I sent this letter to my email list today. If you'd like to join that list, please do so here.
Two big things have been going on in my life lately. One: I’m trying to publish a book. Two: doctors are trying to figure out whether I have cancer. It’s kind of a lot.
On the one hand, I have publishers saying they love my writing, but they need to see a larger “platform.” Evidence that some magic number of fans out there in the world would actually buy a book from little old me. So, I’m dutifully, clumsily, trying to build a platform: I started a writer Instagram page. (My daughter says I took a “mom selfie.”) I’m posting more on Twitter. I’m floundering along on Facebook. I’m trying to get speaking engagements, I’m trying to publish articles, I’m trying to get in touch with anyone who knows anyone who might be able to do anything to help bump this little thing along. Trying, trying, trying, and meanwhile the rejections keep coming and it’s hard not to put my head under the covers and say sorry world, never mind, I didn’t really have anything to say after all.
But then there’s this other thing. The thing growing at a disturbing rate deep inside my body. It’s a “complex ovarian cyst,” in fact, and at first it seemed okay because there wasn’t increased vascularity and my cancer antigen level was low, whatever those things mean, but then on follow-up ultrasound it had grown fairly rapidly, so this week I got referred to a gynecological oncologist. (Say that five times fast.) If you’ve ever had to walk into a doctor’s office labelled “Cancer Center,” well, you know it feels.
The funny thing is how these two big things have been pushing on each other in my mind, the book and the brush with mortality. You can’t be referred to an oncologist without thinking just a little (okay, a lot) about the possibility of your own demise. Wondering what your husband is going to make for your kids for dinner every night for the rest of their oh-so-short little childhood lives. Thinking about what you might want to do with however many days you have left.
And what I realize when I contemplate my own mortality is this: I don’t care about my platform. At all. I don’t care how many followers I have on Twitter. I don’t care how many people like my Instagram posts. I don’t care if I have a cute headshot. I want speaking engagements if God has something to say to someone through me, but not because I was to make that section of my book proposal look longer. If I’m going to die (and we’re all going to die), these things don’t even begin to scratch the surface of things worth worrying about.
But, when I think about dying, I realize that I do care, a lot, about getting this book into the world. If my days are numbered (and they are; everyone’s are), then right now I only want two things with the rest of my life: I want to love my family well, and I want to see this book fully birthed into the world. Because I really believe that God, the immortal invisible only wise God, has something to say to this beat-up, broken-down, weary old world of ours. Maybe it’s hubris, but I do believe that He’s entrusted one tiny whisper of His word for the world to me. And I feel a new urgency about breathing that whisper out.
The oncologist was encouraging. She doesn’t think it looks like cancer. But we won’t know for sure until it comes out, so surgery has been scheduled for November 12. And then, I’m going to take the full six weeks I’m allotted by law to recover from this surgery; I won’t go back to teaching until after winter break. And in those six-plus weeks, I plan to finish writing my book. To revamp my proposal. To get ready to try again.
I’d love to send you a letter someday that says “I have a book contract!” or “That stupid cyst was benign!” But meanwhile, I’m just waiting. Waiting to see what God is up to in all this. Thankful that He’s here, walking around in the fiery furnace with me. Trying to figure out what is mine to do, platform-wise or otherwise, in the meantime.
If you feel like talking to Jesus about all this, please remind him of these things:
I’m not in control of either of those things. I can’t make either of them happen for myself. But I’m trusting in the One who can.
“Your platform,” she says, “is your body of work.”
She means, I think, to liberate me from the metrics of platform-as-followers: the notion that if I could somehow lash together enough social media fans, like so many planks of decking, I could step up on their backs and stride away to stardom. But the idea of platform-as-body-of-work strikes no less fear into my heart. What is my body of work, anyway, I wonder. A few dozen blog posts read by a few family members and a few close personal friends? A handful of articles published on websites, some of which have now shuttered? Another handful of essays slaved over in my MFA program, and submitted, and submitted, and submitted, and finally let slide into some dusty corner of my hard drive? No wonder the publishers rejected my book proposal. “We love the writing,” they say, “but she has no platform.” No platform. Not enough followers; not a big enough body of work.
But my body of work is five thousand dinners cooked on five thousand nights. Potatoes peeled, pork seasoned, zucchinis sliced. My body of work is soccer practices and piano lessons and band concerts and cross country meets. My body of work is measured out in Band-Aids and shoelaces and snack-size Ziploc bags. My body of work is driving my brother to the nephrologist and teaching second graders to find similes and creating the song lyric slideshow for Sunday morning church and listening to a friend while I fold socks.
My body of work is four bodies: bodies I held inside my body for as long as I possibly could, laying my body on the couch each day, ignoring both its protests and the studies that say bedrest produces no measurable benefits, only getting up for the toilet or the shower, until the February December April July day when my body gave way and their bodies hurtled, some too soon, into the world. My body of work is four bodies that I nourished with my body, attaching my body to a green hospital-grade breast pump in the middle of the night, ferrying the bottles to the NICU in the morning, reaching my fingers through the portal in the side of the plastic isolette to stroke their little calves to say hello. My body of work is four bodies I no longer bathe, wipe, buckle, clothe, swaddle, or carry. Four bodies I still snuggle, feed, spit-polish, and prod.
“Another way to think of it,” she says, “is that your platform is your credentials.”
Ah, yes. Credentials. My bona fides, the chops that qualify me to write this particular book. My credentials, I think, are the hours I have spent on my therapist’s couch. The hours in the psych ward, the hours in the self-help aisles of the bookstore, the hours with my face pressed into the living room rug. What other credentials for writing a book about the time your life fell apart and got pieced back together again can there be?
Of course, the world does not owe me a book deal. So I spent more time growing a family than a platform. So a sales and marketing team decided not to take a risk on the size of my intended audience. Who am I to argue?
My oldest son’s home room teacher emailed tonight to say that my son is a pleasure to have in class. He is “a silent leader,” she says. “The students really look up to him and many have mentioned they feel they can be more successful seated by him. I'm so glad I get to have him as a student.”
I have written a book, and I hope someday it gets published, platform or no. But tonight, my body of work is a boy who sets an example for his classmates.
For tonight, that’s enough.