The husband tells me that I have a Teflon shield of hope and optimism. He says that this is both my greatest strength and my Achilles’ heel. “You’re too optimistic,” he advises, “you need to be more realistic.”
What does that mean, being “realistic”? I’ve been thinking about that a lot. In many ways, it seems to me to be another word for limiting beliefs. Or a way to make sure you hold your hopes in check to avoid disappointment. To remain caged, as it were.
Over the weekend, I had two presentations for Little Kunoichi. I mentioned the one about the bookstore, but I also had another one the day before at K’s school. The contrast between the two presentations was striking.
Presentation 1 at K’s school: 100+ kids, a slew of teachers, riotous Q & A with endless questions from the audience, a better-than-expected sales, and many lovely words of encouragement up on offer.
Presentation 2 at the bookstore: 2 kids and 2 moms. 7 people, counting the awesome employee Jessie, K and her friend, who sat in the audience to make the space look less empty. Actually, it was really only 1 child and his mom that showed up for the reading, and the other mother-daughter pair was roped in because they happened to be in the store at the time. I messed up reading my own book (accidentally skipped some pages), no questions were asked, and I led a disastrous origami demonstration. One book sold.
I loved both.
I learned a lot from the presentations (never ask 100 kids to look for a hidden bunny in the middle of a reading, and make sure to know how to make the origami project before teaching it). In both cases, I couldn’t believe I was physically sharing a book that was just a blip of an idea two years ago. I told the gaggle of kids during presentation #1, “I’ve wanted to write and illustrate books since I was your age. It took a long time for it to happen, but it did.” Small faces nodded up at me in what felt like solidarity. I told the one kid who was old enough to speak at the bookstore, “Thanks for coming to the reading!” He stared at me for a moment and said, “I’m hungry.”
Back to being realistic. The odds of “making it” as a book author and/or illustrator are stacked against me. My editor for book #2 told me that the vast majority of authors have day jobs, and I don’t have the courage to research how many books are actually sold on average despite the backing of an established publisher. If I looked at the numbers, I would toss my current manuscript out the window and would never have proceeded with Little Kunoichi. I would go find myself a nice office job in downtown Seattle with a 401K plan and call it a day.
Then I think: If I were realistic, I wouldn’t have gotten married. What would be the point when half of marriages dissolve?
If my mother had been realistic, she wouldn’t have left Japan to go to Germany when she was nineteen — she didn’t speak a lick of Deutsch. Which led her to go to NY, where she met my father. If she hadn’t been so unrealistic, I would not exist. That would make me sad, even though I wouldn’t exist to be sad.
If all people upheld realistic as the universal measure, our human history would be as bland and as uninspired as overcooked rice porridge (something my mother would give me to soothe stomach aches). No inventions. No scientific discoveries. No art or music or literature. No internet. I mean, can you imagine how unrealistic the internet must have sounded fifty years ago? I’m obviously not of the same caliber as the great artists and discoverers, but I’d like to lean more in that direction.
I don’t mind trying things that may not work out. Because how can you know without trying? And even if they don’t work out, I’m annoyingly good at finding lessons in adverse situations. It’s a curse and a gift (it’s a curse because people want me to stop making everything a teaching moment – this reminds me of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid illustration where Greg, the main character, gets scratched by a cat, and his mom is kneeling beside him saying something like, “Okay, spell it with me: C-A-T”.)
I’m prepared to be hugely disappointed or devastated by the failures. The problem begins when I use “being realistic” to stop me from trying what I truly want to do — I’ve become certain of this. The word is often used as a crutch or interchangeably with responsibility and it urges me to focus on a paycheck or some socially acceptable mode of behavior or activity, and this too makes me wary and weary. As I grow older, I see how wise my mother is. I told a friend once that my mom could eke out food from concrete, as resourceful and creative as she is. She defines life with possibility and inventiveness, not with brand names, a business card or a false sense of security.
I believe there’s a difference between foolhardiness and this so-called shield of hope and optimism that I seem to possess. I can always go get the job with the 401K — of this, I have no doubt — but how often will I get the chance to create books? To blog about things that matter to me? To forge an as-yet-undefined-but-potentially-wonderful community through the Furoku membership? Sure, I could put these things off for later, tomorrow, next year, but when that time comes, will I actually do it? I doubt it. I’ve already spent way too many years putting off things I really want to do.
I have a lot of realistic, limiting beliefs, of course. I’m also starting to get criticism and this only feeds into my natural tendency to doubt myself. The thing is, I’m training myself to turn a deaf ear to them unless it’s helpful somehow. To shore up an underused belief in myself to combat these thoughts. I’ll let you know how it goes. It’s pretty hard.
My book readings may have audiences of zero or bazillions (goodness, I hope not. The stage fright!). My Furoku membership may grow or not. I may not be able to make anything resembling a “real” income doing the things I love, because, as my little painting shows below, my target amount of $20,000 (the moon) is still far, far away and the year is almost half over and blah-blah-blah. Sometimes I have really high moments of “Yes!! I can do this!!” and other times…well, that’s me on the ladder, and to date, my total income is $864.44, of which $486.63 was from last month (thank you, Janome Gnome, for suggesting that I illustrate my income monthly reports).
But that’s okay. I’m just going to keep trying my best, and maybe, just maybe, it will work. And if I go splat and have to sheepishly admit defeat? Well, I’m always full of optimistic ideas and hey, I still have 7 more months to go.
In the end it doesn’t matter because right now, I feel like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing in spite of the doubts that try to take over, and that, my friends, trumps being realistic.
P.S. I’m keeping sign-ups for the membership open until the end of this week, May 31st. Furoku #3 is in development!! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the full story.
P.P.S. The unrealistic bet for Little K to make $100,000 is still on — If I win, M will get a Little Kunoichi tattoo. I loved all of the tattoo placement suggestions! If you feel up for it and truly liked the book, please leave reviews on Amazon or any other bookseller sites – this will help promote Little Kunoichi!
P.P.P.S. I think I will finally be able to share some sewing later this week. I miss sewing for fun!!!!!
P.P.P.P.S. I’ve been remiss and didn’t honor Memorial Day to acknowledge the men and women who serve and have served our country. Many, many thanks.