You’ll have to forgive me if this column sounds a bit rushed. Because it was due on December 21, I thought if I dragged my feet I might get a sense of whether or not the world was actually going to end on that date, as the Maya allegedly predicted. It’s not that I’m a big doomsday believer, but I’ve had a fairly huge year and I thought if I could get away with ditching my last professional commitment of 2012, I could use the time to better advantage. Like atoning for all my naughties on the big naughty-or-nice abacus in the sky — picture lumps of coal and marshmallows instead of colorful beads — just in case. (Hey, just because I don’t buy into all that end-of-the-world nonsense doesn’t mean I should be taking any chances.)
But, as the minutes ticked toward midnight and we had yet to be sucked into a black hole or conked on the head by a planet called Nibiru, it seemed like this was destined to be yet another apocalyptic prediction gone awry. (See the Millerites of the 1840s, the various rapture and Left Behind adherents, the Y2K scare, and the idea that only sparing the rich would prevent us from toppling over the fiscal cliff.) I realized I needed to get busy.
Which is why I’m going to take a few moments to reflect on 2012. As I said, I’ve had a big year. My third book, Glorious Slow Going, a collaboration with my friend, the artist Marguerite Robichaux, came out at the end of 2011. Following a very fancy launch at her gallery on Newbury Street in Boston and a very fancy Maine launch at the Portland Museum of Art, we started tooling around the state, giving library and gallery talks in places ranging from Kennebunk to Kingfield, Rockland to Rangeley, and from downtown to Down East, where we were the “entertainment” at a wine dinner in Hancock. Some of our events were standing-room only. Others were attended by, as we like to say in the biz, “a small yet appreciative audience,” which is code for “I combed my hair for this?”
Because Marguerite’s gallery published our book, we had to do most of the sales and marketing in Maine ourselves. The problem is, I don’t like marketing and sales. Every book I’ve personally sold has come with an apology: “I’m sorry I can’t just give this to you.” Though I think my husband understood.
It’s naughty of me to complain (one lump of coal on the plus side, please), especially since the book has been so nicely received. It was the runner-up for the John Cole Maine-themed Nonfiction Award at the 2012 Maine Literary Awards, and has been welcomed with open arms at every independent bookstore and museum in the state that Marguerite and I approached. Well, except for one. And no, I’m not going to say which one, although it’s not in southern Maine. Southern Maine booksellers have been just peachy. Actually, I’m dying to tell you about the one that was mean to us, but it’s still before midnight, so I better watch what I say. (OK, so maybe I do buy into the doomsday thing just a bit.)
My book with Marguerite was not the only major event for me in 2012. After a series of sold-out performances at Portland’s St. Lawrence Arts Center in the fall of 2011, I decided to take my one-woman show, My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother, on the road. I performed it in February at The Rack, a bar and BBQ joint at Sugarloaf, to another sellout crowd. Because there were no wings beside the “stage” (collapsible risers in a former brewery room), I had to enter and exit from outdoors. Fortunately, it was not one of those 30-below nights, and the crew remembered to keep the door unlocked. My “dressing room” was a corner in the subterranean stockroom, and while I was getting suited up, bartenders would periodically pop in to retrieve more wine glasses or cocktail napkins. The only bathroom available to me was also for the customers’ use. I was able to get to it before anyone else during intermission, but then I got trapped in the stall as women arrived, lined up and starting talking about the show. I finally had to say, “Ahem, I’m in here,” and then skulk out. Aside from opening night, it remains my favorite performance.
From there, I brought the show to the Magic Lantern in Bridgton (another sellout) and then to the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, which was noteworthy not only because Bath is my hometown, but because the Chocolate Church was where I was baptized and went to Sunday school. In fact, I have a newspaper clipping, circa 1970, in which I am seated, wearing an elf hat, on that very stage along with the rest of the cast of Babar and Father Christmas. When I arrived to do my first tech check for the show, I announced to the director, “This is not my first time upon this stage.”
This past fall, I returned to the St. Lawrence for two more shows, did a benefit for Project Graduation in Oxford Hills, and performed at the Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta and the Rockport Opera House. I then closed the show on December 9 back at the Chocolate Church.
In addition to those two major happenings, I taught my public-speaking class at USM. (Spring semester, 2013, will mark my 20th year there.) I gave writing workshops at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham and talks to high schoolers at George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill, at Morse High in Bath, and to gifted and talented students in Lewiston. I delivered lectures at the Portland Public Library, the Maine Festival of the Book, the Writers Conference at Ocean Park, the Stonecoast Writers Conference, George Stevens Academy’s Summer Speaker Series, and at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. (The latter two issued printed invitations, with my name on them.) I taught two memoir workshops for the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, freelance edited two books, did a couple assignments for Down East magazine (for whom, as of 2013, I will have been a contributor for, again, 20 years) and resumed writing my column for this here paper after a two-year hiatus. In addition, I started a private public-speaking coaching business and have been seeing clients since May. Plus, I had to promote and market all this crap.
Now, before that black hole starts sucking me into its maw for what sounds like bragging (definitely a lump-of-coal-worthy offense), I have to explain why I’m telling you all this: Because two years ago, at the advent of 2011, after giving myself a year and a half to mourn my mother’s death, I had almost no work. And zero prospects. After 20 years of muddling my way as a freelancer in Maine — and feeling like I had paid my dues and that things should be starting to get a little easier — the bottom had fallen out. And talk about apocalyptic: I even contemplated getting a real job. It felt like the end of the world to me.
What happened? I’m not really sure. In January of 2011, Marguerite and I got word our book would come out. Also around that time, my friend Tanya convinced me to stop being such a poo-head and get myself a website. And in the three months it took me to sort out the content, I figured out who I was professionally and what I wanted to do for money. My friend Bonnie convinced me that it was OK to charge people for my professional editing, speaking and coaching services — things I always felt I should give away. (See earlier feelings about sales.) In May, my friend Joyce lent me her mother’s condo in Bethel for two weeks so I could write. When I left, I had an armload of pages and the start of my show. I called Deirdre at the St. Lawrence and booked a night for September. You know the rest.
So, how did things turn around for me? As I said, I’m not sure. But I know I am grateful (and hope my gratitude earns me at least one marshmallow on the plus side). Sometimes I feel like it’s my mom — who, all my life, supported my writing career — continuing to look out for me. Is that silly? Trusting in something you can’t see or prove? Perhaps. But for right now, I’ll stick to it. ‘Cause you never know.
Elizabeth Peavey’s column will appear here next month. She hopes.