So—truth be told—publishing a first book at 46 is a mixed bag. The first wave of emotion is pure and overwhelming—joy, thrill, relief, and bottomless gratitude. But, underneath that strong surge of I-have-to-pinch-myself-because-this-can’t-possibly-finally-be-happening-to-me-giddiness are some other—shall we say—more complex feelings. Shame: I will never be a prodigy or a wunderkind. I will be revealed as the frumpy late bloomer I am. Remorse: What is wrong with me? Why did I take so long to get serious? Embarrassment: I will have to answer questions from hard-nosed colleagues—what do you write poems about? Fear: Ooh, I’m certain that publisher made a mistake and will pull that book contract back any day now.
It’s sort of like going on vacation after you have children. It is exciting, and you are glad to be at, say, Yellowstone. But, it’s never, ever going to be the same as lying in your tent all day eating marshmallows and reading the collected Sylvia Plath. It’s work and it’s worry—don’t run too close to the fire!—and it’s a little melancholy for the loss of the simple one-note pleasure of relaxing without responsibility.
So, last week, in the midst of all that delight and discomfort, I had the honor of signing the pre-orders of my book, my first book. In that set of orders, I found one of my closest friends from middle school, and my mom and dad, and the dear woman who kept me from dropping out of law school with iced coffee and un-lawyerly-behind the-hand-sly jokes. There were several colleagues from my current job and a darling man who started out as a co-worker and ended up a brother. And there were many, many writers cheering me on. There were loved ones from twelve states, representing even more phases of my life, in that pile of inscribed books.
I sniffed and dabbed a lot during those early morning signing sessions. I was awash with love for all those dear people and overbrimming with memories, both idealized and bittersweet. But, then it hit me. And I was embarrassed and ashamed, not for my failure to accomplish earlier, but for being such brat and an ingrate. So what if I became a middle-aged mom with jiggly triceps and an almost perfect inability to remember which piano lesson starts when before I ever published a book? And, who cares if I chickened out of taking the writer’s life 30 years ago? It doesn’t matter, and I’d better be thankful for the adventures and fellow travelers I found along the way. This path and these people are how I ended up here—with a book I delight in, a publisher I am honored to be associated with, and a tribe I will cherish to the bitter end. This is better than marshmallows and Plath.