A Tale of Two Projects

A  few years ago I was working on a book that took me to the west coast and parts of the Midwest to talk to people in the community resilience movement. I wrote a book proposal and shopped it around and had some mild interest from literary agents. I received a grant for research travel, and I was selected a trio of writing residencies, and I wrote a bunch of words.

P and D sawing

A photo from one of my sojourns–a Bloomington homeschooling cooperative based around permaculture principles.

I still have those words. Some of them have turned up in posts here and other places. (People seem consistently most intrigued by the Mudgirls natural building collective.) But I have yet to use them in some final-final form of Thrivalists. Every agent who loved the topic ended up declining because of my “thin platform.” They didn’t believe that I would garner enough readership, in other words, to make me worth the risk.

I began to disbelieve it myself. I added that to a bone-deep doubt that anything I could do would ever be good enough or come together coherently enough to produce a book.

I shelved the project, and began to work on another, supposedly interim, nonfiction book. It was supposed to be a six-month jaunt into something different-but-related: I would write of my own healing journey, and how it connected to the buried ruins of a 19th century women’s mental institution (“Seven Steeples”) where I was volunteering at a modern-day farm.

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Last week I toured a Traverse City, MI asylum of roughly the same era as Seven Steeples.

Two and a half years later…

Yeah.

Still working on that one. And I received a grant this year to further the project, which feels great! but also kind of heavy and dubious, since the first grant did not (yet) result in publication.

Next month I will hand my manuscript to a professional for editing services, thanks to the Indiana Arts Commission’s generosity.

In the meantime (while still freelancing in the farm profile arena) I periodically send out pieces of each work-in-progress to see if anyone is interested in publishing them as essays. Nope nope nope. (Though I’ve had a few very nice rejection notes!)

Till this month. To meet a shorter word count and fit a theme of “Roots,” I reworked a segment of Thrivalists about the role of fungi in rootedness. I incorporated some newer, slightly woo-woo material (sort of a mashup of both projects), and sent it to Topology Magazine. They published The Gift of the Fungi, which is ostensibly about what I learned at the Radical Mycology Convergence, but is also about coming to embrace a wider sense of possibility.

I felt a curious lack of enthusiasm for the news that the site would publish it. The old “any club that would have me as a member” dilemma? A sense that I could have snagged a higher profile outlet, if I’d persisted? Some of each.

Plus a sense of : “I went to California, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Ohio and all I got was this lousy T-shirt?”

The end product is supposed to be a book, not a little online article.

Well, then a writing buddy reminded me of something Charles Eisenstein asked in a podcast : Would you write even if you had only one reader, even if you knew that that reader might take your words and change the world… but you’d never get credit for it? He wrote a piece about how this type of loyalty test first arose for him. An excellent read if you have time.

Why do we do what we do? What is our ultimate goal? If it’s about fulfilling our purpose, taking our place in the Divine scheme of things, then words like “platform” and “readership” are less important than resonating our truth.

web eagle creek park

Spiderweb photo by Barbara Jablonski, taken at Eagle Creek Park

In the world we live in, money and fame are gods. What we have to offer doesn’t count unless it brings in income or gains huge exposure. Charles and my writing buddy and I refute that story, and I suspect we’re not alone in that.

Oh and by the way, some ideas are percolating about that old project as I hit the home stretch (?) of the new one. I haven’t seen the last of the inspiring Thrivalists that shared with me. I can tell because of the way my blood hums when I think of putting their stories in a wider frame.

Maybe I just needed to expand (not my platform but my being) before I could put the work out there. We’ll see.

Pass the Book, Please!

On my walks through the neighborhood I have encountered a curious thing: a little house-shaped structure mounted on a post, with sliding glass doors enclosing one of my favorite things: books!

Little Free Library in my neighborhood

Little Free Library in my neighborhood

It is a Little Free Library, part of a worldwide network designed to cultivate the love of reading by setting up free book exchanges.

Gotta love that. I decided to donate a book and take another home, just for fun. I’d like to say my donation was carefully selected after much intensive soul-searching, Top Ten list-making, and pick-pondering, but the truth is I had just visited Bookmamas, our little independent bookstore, where I was given three advance reading copies of books marked NOT FOR RESALE, so I stuck one of those in.

Putting my book into the mix.

Putting my book into the mix.

The little house-o-books was crammed chock full. Perhaps more people need to stop by and check out the selection.

I came home with a book called Dune Road, by Jane Green. It’s a novel about “divorcee Kit Hargrove (who) has joyfully exchanged the requisite diamond studs and Persian rugs of a Wall Street Widow for a clapboard Cape with sea-green shutters and sprawling impatiens….” Not my usual fare, but hey! I’m open.

Me and my find

Me and my find

I just love the coziness of the little structure, and the community feel of it. I want one in front of my house! (Neighbor-readers out there: do you know if this little library’s stewards made it by hand–or other details about it? No one was home when I knocked–or perhaps they were hiding from the camera phone-wielding/windblown/book-crazy stranger on their doorstep).

I was just wrapping this post up when the friend working across from me at the coffee shop mentioned that Tuesday is World Book Night, wherein book-lovers sign up to distribute 20 copies of a book–printed and shipped pro bono, with authors foregoing royalties–to people who don’t regularly read. She had ordered a box of books to pass out, so we stopped over at Bookmamas to pick it up.

Special edition books for World Book Night, designated to be given free

Special edition books for World Book Night, designated to be given away

Anyone out there ever participated in a book exchange or giveaway? Are you participating in World Book Night? Chime in and let us know what’s going on in your neck of the woods.