Social Icons


Give and Get

When I was a kid I gave everything away. Jackets, socks, watches, they all disappeared within weeks of my grandmother or mother bringing them in new, popping the tags off and lecturing me about responsibility. Once, I came home like a clown with a pair of shoes three sizes too large on my feet. My shoes were on the feet of a girl who must have gone through her day with her toes folded under, blissful to be in name-brand sneakers. In middle school, it was jewelry. In high school, it was friendship offered to those on the fringes.

I have a clear memory of a pale girl, the kind who existed in such a state of poverty that she was invisible to us, stumbling and dropping an armload of books on the sidewalk beside the buses. The kids on the bus laughed as she lay sprawled. I was appalled and embarrassed because some of them were my friends. I helped her gather her books. I don’t think we ever spoke. I didn’t know what happened to her after that day or if she graduated with my class. But I remembered her cornflower blue eyes. They really were cornflower blue. I’ve never seen eyes like that since. I wondered about her. I wished I’d had some sense of the life she was leading and the courage to do more than lift her off the ground and go on with my day, slightly uncomfortable in my skin.

So here’s the thing I’m getting at, and I’m not preaching, I promise. It’s just, I’ve published a book. It’s been almost a year since it was released and believe me it’s been dreamy. Anyone who tells you they don’t find satisfaction in having their hard work recognized and earning a place at the author table, is a liar. The support and pride of friends and family is really overwhelming. The readers letting me know their thoughts, blows my mind. Even the occasional negative review is something I’m grateful for. What it all boils down to is that my voice has been heard and honestly, that’s pretty incredible in any day and age. So I’m thankful. And slightly (if I’m honest) guilty.

Because (and maybe this is just who I am) I’m haunted by so many voices that will likely never be heard or recognized or celebrated or respected or even criticized. And I find myself looking at what’s been accomplished this year on my behalf and feeling compelled to do something more than tell a story. I want to give something back. I want to give what I have to someone else, some invisible someone. When I look at the characters in my work I realize it’s what drives me from my core. I want to give the greatest most profound gift of story – a voice. And that seemed such an intangible thing until recently.

I published a novel, but what really happened to me this year is that I became a part of a community and within that community there is a movement. I became aware of a quiet effort going forth from the individual book bloggers I got to know after I took on a small position with the She Reads national online book club as their Blog Network coordinator. In so many anonymous ways, they are promoting literacy within their communities and in particular for women. They donate books and time and they share their love of reading in hospices, shelters, libraries, prisons, day cares and more. They begin a conversation, first about the story and then about the lives of those reading them. And instead of guilt, suddenly I felt inspired and privileged to be a part of publishing!

This year, the publishers of our monthly selection agreed to not only send books to our bloggers, but also ten copies of the book to a homeless women’s book club outside of Denver, Colorado, who call themselves the Homecoming Queens. They meet once a month to discuss a book and support one another in their struggle to get back on their feet. It’s not much, ten books. The publishers don’t even feel it. It’s one email I send out. Certainly no great effort on my part. But here’s the response from their fearless leader and literacy advocate Alyce Urice, following the meeting where they learned what had been coordinated on their behalf:

In one year book club has come to mean more to them than just about anything they do. How they see themselves and one another differently than they did 11 months ago because they have seen themselves through the pages of these books.

I am supposed to tell you that if you are an author you should know that your books make people think and see things differently, feel and believe differently, and “want to try harder.

They are trying harder. They are reaching out to other women in the housing complex. Homeless women, finding they have something to give. Finding a voice. And the little girl inside me, the one giving away her shoes and socks and jackets recognizes something more is at work through our books. Whether we know it or not, a gift is being given, something larger than we imagined, larger than ourselves.

And one last thing if you remain unconvinced, a story for you to take away. That girl I wondered about, the one I lost in the flurry of life’s speed, the one I helped to stand, but felt I’d failed in the long run? On the night of my book launch, when I was full of self-doubt in the midst of a crowd that threatened to overwhelm me, I looked up into a pair of pale, cornflower blue eyes. “I bet you don’t remember me,” she said.

But I did. I do. And without even knowing it, she gave me the gift right back.