Forty eight hours ago, I absent-mindedly opened my email account for the tenth time that day. There's nothing particularly unusual in that, except that I had - in one of my regular fits of moodiness - allowed a 'junk' email to sit in the 'junk' inbox for the entire afternoon. Why? Well I thought that was the best place to let it sit....oh I see what you mean...I'd allowed the item of junk to remain there and fester for a little while so that when I eventually investigated that junk inbox and discovered the anticipated message from a very kind Nigerian person with an unpronounceable name who wanted to give me millions of dollars (...pause to take a breath...), I would gain the maximum amount of pleasure from hitting the 'delete' button.
This is already a pleasurable activity for me, ever since I had the 'delete' key on my keyboard artificially enlarged and strengthened, so that in moments of crisis I could strike it manfully with my fist/head/hammer - depending upon the degree of frustration involved. I commend it to you: it's a wonderful stratagem for dealing with the stress of typographical errors as well as idiots (the ones on the outside of my head). Take my advice though: invest in a very solid desk at the same time.
On the day in question, I clicked on the email page and waited the customary minute for it to do that thing which it is designed to do inside a second. My email program shows me my emails in much the same way as I show my enthusiasm for getting out of bed - in other words: not very well. When the 'junk' box had finally loaded itself, however, there lay a message quite unlike that which I had been expecting. The title of the message - while not exactly promising me a lifetime of successful writing - playfully tweaked my writer's nose with an offer of - appropriately - a conversation. A conversation, no less, about publishing my book!
I have steadfastly maintained that the writing and publishing of 'Signs of (a) Life' (you know, I'm really beginning to hate that little letter 'a' in parentheses - it's such a pain in the rear to type after the thousandth time) was and remains an intensely personal project. I have done it because it was an important thing for me to achieve, and I am quietly proud that I did what I promised myself to do. The money, I have always said, is not important. The idea of being published in the traditional sense (i.e. without my own investment to make it happen) is very enticing, but not necessary.
However, the contents of this email set my heart thumping, holding as it did only the faint, very distant and merely possible prospect of a working relationship with an established, traditional kind of publishing house. For a few seconds, wild fantasies about red carpets, writing prizes, TV appearances and a previously unimagined writer's lifestyle (well, OK, I have imagined it, but never seriously thought it was likely) filled my brain and the enormous space between it and my skull (there's often an echo in here). It lasted just a few moments, and I enjoyed the excitement while it was there, and until reality came back into the room, gave my fantasies the equivalent of a huge wedgie, and calmly (and with some dignity) reclaimed my mind.
I answered the email in the spirit of opening a conversation with the sender, and with exceedingly low expectations. I felt suddenly comfortable again, at peace with the idea that this probably was leading nowhere, might even be some kind of scam, and that I was very possibly wasting the five minutes it took to compile a response. It was email Zen, I tell you.
The next day, I received no reply. Internet silence...hmmm...
Guess what, though - it's OK. It's OK because, despite my fleeting moment of crazed ambition, despite my fantastical, utterly unrealistic glimpse of a different life, I still have all that I had before I imagined something had changed. I still have the comfort of knowing that the people who have read the book have enjoyed it, and I still have the gentle pride of having done what I set out to do three years ago. With this thought has come the realization that the greatest reward - the very best kind of result for me - is to know that someone has enjoyed the open story-telling that lies behind my writing.
I was always a little scared that commercialism might take a hold of my most vulnerable parts, and squeeze while I sweated (well, wouldn't you?) and fretted about book sales or fame. Now, I think I can relax about that. This isn't a competition; it's merely a game, and the game is called "Telling the story of me." I hope people like it, but if they don't, that is really OK too. It's a novel position for me to occupy, but I'm finding that I like it - along with enjoying the knowledge that I passed the momentary test of reason. Now all I need to do is apply this eminently sensible behaviour to just about every other facet of my life...
Happily, however, this experience only makes me want to write more...