Sunday, December 19, 2010

Strength for a New Mission

The news was a blow from behind, a punch in the stomach, a left hook to the face. Just like that, I was told that my publisher didn’t want another novel from me, that there weren’t enough sales from the first, that my two book contract would be cancelled. Just like that, my mission in life was gone.

That second book had started out as a fresh idea. It was fueled by enthusiasm, creativity and high hopes. But through time it transformed into a monkey on my back that grew into a full fledge monster stomping on my mind, body and spirit.

The pressure was gone, and part of me was greatly relieved. But what the monster left behind was far worse than any condition of its presence. It was the fallout of failure, shame, guilt, confusion and debt.

The morning after my mission in life changed, I lay in bed unsure of what to do. For over three years I’d woken as a sophomore novelist with a goal to write a specific story. For over a thousand days, my mind had been occupied trying to find the perfect balance of plot, voice and characterization. But all of that had changed, and it was time to do something else.

I pulled that second book out anyway. I was determined to write it, to create something so amazing that publishers would be knocking down my door, to take the cancelled contract in stride and come back stronger than ever.

But I was weak. The second book had taken its toll on my confidence and filled me with fear. I needed courage, energy and inspiration. Most importantly, I needed strength.

Last year, shortly after my world changed, I went to the Abbeville Meridional newspaper with an idea for a column that would explore the ins and outs of life. At first I wasn’t sure how to pursue it. But then I saw the general manager, Kathy Cormier, and inspiration filled me.

Cormier was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. She went through chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy. The day I went to ask her for a job, she was in remission and looked stronger than ever. The breast cancer survivor gave me the strength to understand that the world does not stop over a cancelled book contract.

For the past year, I’ve explored previous self-experiences and interviewed people who faced goals, challenges and obstacles; an eighty-three year old woman continued dancing after breaking her hip, a teenage girl from Forked Island realized her dream of attending an Ivy League university, a soldier left his family to go overseas and fight for freedom. Hearing and sharing these stories has been my therapy, my medicine and my mission in life. They have guided me to next steps and given me strength.

I often wonder how my life would be different if that second novel had been published as planned. At this moment, I could be a best selling author in the ranks of Jeff Kinney, J.K. Rawling and Stephanie Meyer. The book could have been made into a blockbuster movie starring everyone from George Clooney to Faith Hill to Brangelina. My face could be on lunch boxes, my body in Calvin Klein underwear ads and my feet on the T.V. show, “Dancing with the Stars”. Oprah could have interviewed me, and I could have purchased Michael Jackson’s old house and lived in Never Land until I fulfilled the ultimate dream of winning the Pulitzer and becoming a game show host, preferably the “Price is Right”.

But the second book was never published, so this past year I spent my days digging through garbage with my mom to find aluminum cans to recycle. I shared experiences with my family, learning more about them and allowing them to learn about me. I traveled around Vermilion Parish and met people who amazed me with their stories of hope, passion and strength.

I am grateful that my publisher had the insight to see that a second book with them was not the right project for me at that moment. I am sorry for any trouble I may have caused them, but that was never my intention. My heart was fully invested in writing a great story, but the stars simply weren’t in line.

Through my failure, I learned valuable lessons. I learned that the world doesn’t revolve around me, that other people have problems far worse than my own and that through perseverance, support and love we can all find the strength we need.

It is now time for me to take the next step in my life. Although I am not exactly sure of what that is, there are several projects that have inspired me. But in order to be able to focus on these ideas, I will have to stop writing for the Abbeville Meridional.

I am very thankful that Kathy Cormier, Chris Rosa and the newspaper gave me an opportunity when I needed it most. Their faith and trust in my ideas allowed me to explore and educate myself on accomplishing goals, overcoming challenges and dusting off after being knocked down to the ground.

But it is you, the people of Vermilion Parish, who made me strong and understand the bigger picture in life. It is your positive encouragement and inspiring moments that motivates me to wake each morning as if it is the first day of my life. It is you who gives me strength.

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