Uniquely Equal

For many years I worried that my work, by which I really meant me, would not be perceived as special. This worry was the source of much torment, as I rode the highs and lows of my perceived self-worth. One day I was God Almighty, the next a forgettable clown. Eventually I understood that my unhappiness had been caused by a small misunderstanding. It wasn’t that I was worried that I wouldn’t be special, I was worried that I had to be special—because, of course, no one is special.

Don’t misunderstand. Everyone is unique, but no one is special. By which I mean, no one is more unique than anyone else. Of course, certain people that we know or know of have garnered extraordinary attention. When this attention comes as a result of work that person has done, it is tempting to see them as special – specially talented singers or writers or designers or basketball players.

Yet all that these people who appear special have done is allow that which is unique about them through. That, perhaps, is special, but anyone can do this. Most people don’t, but they could. When it happens, the result, whether to your taste or not, is always marked by a certain clarity, because that which has been let through is un-muddied by fear. These people certainly know fear, but they have set it aside at least for the time they have spent making the work.

In this job I have had the opportunity to talk with many writers I consider authentic and distinct—Richard Bach, Alice Hoffman, Tomie dePaola, and Byron Katie, to name just a few. All these men and women have created very different work, and they are all very different people, but in my experience they all share one trait in common: humility when talking about their work.

There is a good reason for this. Whenever you let your authentic self through, you view yourself as you truly are—a portal. You cannot be any more or less of a portal than anyone else. An opening is an opening; it varies only in size and shape, not in openness. So you need never worry about being special. Allow that which is you fully through, and you will perhaps feel closer to all those people who are not you than you ever have before.

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A Thousand People

It’s July in Seattle, which means it’s getting close to conference time. Every year the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association holds a conference. Agents and editors from New York, Los Angeles and a few points in between descend on our city and the pitching begins. Oh, the look on those poor writers’ faces as they sit in the prescribed waiting area for their turn in front of an agent. If we could bottle the anxiety we could probably run our cars on it.

I always want to hug all the writers and assure them that no matter what happens they will live to see their loved ones again. But I feel for the agents as well. They know what’s going through the writers’ heads. Imagine having one nervous wreck after another sit before you with their self-esteem throbbing on their sleeve. The good ones are prospective salesmen and therapists all at once. The bad ones . . . well, I will just say that compassion is meaningless unless it is tested.

At times like this, I try to remember the wise words of Byron Katie: “You can have anything you want if you’re willing to ask a thousand people.” That is, somewhere out there is someone of a like mind. Writer’s conferences are fantastic opportunities. You get to kibitz with other writers, learn from workshops, and meet flesh and blood agents and editors. But there are lot of agents and editors out there, and all their tastes vary widely, and those you meet at conferences are but a small percentage. Have perspective. Your pitch is not do-or-die; it is one opportunity. There are always more coming.

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