Saved by Small

Small has saved me once again!

One morning I opened Facebook to a slew of postings from AWP (Associated Writing Programs), which is in session in Portland that week: friends and colleagues with their arms around writing celebrities, session presenters, cocktail parties, lobby scenes of participants milling about.

I attended the AWP once, years ago. I had organized a panel from the University of San Francisco, where I taught at the time, and was looking forward to visiting Vancouver, location of the meetings that year. But the minute I walked into the crowded hotel lobby, the air buzzing with conversations, I regretted my decision. What had I been thinking? Why had I ever decided to come? All these people, and I wouldn’t know anybody. Why wasn’t I part of more academic communities? Why hadn’t I been networking? Why hadn’t I kept up communication with my friends from Iowa?

Luckily, I soon ran into several of my friends from Iowa, and the AWP turned into a warm and celebratory reunion. One evening, I even sat next to Michael Ondatje, who was presenting the address that year, and was able to lean over and tell him I had just finished teaching Running in the Family.

Despite my positive experience that year, I never attended AWP again. I concentrated instead on being local: teaching at USF and UC Berkeley Extension, working with my writing clients, and on my own writing. But for some reason, seeing all those AWP postings this year sent me off on one of my “failure” whirlwinds. Every writer you know is at the AWP. What’s wrong with you? Why have you never broadened your connections? Why are you always in hiding? No wonder your book isn’t selling broadly!

I wish I had caught before I had thrown my body into panic mode, my heart pounding, my head spinning. I did finally remind myself to think small. And when I did, my heart slowed and my head stabilized.

All I had to do was turn my head and look out my bedroom window, to a long branch of our lilac bush beginning to bloom. Just on the other side of the glass, a slim side branch of our bush ends in two large inflorescences, one already fully opened, the other still holding tight buds, creating a contrast between tiny points of fuchsia and large, pale lavender snowflake-like blossoms, set off by shiny oval green leaves. A slight breeze blew, causing the branch to sway, making it appear as if the blossoms were bowing to me. As if they were beckoning me away from my whirlwind of failure toward pleasure. Peaking through the branches and blooms, a sky the blue of a baby’s eyes created a perfect backdrop.

How beautiful the world can be, I thought. I wouldn’t want to have missed this small scene outside my window. This is my world. I don’t need the world of the AWP. Lilacs and blue sky is enough of a world for me.

Even Better Than Lilacs


2 thoughts on “Saved by Small”

  • Thank you. This post came just when I needed it. On Sunday, I opened up the new literary section of my local newspaper to see a profile of a writer friend. While I was happy with her, I was also embarrassed by my feelings of envy, and that’s when the “I am a failure as a writer” downward spiral started. Not surprisingly, the next time I sat down to write, I stared at the screen for half an hour, completely blank. Thank you for the reminder to start small, to notice small.

    • Hello Cynthia,

      I can identify completely with your experience opening the newspaper and seeing your friend’s profile. I hope that when–notice I don’t say “if”–this happens again, you’ll find relief in small. I always do!

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