If You Don't Ask

The more I tour, the better I get at speaking up. No capricious demands; no all-red M&Ms in the green room or bottles of Fiji water. Sometimes it's a matter of asking for quiet moment to plan my book talk, or dinner at the Sandra-friendly restaurant instead of the pizza party. Sometimes it is a matter of wrestling over copyedits with editors--No, you can't cut that for fit--which I've also been doing from the road, for a freelance piece that will be out later this year. You haven't know frustration until you've tried to proof a PDF layout using an iPhone.

Sometimes it's a matter of saying Hey, I wrote that. Yesterday, walking down a sidewalk in Bronxville the morning after a Sarah Lawrence visit, I saw the local bookstore--Womrath Bookshop. I decided to stop in. 

Would they have Don't Kill the Birthday Girl? Yep, there it was (next to Molly Birnbaum's Season to Taste, one of my favorite and most frequent shelf-neighbors). 

 A year ago this would have been the part where I smiled and walked out quietly. But now I say Hey, I wrote that. Would you like me to sign it?

And that's how you get to leap above Saul Bellow. 

I'm typing this from Fuel, a Great Barrington coffeeshop, after reading at The Bookstore in Lenox last night. A year ago I'd have paid for a hotel room, cursing myself for again losing money on the road. This time I said to the bookstore owner Hey, can you help me? So he let me crash on his couch in Housatonic (and also, borrow his daughter's slippers--the floors of the Berkshires are freezing). We stayed up drinking whiskey, talking books.

I almost moved to Great Barrington once. Feels like a lifetime ago; my first big job search after grad school. I had a chance to become an editorial assistant at Orion: a glossy, creative, beautifully designed nature magazine that even runs poetry. I choked. I backed out. I'd never been to the Berkshires, I'd never even been to New York on my own, and I was scared. It would be a few more years before I'd come up here for the first time--to the Millay Colony--and discover the quirky, vibrant multi-town community that would have embraced me if I'd made the leap. Sometimes, on drives like this one, I feel a little twinge of regret for the adventure not taken. 

I wasn't ready. I didn't recognize my needs, nor did I know how to ask the world to honor them. So often we focus on cultivating voice on the page. We draft. We edit. We proof. Yet you haven't really found your voice until you use it to speak up for yourself. 

Someone told me the other day, You're so good at the self-promotion stuff. It wasn't clear to either one of us whether that was meant as a compliment. The thing is, you have to be ready to be your own best advocate. There's a world of people ready to be excited for you & your work. There's a world of people ready to lend a hand or a couch. But you have to ask.