Been talking down to my headspace this gloomy afternoon and my soul feels shook, maybe even sad, so I thought I’d marinate for a few moments on the beautiful evening I shared with family and their close friends in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday night. Near the end of the round table discussion that the Kettering-Moraine Branch Library hosted for ROOM FOR GRACE, I was asked a question along the lines of, “How are you going to measure the success of this project?” I’d like to talk about that now, as a project of this magnitude has many stages of success and to be honest, I thought it was the most thought provoking and striking question of the event.
SUCCESS: STAGE ONE There were family and friends, social workers, volunteers, doctors in abundance, everyone helping and I felt like I was floundering. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to help. Then my mom was told by her palliative care doctor that she may only have a year left to live. The oral history project I started with her the week of their thirtieth wedding anniversary was my way of saying, I’m here and I want to hear. I want to immerse myself into your life, your voice. Mom was a woman who got to live her dream. For seven days, for thirty hours, she spoke candidly about her upbringing, her siblings, her passions, her failures, her years with my precious and beautiful father and about countless, countless children she taught over her career. I wanted her to spare nothing, to give me everything, to trust me that I would be delicate, that I would hear her and celebrate and honor a life well lived. That bond between mother and son multiplied countless times during those days. We strengthened our core. I was lucky. I gave her someone who listened. And it was a success.
SUCCESS: STAGE TWO I gave the first draft of ROOM FOR GRACE to my mom for Christmas. It was the last Christmas gift I gave her. She told me it was the nicest gift anyone had ever given her. She felt her life was validated, preserved. She knew I cherished her ability to share it with me. We were so close then. Our unit. But she was getting sicker. Dad was only getting sicker. The book was my way of coming home. I was so afraid, the changes rapid, the affects gut-wrenching. My parents were changing and they were leaving me behind. But giving my mom that draft was a success. To see her fingers on the pages, to hear her voice run through the stories of the hallways and classrooms of Fox Point, to see her cozy and comfortable in her pink fleece bathrobe, that was a success. She knew she had lived her best life, that she was capable, that she was strong, that she was accomplished. I gave her pride. And seeing her life in those pages, gave me a mom I was proud of. Her selflessness, her empathy, her competitiveness.
SUCCESS: STAGE THREE My parents died weeks apart. My mom waited for my dad before she could let go. To be honest, I don’t know if she let go, but I know when it was time, her body did. For two years I thought she would go before him. It terrified me. How would my family and I take care of my dad the way Mom did? Oh, God, it did, it terrified me. But honestly, I felt strong when they passed. We had done the work, had all the moments and lessons and all the moments and lessons in between, and I felt grounded, I felt safe, I felt like I knew the way ahead. That they were with me. I had no regrets. I had given everything. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty, but it was real, and we did it together. I knew I would never be without them. But then something happened. Time, I guess. Maybe sorrow, how do you put it into words? But when I could, I slowly started writing and editing ROOM FOR GRACE again. It became what my dad had called a safe harbor. Working with their voices kept me safe. It kept me close to them. In a way, they were alive. The work was long and arduous but most days, I woke up and got to be with them, work with them, showcase and highlight them.
SUCCESS: STAGE FOUR I wrote a freaking book. I did. It sounds silly. But I wrote a book. And it was really hard work. Many days spent alone, in doubt, reliving and rehashing many heartbreaking moments. I gave the work my all. I wrote ten drafts. After every draft, I got really sick. Just empty, nothing left. But then the motivation would creep back in, and I’d get back up, and keep going. There was a lot of work to do. And because of the help I had along the way, I wrote a book.
SUCCESS: STAGE FIVE I got ROOM FOR GRACE published. I thought writing was going to be the hard part. Endless amount of emails and pitches, in hopes that someone would see the truth in the project, that someone would see the faith, the hope, the courage, the inspiration. There was so much rejection. But not only rejection. It was silence. And it was deafening. I felt like I let down my mom and dad. My family. Myself. I’ve always wanted nothing more than to be an artist, to take my experience and change it and mold it into something creative. To be listened, to be heard, to be considered, that someone else would give me what I had given Mom. What had I done with my time?! It felt helpless. I had created something and the people I had chosen to reach out to didn’t even respond. It must my fault, I feared. And then, it got published. I got to hand the work over, there wasn’t going to be any more excuses, there would be no more drafts, it was time to let go. It was going to be published. I got to work with designers. All those months alone, and finally, I got to finish the marathon alongside a devoted team.
SUCCESS: STAGE SIX The book has been released. It is now a product. For sale. But there is a voice in my head trying to diminish the accomplishment of what I achieved with my mom and my dad. It is trying to take out the roots of why the project was started in the first place. It is trying to undermine their memory. Sell more books, the voice screams. You haven’t sold enough books, it teases. It’s up to me to get the book into your hands, so that maybe you hold it as dearly as I do. It’s up to me to get the book to you so that word of mouth starts churning. So that its success branches, that it isn’t mine any longer, but ours. That we relate heart to heart. That we listen to one another. That I have the chance to make deep and meaningful connections like my mom urged. One of her final lessons. I believe there’s something in these pages, in these stories that will resonate and benefit you, that maybe your heart will recognize the joys and the trials. I’ve already had the chance to interact with so many special people, who have come to the readings and the events, to celebrate, to honor my parents, my family, me, the work, the final product of ROOM FOR GRACE. I’ve already had so many successes, but this last stage is weighing heavy today. How do I remind myself it’s not just about sales? Yet again, as an artist, I need the confidence to know that I made something, that it’s successful, that I can make something else. The next project. Jeez, am I ever going to be ready for the next project? As I see it, there have been six stages of success. Five should outweigh the last one, and yet...