The princess looked at her more closely. “Tell me,” she resumed, “are you of royal blood?”
“Better than that, ma’am,” said Dorothy. “I came from Kansas.”
(from Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum)
A few weeks ago, during an author visit to a group of sixth through eighth graders, one boy raised his hand and asked me, “What’s it like to be rich and famous?” I had been warned by experienced authors that this is one of the standard questions, though it’s sometimes phrased, “How much money do you make?” Ah, kids get right to the point, don’t they?
So I suppressed my guffaw and answered as best I could, trying to convey the truth: the publisher makes most of the money on each book sold. (Publishers also have lots of expenses.) I’m neither rich nor famous. Most writers aren’t.
But the boy had seen the PR on my bookmark that says I had a bestseller at one time. Years ago, but still . . . Was I not rich and famous, he wanted to know. I tried to explain that those sales numbers accumulated over the years – and then I dodged further questioning by calling on someone else.
Thinking back on it later, I had to admit that the boy was partially right. I’ve touched the hem of “rich and famous,” and I know some of the downside. You can easily feel like a commodity, the cash cow, a product instead of a person. Often what gets lost in the shuffle is you. People relate to the you that they imagine you to be, and since they’ll never really know you . . . well, they’ll never really know you.
Rich is fleeting. So is famous. But while you’re carrying that backpack, it can get awfully heavy. It takes a good deal of grace to carry it well. Rich and famous is the extra. Sure, it means that people like your writing, and it gives publishers the confidence to offer you another book deal. But the real satisfaction comes from the ordinary: the actual writing, the working of the intellectual and emotional puzzle that becomes a book.
For those of you who are not writers, the concept still applies. In the everyday world we all inhabit, finding satisfaction and contentment in life depends on how we adjust the lens through which we view the world. True contentment is found not when the extraordinary becomes ordinary, but when we can see the ordinary as extraordinary.
The student looked at her closely. “Tell me,” he resumed, “are you rich and famous?”
“Better than that, young man,” said the guest speaker. “I’m a writer.”