I took my two youngest boys out to fly kites on a windy afternoon not long ago. There are plenty of windy afternoons here on the windward shore of Oahu, but it's rare when one of them lines up with an empty spot on the busy family calendar.
One single afternoon of perfect joy goes a long way.
As a teen I went out to fly kites at least once a week, maybe more. I still love kites, but there are other things I love better.
Last summer I trained with the crew of the Iosepa. The Iosepa is a traditional hand-carved, solid-wood, seventy-foot-long double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe, and just about the coolest thing I think I've ever seen. Training wasn't just learning how to tie knots and navigate by stars. It was a lot of sitting in a circle, listening to the captains talk, and getting our hearts in the right place. We were told that very few of us would be selected to be on the actual crew. There was only room for so many on the boat. For every one person that sailed on that boat there were a hundred people on the shore who had worked just as hard to make the voyage happen. What mattered was that the boat sailed, and if the captain wanted you on board or the captain wanted you on the beach, you did your part, your duty, your "kuleana," and counted it an honor.
Last winter, a man who has had a very successful career in the performing arts came to speak to the faculty at our college. As he told the stories of all the people who had helped him along his way, and all the gifts of encouragement, of teaching, of opportunity that made him what he was, he seemed to be looking right at me and speaking into my heart. I'd begun to feel bitter over the past year, bitter that although I'd helped other writers on their journey, some who are now bestsellers, I still hadn't found the success I wanted for my own.
Writing is a performing art. There's only room for so many in the canoe. True, I'm going to stand on the beach, and in time swim out into the ocean and tread water alongside, until I'm brought aboard, but I'm not going to waste one more second being bitter about it if I haven't had a ride yet.
My mantra has gone from, "There should be more great books in the world, especially ones written by me," to simply, "There should be more great books in the world." If I'm helping to make that happen by mentoring a teen writing club, creating critique groups wherever I go, blogging writing advice, supporting my local SCBWI, and peer-editing my writing friends' manuscripts, then I'm still an important part of the process, even if my name never shows up on a book cover.
There's more than one book out there with my name safely tucked inside, in the acknowledgements, where maybe no one sees it but me. But my influence was there. Without people like me, hundreds of thousands of us giving support from the shore, the sailing crew isn't going anywhere.
I did get to sail on the Iosepa, not as crew but as an "educated passenger," on a wild, windy day when she danced up and down the waves and her sail snapped like a kite in a gale. One single afternoon of perfect joy goes a long way.
It isn't often that hard work, desire, and opportunity line up, especially in a performance art like writing fiction. For some people, maybe it never will. And if it never does, was the hard work and desire wasted? Maybe if the hard work and desire was only directed to the success of that one individual. If we help others with their preparation, so they'll be ready for their opportunities, then we're bringing more light and joy into the world, whether it's our name on the cover or not.