment, I ignore the philosophical and very true fact that we are all as important as the universe, because nothing like each of us has ever existed or ever will again.)
But here within our brief moment of physicality, we shout repeatedly, “But I’m here. But I’m here!” We are here, for the most part, with very little recognition. And thus we have Alexander the Great naming city after city after himself, not even embarrassed by the raw sad hubris of it. We have medical researchers naming diseases after themselves, unconcerned that the fame their name achieves may be through being linked to a horrible condition resulting in disfiguration, pain, and death.
And we have me, writing my little scribbles, saying “Look! Look! Look what I did!” There are few, of course, who actually do look.
This past week I had a couple of occasions to make my case for being here in the universe. Metaphorically speaking. Labor Day weekend was the Decatur Book Festival, which I’ve written about before, a large and happy affair, except, perhaps, for the anxious writers. The festival is amazing to me, spread throughout the downtown of Decatur and using multiple venues for speakers. There are books everywhere, and it’s possible to hear new writers, “new but been around some” writers, and famous writers, talking about their books in venues of church and hotel and courthouse and under tents.
My own tiny part in the festival was an hour on Saturday morning. I belong to the Atlanta Writers Club, and they had a booth along a busy walkway with tables set up. It you signed up quickly, you could secure a one-hour slot at the table. That wasn’t me. I signed up late, got on a waiting list, but then I got lucky. So there I sat, with a pile of my cute little book in front of me (The Illusion of Being Here, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and I’ll wait while you stop and buy a copy). I also had a poster of the cover, and I had brought a little stand to hold up a copy of the book on the table, so I was doing my best imitation of A Professional Writer.
Plenty of people passed by the booth, and some stopped. I sold three copies of the book, thinking woohoo! Later I saw an email exchange among some of the writers who sat at the table at various times, and some were complaining about only selling four, five, six copies of their book. I thought “What did you really expect?” If anyone had ever heard of you, you would not have been sitting at the same table where I sat.
My second opportunity to walk through the bright beams of glory was—completely by coincidence—the next day, at the Unitarian church I attend. There is a book stall set up there most Sundays, and I heard it was possible for writers in the congregation to get a day for sitting at a table. I asked, and was told I could do it on September 6.
This time of year the church is back to having two services on Sunday morning, so I sat at my little table with a lovely tablecloth that someone else supplied and stacks of books, plus the poster, for 45 minutes between the two services, and then for a while after the second service. I got there just before the first service let out, so I was set up and waiting, and as the doors opened and the first people stepped out into the social area, I thought, “I feel like a fool.”
I tried to relax and not worry about it, knowing that this is how it is for most artists in every field of endeavor. At least I was not a musician playing in a bar where the music could not be heard over the roar of the drunks. I was not an actor making a commercial wearing a costume dressed as a roll of toilet paper. Still, I sat there thinking the only way I could be more ignored would be if I were a teenage girl at a high school dance. But I exaggerate. One friend did buy a book between the services.
I attended the second service, and before it ended I came back out to be sitting at my table again. This time, oh Lordy, people started coming up to me, talking, showing interest. A few friends bought books, but much more importantly, total strangers bought books. A couple of people expressed interest but had no money. (I would have just given them a book, but I was donating half the sales to the church.)
By the end, I had sold 13 books, for a total of 16 during the weekend. In the history of the world, I have not sold that many books in one weekend before. I’m thinking of naming a string of cities after myself.