Yesterday I finally put together a gi-normous 2006-7 “Preview Mailing” for author visits. I’d put it off as long as I could. I must say I’m rather pleased with it: it’s got a bookmark with “teacher” poems on either side, a cover letter, a list of workshops, a flyer about my summer classes for teens, a flyer about free book talks and a return postcard. It’s spiffy. At the moment I am having printer problems, so I’m going to reflect on a conversation with Mom this AM.
Mom: Not to give you advice, dear, but couldn’t you get into trouble trying to sell your books in the schools?
Me (with great patience): No, actually, that’s the way it’s done. Authors take their books into schools and sell them. It’s not much different from the Scholastic book order.
Mom (persisting, kindergarten-teacher style): But what if the children can’t afford the book? Won’t they feel bad?
Me (still patient): Yes, probably.
Mom (moving in for the kill): I’ve always thought this book should be donated to some cause.
Me (what can I say? How could I argue with that?): Yes, I think that’s true.
I fought valiantly my tendency to pat her on the head. The fact is she hits on my core dilemma and that of most female artists: selling art feels like selling out. And, as Mom pointed out, what if the little children feel bad?
And the answer is, yes. They will feel bad. I will feel bad. I should never, ever sell something that was intended to bring peace and love to the world.
But the fact is my book went out of print a few months back. I have 1600 of them sitting in a storage unit, which represents a chunk of Lancelot’s retirement money (yes, authors pay for their own books). If I don’t sell them, I will have to do something else to contribute financially to this family.
But instead of being defensive, I feel like Mom provided me with an opportunity. I’ve donated books before, but I’ve always wanted to donate some of the proceeds to some organization. And when I find it, that could be the very thing that gets me up off the couch and into the schools again with this book. It is unmotivating just to do this for myself. It’s fun to do once I’m out there, and I feel like things are happening in the hearts of the kids – and in mine. But gearing up to do it is always an act of steely resolve because, bottom line, it feels selfish. It feels like “Look at me! I write books!”
I once admitted this to Frederica Mathewes-Green and this was her response:
The problem I think is that there is a huge sticky ego squatting in the
middle of all this. It makes you excited and ineffective and confused. The thrill of possibility, of ego-stoking, elates you so that you lose touch with the simple ditch-digging work that needs to be done. This is of the evil one. It's an important distinction. The gift is from God, and meant to draw praise and glory to Him. The evil one throws sand in your eyes to elate and confuse you, and ultimately cause your work to be impaired, less effective than it could be in drawing others to Christ.
That's the part to overcome. Not just a matter of "growing up" but of true struggle, to wrestle with and defeat a temptation, a dazzling lifelong temptation that you have caressed since childhood, the vision of yourself as a star.
But we are meant to be the "fragrance of Christ" in every place.
When you are near, people will start thinking of the goodness of God and desiring him, and they might not notice you at all. But because you were there, their hearts will turn toward the light like a sunflower. "Did you smell that fragrance? Where did that come from?" "I don't know, but it was wonderful." That will be Him, and He will be there because you carried Him into the room.
There's an old story that goes: in London in the 19th century there were two great preachers. On Sunday mornings, as you went by the church of one of them, you would see people on the steps saying "What a wonderful preacher." If you went by the other, they would be saying, "What a wonderful God."
God bless you, dear sister. This is the "die to self" part and it is hard. On the other side, you will accomplish great things, because he has planted great talent in you.
I was secretly irritated at the time. That part about “caressing the vision of myself as a star.” Ouch! It was true, true, true. I’d wanted her to say… I don’t know what, but not that. But now, a few years later, looking back at her words I find tremendous comfort. I love the idea of being the “fragrance of Christ.” In fact, if I could just keep my nose on that, I’d quit getting distracted by all this other stuff and just do the work I need to do day after day.
And I’m going to begin looking for that cause. It will need to be a group doing work in the area of peace and especially racial reconciliation. Let’s see what happens.