Ignoring your passion is slow suicide.
Never ignore what your heart pumps for.
Mold your career around your lifestyle.
Not your lifestyle around your career.
The girl I sat next to on the plane looked shy, but approachable. There are three types of seatmates:
1) The don’t-fucking-talk-to-me type
2) The make-you-want-to-hang-yourself inane chatterer type (I may have been profiled as such on occasion)
3) The interested and noteworthy connector type
She was a Type 3. She told me a story of how she’d gotten press, much to her mortification, because of how she’d become a “High Fiver.” She’d been extremely introverted, so much so that when people stopped to pet her bulldog on walks, she cringed.
In an abusive relationship because of her inability to be assertive, she made the decision to step outside of herself by high-fiving strangers. Her life changed drastically by that one act.
She took up reiki and energy work and at her day job in a large corporate office, became known as “the magic girl.” On her way to Costa Rica to study with 22 shamans, her story was one of emerging from a painfully bound bud to one of a succulent rose in full, authentic bloom. Meeting her set the mood for the San Miguel Writers’ Conference that I’d blessedly received a grant for.
The first day I investigated the town in my stale clothes, basting in boots and a sweater because my suitcase had gone MIA. I’d connected with a café via Twitter and went in search of it for my morning cappuccino. I got a thimble full for a hefty price, so asked around in the square for a recommendation of a real cappuccino. I was directed to Buen Dia Café.
I met an interesting artist there who offered to help me with my camera card and we fell into a deep two-hour conversation. He’d been dabbling at his art for many years while working as a waiter in different parts of Mexico and had only six months prior decided to take the plunge and live solely off of his creativity. He’d been showing weekends in the park and was selling at least one painting each gig, earning enough to live on, sometimes richly, sometimes meagerly. He is prolific and it has made him wildly content to spend hours and sometimes days painting without diversion.
I ran off to collect my bag that had arrived just in time for the opening keynote speech. Being a Canadian with an allergy to politics, I’d never heard of New Yorker Calvin Trillin. He’s funnier than Seinfeld—he’s hilarious and has the academic intelligence to give dry humor serious chops.
The next day after classes I had an agent pitch booked. We’d been coached to come with a polished pitch and a finished manuscript and had been instructed with a long list of musts and must nots. I came fully prepared.
The writer before me cut into my tiny time slot, but I assumed I’d be given my full 15 minutes. I began my pitch and had my info bound in red to match The Cuban Chronicles.
Minutes into my spiel, I was cut short by the questions: How many have you sold? What’s your platform? (As in, do you have 5000+ Facebook fans, 10,000+ Twitterees, and a bazillion blog readers?) I have online presence, but my platform, by agent standards is a joke, and I was dismissed.
The rest of my pitch was left to hang in the Land of Nada. I did not go with a burning desire to acquire an agent. And I certainly did not think that the first agent I’ve ever spoken to would jump up and down and beg me to sign a contract. I did, however, expect to be shown the respect of completing my pitch.
I walked away feeling as though I’d been slapped across the face.
Self-doubt is a bullying bastard. He lurks in the underbrush in fatigues waiting for the ambush. He’s keenly alert and the split second he hears that resounding slap, he pounces with swift agility. That afternoon, he also heard the delightful crackle of rejection ringing in my ears. He followed me down the street to a little outdoor café.
“You know,” he said bitterly, “if you really think about it, your whole life is a heap of dung.”
He mocked my writing dreams and with a memory like a sealed drum, he hissed a litany of troubles. By the time I got to Ten Ten Pie, I had to resist the urge to lay my head down on the table.
On the walk back, I knew I was headed down a familiar dark hole that could ruin The Whole Enchilada (the name of my package). He had to be stopped. I told him to fuck off. Then I summoned invisible helpers to send a sign. (If you’re a frequent reader, you know that signs are my pins on the map of life).
After lunch, my intimate round table discussion was booked in the garden with the illustrious Yann Martel. His writing journey was inspired by watching Jack Nicholson in Reds. He was an embassy brat and it was when he lived in Paris with his parents that he discovered how much joy writing brought him. He found it fun. He claimed that he lived off of them for far too long and eventually moved to Montreal.
To keep his mind clear for writing, he took odd jobs such as dishwashing and lived an austere, monk-like life. His first book sold 800. His second, 1200. Martel said the success of The Life of Pi surprised him more than anyone, especially because of the religious content and the zoo theme, topics that are fiercely unpopular in Quebec. He told us that the reader you need to write for is you. He declared that there was a tremendous amount of luck involved—being at the right place, at the right time, meeting the right people, and striking a cord at the right moment.
My belief is that luck came hunting for Yann Martel because he did not concern himself with platforms or profits or the idiocy of the traditional publishing industry’s ever changing demands (my sister likened it to banks: all profit, no risk). He wrote for the pure and unadulterated love of the written word.
Martel was engaging and wholly present for us, and when he signed my copy of The Life of Pi with: ‘Wanda, may you reach the coast of Mexico,’ I gasped. It was my sign. (This was my 32nd visit to Mexico and it is my deepest desire to live there every winter, working at a creative life).
I returned to my room to freshen up before his keynote speech and found an email from a fellow writer friend, Marie, living on the coast of Mexico. There was a full letter enclosed explaining what had transpired and the strange compulsion she’d felt to send me a gift. The next email was a $50 transfer for me to enjoy something special on my writing adventure. I cried.
Buoyed by the rest of Martel’s story, told with dry wit and acute intelligence, I sent the bastard-bully, Self-Doubt, packing on the next bus out of Dodge.
By the day of my memoir consultation, I, like many in attendance, had experienced a gamut of electrifying emotions. Being blocked for far too long on my second book, I knew what I’d written thus far was missing something I wanted to convey and it didn’t feel right.
Amy (Ferris) and Hollye’s (Dexter) gentle and wise critique lead me to the revelation of what I’d been hiding from the pages and why. They validated my work and my personal story and encouraged me in the same direction that Obi-Wan Kenobi, my acupuncturist, has been trying to lead me to for a long time (public speaking … eeeek!). They were as excited as I was by the end of our hour and a half together.
For those unfamiliar with Laura Esquivel, she is the brilliant Mexican author and screenplay writer of Like Water for Chocolate and many other books. When she spoke, each sentence had profound meaning for me.
By the time Lisa and I arrived at the fiesta, it was full-blown raucousness. A smiling Mexican man with a burro covered in flowers greeted us with a tequila shot. Brightly plumed indigenous dancers leapt against the breathtaking backdrop of the luminous Parroquia church and tables were heaped with traditional Mexican fare while handmade tortillas sizzled on griddles. It was legendary.
Lisa López Smith is a girl I met in Puerto Vallarta at the weekend markets where we were assigned together to sell our books while I was living there. Her attendance at the conference was an unexpected gift that enriched my experience of it.
A warm hand grasped my arm, “Is this the line for la comida?” I turned and emboldened by the potent margarita we’d had in the lobby bar, I gushed, “Laura! My soul sister!” My heart grew just a little bigger with the energy of her smile and embrace.
I spent the final day of the conference in two intense 4-hour back-to-back workshops with the talented Laura Davis who gave us tidbits of writing wisdom and instruction that further ignited my new-found inspiration for my next book. I also walked away with a big ah-ha moment.
In spite of the gritty, harsh reality of the publishing world, the girl on the plane, the artist in Buen Dia Café, Marie’s compulsion, and the messages of the many gifted instructors and writers in attendance at this magical event reaffirmed to me that doing what you love, (and I mean YOU, too) no matter the profit or lack thereof, is of intrinsic value to the world and to the life breath of each soul.
Please drop by my shop at www.writewaycafe.com!
Post © Wanda St.Hilaire