Still Life with Book Maven

Here I am again, a person who has written about books, authors, publishing, and writing in various places online and offline. Is there anything left to say?

Once I believed not, although that was at a time long before I began writing on the Internet. After a high-school “career” during which I wrote easily and often, I entered a competitive, private liberal-arts college and sank to the bottom of the ocean, by which I mean I took an advanced literature class and got a C on my first essay.

I concluded that, since I hadn’t met the professor’s expectations, that there was nothing left to say about the text we were studying.

Why does that matter? Why isn’t that simply a fault made by a young woman who was sulking about her bad grade?

Because, dear reader, it never once signaled to me that I should make an effort, try harder, or, most important, ask for help.

I believed that if I could not fulfill the requirements for an essay or exam that it meant I didn’t have it in me. That there was nothing left to say.

Bright girls, smart girls, good girls, of my advanced Gen X age, will recognize this syndrome. We were carefully taught that everything we needed was within us, that our brightness was innate. (This is science, by the way, not the ravings of a sulkier crone.) Meanwhile, our male counterparts were learning to make an effort, were told that you could try, try, try again, knew that they could fail and not be ashamed of it.

Girls are taught to play it safe, stay still, BE GOOD. The embarrassment when we slip up can be monumental. We’re not perfect or self-contained anymore, when we make mistakes

What does this have to do with Bethanne Patrick, who is sometimes known as “The Book Maven?” In the 20+ years I’ve worked in and around publishing, I’ve slipped up, ALOT. I’ve made mistakes that hurt me, mistakes that hurt others, mistakes that nobody noticed but were still mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes. But in those years of making mistakes, I’ve learned what boys my age learned much earlier: It’s OK. When you fail, fail again; fail better. When you have nothing to say, sit back and listen, and if you discover you have something to say, learn how AND WHEN to say it.

Because slipping up and falling down and getting back up and getting down to work teach you something that has nothing to do with the actual content of your mistakes; it teaches you resilience. It teaches you that you are more than your talents and deeds. You are capable of learning, growing, stretching, and yes, even teaching.

By the time I finished college, my English papers earned A grades. That doesn’t mean I moved on to great things from those A grades. I struggled in graduate school (more on that another time). What it means is, during my four years of college, I became aware that I didn’t have to earn straight As to be of value. I found other ways to be valued and to find value, partly through my relationship with the boyfriend who remains my husband, partly through friendships, and mainly through learning the power of steady, engaged work.

I still didn’t feel I had anything to say.

Because learning you have something to say requires a different set of mental muscles. My life over the past decades has been a life in which I have, let’s say, done a ton of ab work and neglected my upper body strength. There are a lot of reasons why I did so (more on that another time, too). The result: I know how to work, and work hard, and work steadily. But until recently, I didn’t know how to combine thought with my work. (Like I said, more on that another time; much, much more on that another time.)

I have some things to say, now. I’ll say a few of them here.

4 thoughts on “Still Life with Book Maven

  1. Beautiful and so very true that we, as “girls” were given a different set of -to call them something- “rules” to learn and work by…
    I’m very excited to follow your musings and thoughts.
    Kudos!

    Like

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