Keep It Small

The joke between my wife and I has long been that I like to talk big, and she likes to keep things small. “Don’t start with the Big Talk,” she implores. The phrase Big Talk was invented to describe my certainty that she and I would one day be married. At that time she hadn’t even admitted that she loved me, so it seemed premature to her. Since I turned out to be right on that score, I remained convinced for years that my Big Talk was visionary, and her Small Talk was nearsighted. I have since changed my mind.

My conversion began when my wife was getting her first book published. My publishing experience to that point had been fraught with disappointment and angst. Her publishing experience, from my vantage at least, seemed effortless. She received two rejections, both warmly worded, before not one but two major publishers expressed an interest in her children’s book. Finally, as the excitement and anticipation around the book’s release began to swell, my wife sat across from me at our kitchen table and said, “I just want to keep it small.” She meant that she didn’t want to get too excited and see being published as too big a feat. She wanted to keep it manageable in her mind. And then, a light, as they say, went on.

Except it was not until much later that I understood why she was right to keep it small. That was the day I remembered a little story I had been telling myself. I had never shared this story with anyone, but I had been telling it and telling it for many years, and it was this: “Getting your novel published is a big deal. It doesn’t happen to everyone. When it happens it will be like landing on the moon, bigger than anything you have ever experience before in your life.”

That was the terrible story I had been listening to for years, and as I remembered it, I thought, “What if publishing isn’t a big deal at all?” It was so completely contrary to everything I had ever thought that I understood at once that it had to be true. And it is. Getting a book published is not a big deal. Or that is, it is no bigger or smaller than anything else in life.

What made being published big to me, the reason I wrote that little story for myself, was that I did not trust that me simply wanting to do something was enough of a reason to do it. So I constructed a mountain for me to climb. Only then would I get to stake my flag and bestride that peak a conquering hero. Such is the insidious and tireless work of the ego. I kept making that mountain bigger and bigger until I had built it to the moon.

And then, in one thought, I leveled it. I leveled it because I saw that nothing is any bigger than anything else. Everything is absolutely, ineluctably equal. From cashier to king, every experience and every life is equal, the only difference being desire. Desire is the lens through which your entire life is viewed. Desire is what makes the fishing trip sublime to him but tedious to her, the aria beautiful to this one but all noise to that one. The only thing big for me about being published was my desire to communicate, which was so strong it confused me. Surely, I thought, my entire life can’t simply be about doing what I love?

Yet it seems it is. I could land on the moon, but if it didn’t bring me any happiness, what would be the use to me or anyone else in the world? I’ll leave moon-landing to the moon-landers, and the moon-landers can leave book-writing to me and my ilk. And anyway, somewhere in the universe, our moon is just another rock circling a more colorful rock, as from our shores we can see her hanging there, lovely to look at, but nothing to which anyone of us must climb.

Unless we want to.


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