When I was voted most likely to become an author (at age 10), I had a pretty clear picture in my mind of what that fabulous becoming would look like. Or, at least I could clearly picture myself on the back cover of a book, my book, I could see it in the library, a well-worn favorite, and I could see my readers anxiously waiting in line for a signed copy.
These images changed little as I grew. Add in a hefty book deal from a major publisher here, a New York Times best seller there, and at least one award to speak of during my interview with Terry Gross.
Go big or go home- I live large in my imagination.
What fame-worthy words gathered between the covers of these well-received books seemed secondary to the outcome of putting them on the page. I had ideas, both fiction and true, and a bombastic belief in my own capacity to fashion each and every one of them into nothing short of a PEN/Faulkner runner up.
Part of me wishes that I had the excuse of growing up during one of the more recent everyone’s-a-winner generations. It would explain a lot. But most of me envies that fifth-grade author-to-be. Hell, even the I’ve-got-it-all-figured-out college me seems like a warm blanket on a cold day. Because the 21st-century, struggling-luddite, You-should-write-a-book-about-that me invited a murder of Ancient-Greek-style cynics to the Pantheon of my vivid-imagination.
That’s fancy talk for I lost perspective. That’s me saying I can’t find my way, as I bumble around with my eyes closed. That’s my integrity snarled with fear.
Since my breast cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2014, since I replaced the casual-Friday-ness of being human for the corset-and-straight-jacket prison of being a perpetual patient, since I took my healthcare experience into my own hands and likewise had it ripped from my weary grasp, since my body became the story of a life unraveled, I’ve heard the refrain: You should write a book about that. It is a writer’s best and most terrifying moment: How lovely, my true stories beckoned for the telling, and, oh, shit, my true stories beckoned for the telling.
So, now what? It’s not as though I can find a page to lay them (she said, continuing to bumble).
Because when I open my eyes, there’s no question what I feel at the reveal: I believe true stories connect us as human beings, they empower the storyteller and incite change, both individually and collectively. I believe that in the sacred space where our shared vulnerability and this-life-thing-is-really-fucking-hard experiences converge, we’re gifted a relief, a respite that can’t be found anywhere else. And I believe the understanding that comes from sharing true stories fosters the compassion and kindness we all long for, and that our world sorely needs.
The only question that remains: Will I live up to that me I imagined, bravely and with integrity?
If in the telling, someone feels less alone, I have managed that dreamed becoming. If in the telling, some truth comes to the surface that exacts change, I have managed that dreamed becoming. And if in the telling, my true stories inspire others to build up rather than tear down, grow rather than languish in stagnation, and tell their own true stories in service of helping others do the same, I have achieved that dreamed becoming.