or Humiliation is Best Served Funny
This would be hilarious if it weren’t so pitiful.
Actually, I’m determined this morning, to somehow make it hilarious in the telling. It’s either gonna be that, or humiliating. I get to choose. I choose A. I’m not sure how I’m gonna get there from here at this point—my ego is still smarting a bit—but I’m confident that I can reframe the “disgrace” of June 23rd in such a way that I at least, can write it off in the name of funny-shit-that-happens-when-you’re-trying-too-hard.
I wrote and published a book. I guess you know that by now. It was one of the coolest, most validating—actually life-saving—things I’ve ever done, and I highly recommend it. The book was very well-received, selling over a thousand copies directly from my website within the first few weeks of its debut. And that blew my mind—at least initially. But as one of my favorite (gloriously “messed-up”) authors, Augusten Burroughs, says about seeing your book on store shelves, “You can get used to anything.”
Well, let me just say that I’m not used to that at all. So, when it happens, I tend to overreact just the teensiest bit. My soul screams out like Sally Field at the 1985 Oscars, “You like me!” You really like me! And whether or not I end up in the Memoir, Self-help, or even Local Author section, I’m so genuinely grateful, I want to give the bookstore owners presents and name my pets after them. (Actually, Sundog, already has “dog” in it. That’d be a great name for a beach mutt.)
So, it was with great humility and gratitude that I (over) prepared for my book-signing event at one of my favorite bookstores on the planet—Sundog Books—smack dab in the middle of the Central Square of one of my favorite resort towns on the planet—Seaside, Florida. If you’ve never been to Sundog, and you love books, you must go. It is quaint, and charming in the Southern-ist of ways, with a big ole front porch facing Seaside’s Lyceum Lawn outside; and stacks and stacks of books, cards and quirky novelty items occupying every inch of space, on the inside. I once spent two hours lost in a happy trance in the little store—back when the kids were babies and I needed a brief vacation from my family vacation.
Now, twenty years later, I felt so honored to be invited to sign books there. I’d get to sit on that front porch, the very same one that three decades of authors (some famous!) had occupied, and graciously sign books for throngs of happy vacationers. Wow. Have I arrived, or what?
Actually the better question turned out to be “or where?” Where the hell was my book?
After several weeks of avid preparation—designing and printing up promotional materials, shouting-out all over social media, practicing my author sig (ha!), reserving a ridiculously expensive cottage for the weekend, getting my do done and a mani-pedi, and lastly, ironing my Hemant and Nandita book-signing dress—I was just about ready for the big event.
But first, a little reconnaissance.
I had decided to make a weekend of it, and had invited my new-ish friend, Becky, to join me. She’s beautiful and enthusiastic and optimistic and just so much fun to be around. She’s also relentlessly encouraging. Which turned out to be a very good thing.
We got there Friday afternoon and I just couldn’t wait to sneak into the store, masquerading as a mere customer, and locate my book on the shelf. I wanted to touch it, if not caress it, run my index finger along the spine as it stood there proudly on the shelf of a really, really, cool bookstore. As I mentioned earlier, just the thought of my little book occupying space that is also occupied by my favorite (revered) writers, still seems almost surreal to me.
I couldn’t wait to discover it—would they have it in the Memoir section—alongside the likes of Glennon Melton Doyle, Augusten Burroughs and Elizabeth Gilbert? Or maybe in the Inspirational Essay section along with Brené Brown, Anne Lamott and Robert Fulghum? Even the Local Author section would put me in great company—Prudence Bruns, Kathleen Logan, and of course, Andy Andrews whom I suspect is now actually too famous to hang out in that section.
So, where would it be? Hmmm. Good question. Where?
Memoir seemed like a good start. But no. Didn’t see it. Okay then, maybe Self-help or Personal Essays. Nuh-uh. Well, how ‘bout Local Yocals? Hmmm. Not there either. Well, I’d be damned if I was gonna ask the kid behind the counter.
Becky and I split up. For ten minutes we perused every shelf, table, end cap and rack. No luck. Maybe they all sold!—I briefly allowed myself a moment of optimism. And then immediately, in the age-old spirit of pride coming before a fall, I saw it—and I fell. My heart plummeted, all the way to the wood-planked floor. There, as close to the ground as it could possibly be without actually being swept up by the janitor, was my baby, my life story, my heart. It could not occupy a physically lower space in the store unless it were actually on the ground.
And that wasn’t even the worst part; I don’t think it could have occupied a metaphorically lower space either. It wasn’t standing proudly amidst the likes of Anne Morrow Lindburg or Pat Conroy or even Erma Bombeck. No, no, no. It was flat on its back in the very bottom of a pile—of puzzle books.
Yes, y’all—The Puzzle Book Section! I had arrived, and was parked on a shelf loaded with authorless books—unless Sudoku Sam is actually a person. There were 17 of his books on the shelf, four or five crossword puzzle books, a couple of Hoyle rule books, three thick spiral bound tomes of something I didn’t have the heart to investigate, and curiously, three copies of a book (a murder mystery, I think) called Walton Wickedness circa 1998.
And we still haven’t gotten to the worst part. I crouched down (oh so symbolically sad) and slid my book out from under Hoyle and Webster, and found, to my utter dismay, that the book was dusty! It was dusty y’all! How could that possibly be? Even the murder mystery that had, ostensibly, occupied that shelf for three decades, wasn’t grubby with evidence of disuse and neglect. Ha!
I whimpered a little as I hastily wiped the cover on my shirt and wedged the book on a higher shelf (that was actually host to local writers) and staggered out of the store. Oh, my. The chorus of that song by Bastille, (Pompeii) looped futilely through my mind—“How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”
Becky caught up to me on the sidewalk and I mumbled, “I don’t want to do this.” She just smiled brightly but compassionately, and said, “It’ll be great. You’ll be fine.” She was right, of course, though I needed some sulking time—and artery clogging food. We had fried mac and cheese sticks for dinner at 723 Whiskey Bravo, followed by an eight-dollar ice cream cone. After I was done punishing/rewarding myself, I got down to the business of reframing. I’m really good at that. It is a deliberately honed skill—a survival skill in the book business. It really comes in handy.
I have learned, in my 58 years as a human, that humiliation is best served funny. And with Becky’s help initially, and later, with my husband’s, I laughed so hard about this, recounting the story to Ted in a hammock at the cottage, that I actually choked on my own saliva.
I didn’t take my ball and go home. The event went fine. I donned my book-signing ensemble, marched right onto that iconic porch an hour early, and set up my little table with books and seashells and my special Tumi autograph pen. The employees of Sundog Books could not have been more gracious. They even purchased more books (for their puzzle section?) afterwards.
And yes, I gave the proprietor a gift. But Shuba is too old to be renamed Sundog. Though, if I ever get a puppy…
P.S. I cannot adequately stress the importance of this “reframing” life skill. Every single situation we find ourselves in can be looked at from a number of perspectives. The “bad” or “shameful” or “unfair” experiences are especially amenable to cognitive reframing--and it behooves us to practice finding, if not the humor (though that’s my favorite frame), then at least the lesson or message in life’s snafus and challenges. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more accepting you become of the Big Picture. I’m really getting good at reframing, and I often find myself thinking–oooh, there’s a great story in this mess. My attention shifts to finding that great story, and away from self-pity, self-righteousness or self-loathing. Try it, you’ll like it!
Books are available from this website, through Amazon.com, and from all of these local retailers:
At the beach:
69 Via DeLuna Dr.
Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
In Gulf Breeze:
832 Gulf Breeze Parkway
(Publix shopping center)
Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
In East Hill:
1208 N. 12th Ave.
Pensacola, FL 32503
(at the front register)
5109 Bayou Blvd.
Pensacola, FL 32503
89 Central Square
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549
Page and Palette
32 S. Secton Street
Fairhope, AL 36532