Sometimes you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sometimes, you can be in the right place at the right time.
Being in the right place at the right time can change your life. My right place at the right time was in Naniamo, BC at a teacher’s conference. I was there to give a workshop on teaching fiction. There were a lot of workshops and lectures scheduled. It was going to be a very busy day. Teachers, generally, are very serious people. They are serious about their teaching and about their students. Faced with problems every day of the week, they constantly look for solutions.
Most of us were looking at small workshops or lectures. However, there was a motivational speaker who was going to speak in the gym. The organizers of the day thought he might draw an audience larger than most of us.
I’d never heard of him. He wasn’t yet famous. However, he started to speak and I stood rooted to the gym floor. So did nearly every person there. The day’s schedule was forgotten as we listened to Jack Canfield talk about self-esteem and how it is the key to success.
Canfield said things I’d never heard before. Things that so affected me that when his talk was over, I bought a plastic “book” with six tapes inside. I took those tapes home with me. I listened to them over and over. They created an intense internal battle with Canfield’s voice on one side and innumerable voices on the other.
I listened to what he had to say with intense relief. I felt the way I’m sure the soldiers in the movie “A Bridge Too Far” felt when they heard the sound of the bagpipes as their reinforcements marched to join them. On the verge of being overwhelmed and defeated, their comrades were coming to save them.
That may seem like an exaggerated statement. It is not. If anything, it is understated.
I grew up in a society where can’t, don’t, shouldn’t were bywords.
“Who do you think you are?” was the Canadian motto. The message was keep your place. Your father is a fisherman and barber. Your mother is a housewife married at sixteen. Her father is a railway laborer. Your other grandfather was a carpenter. Who do you think you are?
My first uppitiness was going to university. It was a strange and foreign place. I was lost. I was not embedded in a family who could provide advice. However, each contributed what they could to make it possible for me to be there.
My next uppitiness was saying that I was going to be a published writer. Along with the disbelieving laughter, can’t, don’t, shouldn’t and “Who do you think you are?” appeared like shrieking goblins. People were bemused at my audacity. Many were quite straightforward. They summed it all up by saying, “You’ll never get published.”
For a time, it looked like they were right. Nobody had come up with the idea of a need to practice for ten thousand hours.
However, one of my great professors said that getting published would require writing a lot of practice stories. He was one of the two professors at United College who ran a creative writing club.
I graduated, taught high school, wrote on weekends and evenings, took correspondence courses in writing from the University of North Dakota. Gradually, gradually, the articles and stories started to get published. But the nay sayers never let their being proven wrong stop their naysaying.
“Got published,” I said. “My next goal is to get a book published.”
More shrieking laughter. More can’t, don’t shouldn’t, “Who do you think you are?” Keep your place. Don’t presume.
It took a lot more hours, a lot more effort, but then, in 1973, there it was, a book. Bloodflowers. A collection of short stories published by Oberon, a fine literary press.
You’d think that the people who stand at the edge of a rocky path chucking negative comments would give up and find something else to do but now the figurative rocks were “You’ll never get reviewed. The reviews, if someone actually reviews your book, will be negative.”
Some people say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I don’t believe it. Often, what doesn’t kill you covers you in bruises and sores and leaves you in despair. Writing is hard enough and self-esteem in the face of constant negative commentary is not bottomless.
And then, like the John Wayne of the soul, along came Jack Canfield. Maybe it was just because I was young and naïve, maybe it was because I come from a working class background where there often wasn’t a lot of hope, maybe lots of things. But that day, in that gym, I stood rooted to the floor. I never went to teach my workshop. `
“You have the right to be successful,” is something that kids growing up in upper class and upper middle class families hear and see all the time.
“If you do the work and take the responsibility for a task, you deserve the rewards.” It was all right to want to be successful and to use everything you had to get it. That everything might be as simple as pasting a picture of a book on the fridge door so that I saw it every time I went to the fridge. It was all right to paste a picture of a book on the ceiling over my bed so it was the last thing I saw at night before I went to sleep.
Growing up in a society where there is so much negativity from society in general, from the educational system, from the church, it seems from every direction, one of the first lessons drummed into our heads is negative self-talk. I can’t. I shouldn’t. It’s impossible. What’s the use? I’m not smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, sophisticated enough. Who do I think I am to want that?
As a teacher for forty years, I found that students had been brainwashed into negative self-talk, brain-washed to the point where when I challenged it, they protested.
Canfield was the beginning. He showed me, and a lot of others, there was another way. From him I went on to create a list of positive statements about being a writer, not just for my students, but for me. We all needed them.
“I am a writer,” was one of them. First and second year students often balked at that when I asked them to say it out loud. “I am a writer.” I’d get lots of arguments, lots of reasons they were not writers. “These are truths for the future,” I would respond. “In any case, you are writing. A person who writes is a writer. You may not be as successful a writer as you’d like but then no one is. You will add successful as you practice and learn. But you are a writer.”
So, to the hissing, sneering trolls that, unfortunately, infest our society, who hurl sharp words at those who believe it is all right to be successful, come into the light, you won’t turn to stone, give yourself permission to make the most of the intelligence and talent with which you are endowed.
And Jack, hardly anyone had heard of you on that day in that high school gym, but they’ve heard of you now. You’ve chicken souped your way to mega millions of published books. You’re rich. You’re successful. You’ve done what you intended to do. And by the way, thanks, thanks, you taught me to say yes to opportunity, to say I can instead of I can’t. It may not seem like much but to me and many others, it is the world.