Friday was a busy day. It dawned rainy, which for a moment I hoped would free me from the obligation of attending Northwestern University's 160th commencement—a relief, since commencements are long and windy enough as it is, without adding actual wind, and rain, and cold.
But no sooner had that emotion registered than I realized, to my surprise, that I didn't want commencement to be washed out. This was a celebration for thousands of people, including myself, my wife and son, and they we had all earned this ceremony. I wanted to go and, the deciding factor, my kid wanted to go. So we dressed in layers, brought garbage bags to sit on, and headed to Ryan Field.
It was not that bad—not too cold, with a flannel shirt and a fleece and a rain jacket. And not too wet, tucked high under the lip of the stadium. NU president Mort Schapiro was funny as ever, and kept the thing moving, shortening where he could. The music stirred. Opera star Renee Fleming delivered a light, funny, truly inspirational address, urging students to "Find Your Voice," a talk that I thought of summarizing, but instead decided to just encourage you to watch here.
After the degrees were conferred and "Alma Mater" sung, lines of graduates tossing their arms around each other and swaying, touchingly, we headed outside of Ryan Field, found our very wet, cold and happy boy, hurried to his apartment for dry clothes, then off to his favorite place to eat—Todoroki on Davis. We lingered and laughed and sushi-loaded, then he peeled off to watch the World Cup, we went home to nap.
Waking up, I took the dog on her late afternoon stroll, I thought about this post. I could write about a commencement speech, a subject I already touched upon Thursday ... or ... it is end of June; June 22, to be exact. As it happens, the paperback publication date of "Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery," by Sara Bader and me, the book that the University of Chicago Press published in hardback in September, 2016.
That was a big deal, with a launch party at the Poetry Foundation and notice in the New York Times Sunday Book Review and lots of publicity. The book ripped through six printings and rose to No. 36 on the Amazon national bestseller list.
|The new paperback edition was published Friday.|
Not exactly a full-page ad in the Times. I've wondered whether a passerby, finding this card, would have an idea what it is hawking, particularly without resorting to a magnifying glass.
But something. A charmingly low tech bit of ballyhoo. They didn't tell me what to do with the cards. I've been leaving them in public spaces, at airports, in doctor's offices, on the seat of buses and above, at a bus stop on Madison Street, just west of Racine, where it has sat for weeks, waiting for somebody to notice.
I know the feeling.
I'm not sure if that's good (it's still there, available to be found) or bad (nobody has yet taken it). But that kind of ambivalence comes with the bush leagues of publishing. I'd never say I'm glad to be obscure—that would be a lie. But I can say obscurity has a value. I have a number of friends who have had huge, best-selling books. And it distorts them, and forevermore they want huge, best-selling books ,and just regular selling books are a disappointment. Fame is an addiction like any other. You taste it, you crave more.
Not me. I'm well along the process of getting a deal for my ninth book, another small affair at a small publisher that will cast out a ripple and no more. I'd be an idiot to expect anything beyond that at this point. Yet lack of expectation has not rendered me hopeless. Just the opposite. The mid-list melancholy has fallen away, replaced with a sort of gritty determination, almost a zeal. I'm writing the book because I like the topic. It's interesting and I enjoy doing it, just as I like setting these little cards carefully in public places, my little protest against the cosmos, my tiny manifestation of self. I don't have to worry about being brought down to size; I already am down to size. This is the place where I live, writing my odd little books, giving away essays every goddamn day here, carefully setting these little cards, and I do with almost a cleric's devotion, lighting the candle, saying the prayer. Maybe God hears. Maybe He doesn't. No matter, the prayer get said anyway.
Work can be like a prayer, if you love it. The doing of it, your success. All the success I'm going to get, anyway. And if a little money comes, that's a small bonus, a consolation prize for participating. Hardly relevant, as the satisfaction wasn't because of a line of zeroes. I loved writing that book. Now out in paperback. I had to plug it here, well, because, as I tell young writers, if you don't care about your work, then nobody will. Which sounds grim, and sometimes is. But sometimes if you care, that's enough.