Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Four Aron Franks

There's a scene in John Green's novel The Fault in Our Stars where the protagonist, Hazel, a teenager with terminal cancer, visits the Anne Frank House with her boyfriend, Augustus.  Before Hazel and Gus start making out in front of a crowd of tourists, Hazel notices an alphabetical list of names of victims of the Nazi extermination.  Next to Anne Frank's name is a listing of four boys named Aron Frank.  This part kills me:

The book was turned to the page with Anne Frank's name, but what got me about it was the fact that right beneath her name there were four Aron Franks. FOUR. Four Aron Franks without museums, without historical markers, without anyone to mourn them. I silently resolved to remember and pray for the four Aron Franks as long as I was around.

But of course it doesn't really kill me.  I am not dead yet.  But I will be some day, as these four Aron Franks are.  As Anne Frank is.  As John Green will be some day.  As my sweet six-year-old daughter will be some day, too.  All of us are mortal.  One thing I learned two years ago when my brother Pat died at the age of 49 of alcohol-induced liver failure is that there is no time to put off what we feel we must do before our time on this planet is over.  That's why I started writing.  Daily.  As often as I can.

Writing is not the same as publishing, I have learned.  When I was young and egomaniacal I thought surely I'd have published a book by now.  I loved to read.  I sheltered myself from the cruel world, inside my bedroom, reading, becoming friends with the characters in the novels.  They were fictional, but they understood me more than real people did.  I wanted to emulate my favorite authors, create works that could speak to others when I couldn't be physically present due to geographic boundaries or death.  I wanted to achieve immortality by creating stories that would survive my physical demise.  I wanted to be an Anne Frank and not an Aron Frank.

I am forty-two now.  I haven't published a book.  I've never been very good at goals.  Great at dreaming them up, but terrible at following through til the end.  It's so much easier for me to succumb to the moment and do as I please than it is for me to focus and do the boring work that must be done to achieve a goal.  I've produced two manuscripts now, one fiction, one a memoir, but I don't seem to have it in me to create an outstanding query letter or book proposal that I need to attract the attention of a literary agent.

And so I blog.  Just because I'm too lazy to find an agent, too allergic to marketing my work in a conventional way, doesn't mean I'm not writing.  And through this blog I'm able to connect with others despite our geographic boundaries.  I wonder, will this blog survive my death?  How long will my words and my stories live on in the digital world after my body has left the physical world?

Would my stories survive longer or connect with more people if they were sold by a big publishing house?  Or is blogging enough to satisfy my desire to connect with others?

The other day a friend of mine said something and it hurt my feelings.  I mentioned that Dr. Linda Bacon had shared one of my recent blog posts and that it hit over 200 page views in one day.  My friend's first reaction was not, "Wow!" or "Congratulations!" or "How exciting!" like it would be if he were a fictitious character inside my head and I were writing our dialogue in a story.  Instead he said the same thing my inner critic has been saying to me since I started this blog nearly two years ago:

"So do you get paid for each individual page view?"

"No, but van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime.  I'm a van Gogh of blogging," I argued and then I went for a walk in the park by myself to think about it.

Is writing worthy if it's unpaid?  

Yes.  It is.  Just as parenting is worthy even if it's the hardest unpaid work there is.  The rewards are beyond royalties.  Just yesterday, my daughter reminded me.

"It's crazy, but you wanna know what my favorite toy in the whole world is, Mom?" Katie asked me.

"What's your favorite toy in the whole world?" I asked.

"Books!  I love books more than anything," she exclaimed.

"I don't think that's crazy at all.  I completely understand.  I love to read too.  I'm happy you love books so much," I said.

I've gotta find some bloggers who write for young children so I can turn my kid onto the idea that the way stories are shared is evolving, that a good story doesn't have to be hardbound in order for you to enjoy it.  If you have any suggestions for a good blogger for kids, please let me know in the comments section.

I'm passing on my stories in my subtle way, the way I like to do it.  I don't have crowds of fans beating down my door or standing in long lines to have me sign their copies of my best-selling books.  I'm not getting rich off my art.  But would I really want that anyway?  Do I write to attract fans and a fat bank account, or do I write to share my love of a good story?  By publishing my stories on my blog and by passing on my love of reading to my daughter, I'm connecting in the best way I know.  Measuring my success in this way, I've already achieved my goal.