Fame is useless.  The only thing more useless than fame is a litter encrusted cat turd.  But let’s be honest.  My dog might argue that the cat turd has some value.  So maybe, just maybe, fame is the most useless thing in the world.
I’m not famous, not even close.  In fact, nine months ago, I finally (FINALLY!) sold my first book to a major publisher.  My novel hasn’t even been released yet.  But color me already disenchanted with fame, disenchanted, in fact, with everything that is disingenuous, status based, heartless, soul sucking, and empty.  Fame pretty much epitomizes all those things.
I suppose I was like any other writer, or maybe like all writers who are no wiser than I am.  I thought that selling a book was going to do three things for me (from least important to most important):
  1. Make me rich.
  2. Envelop my existence in a golden glow, the intensity and beauty of which would make all of my problems disappear.
  3. Make everyone love me.
What selling a book actually did was:
  1. Give me enough money to pay off some of my student loans (not all of them).
  2. Envelop my existence in a golden glow for a day, after which everything pretty much went back to normal, except for now, I had to do way more editing than I ever imagined possible.
  3. Make all of the people who already loved me genuinely proud of me, and make all of the people who didn’t love me either ignore me, like they did before I sold a book (I respect this group), or make them pretend to love me, presumably so some of my imaginary riches, golden glow, and popularity might rub off on them (I find this group intolerable).
I don’t mean to say that selling the book was without rewards.  It did come bearing gifts, the most valuable being an unprecedented opportunity to assess my life, to look in the mirror and face down the real me.  There is nothing more terrifying than knowing that the whole world is about to meet the real you.  You might want to get to know the real you before they do, so at least you’ll be prepared.  You might want to figure out what really matters.

In the months since the sale of my book, I’ve been more than a bit of a hermit, tormented by these questions, trying to find some sort of anchor after an event which had unexpectedly sent me reeling.  Truth be told, I didn’t foresee even for a second the kind of emotional upheaval that came from my book sale.  During one of my late night prayer sessions, which have been long and profuse since I sold the novel, it occurred to me that what I’m actually afraid of is fame.  I’m afraid of gaining the whole world and losing my soul.  I’m afraid of ending up like one of those starlets on some bad daytime T.V. expose, chain smoking, popping pills, trying to find me under a heap of celebrity and debris that has nothing to do with my heart.  It happens.  I know it happens.  I’ve known famous people before.  I’ve seen what it did them, up close and personal.

This morning, as I drove my crappy little P.T. Cruiser to my job teaching creative writing at a community college, I looked out over the bumpy backbone of the Phoenix horizon, and I was overcome by wonder.  Awe.  Joy.  All those pretty words that show up in Hallmark cards but don’t make their way into real life very often.  A song was playing on the radio, a normal song, a song all of us hear every day because it’s one of the six songs mainstream radio has chosen to play this month.  “All of me loves all of you.  I love your curves and all your edges.  All of your perfect imperfections.” I thought of all the people in my life who have made me feel this glorious, undefinable sensation of pure love, of giving of one’s entire self to another.  I sang the song to them, to God, to everything that I had ever purely loved.  And then, I could have sworn for 30 seconds that the sky was singing it back to me, that something way bigger than myself had been in love with me all along.  I realized I was perfectly happy with my life as is, that I’d always had, and always been, everything I ever needed.  This Tawni, the kinda chubby Tawni driving to her crappy car to her unprestigious position at an unprestigious college, the Tawni who later returned to her messy home in an unprestigious neighborhood, to her kinda chubby dogs, to make some boring salad, that Tawni was everything she ever needed to be.

I have no idea what will happen to my writing career from here.  Maybe my book will sell.  Maybe it won’t.  Maybe people will hate it.  Maybe they will love it.  But whatever happens, I’m so grateful I sold this one book because it taught me something.  It taught me what really matters.

The world can be a hateful place.  Whoever you are, there are always, always going to be people who are so broken that they can only see other human beings as a means to an end.  When you publish with a major publisher, those people come out of the woodwork.  People who hated you, went to great lengths to destroy you, make a show of having been your friend all along.  People who didn’t like you enough to stand for you, who played both sides of the fence whenever you needed them (yes, I’m going to be there for you, but I’m also going to be there for the people who hate you, because I’m not sure who is coming out on top yet, and I’m not choosing until I know), suddenly make grand shows of loyalty.  Today, as I was driving to my unprestigious job, I realized that all of this was too little, too late.  Selling a book didn’t make those people love me.

I know who my friends are.  I knew this way before I had a long shot at fame.  My friends are the people who sat with me on the nights I was walking the dizzy edge of crazy and brought me back from the dead.  My friends are the people who stood beside me in rooms full of people who were mocking me and took the mockery too, because they would rather be my friend than be popular.  My friends are the people who saw me fall in spectacular ways and protected me instead of spreading the stories of my epic failures, because they knew how soft and precious my heart was underneath it all, knew that I was not my failures and my sins.  My friends are the people who defended me, even when it cost them everything.  I trust that the people who knew what I was, even in my ugliest moments, will also know that I am not this thing that is happening to me now.  I am not a book contract.  I am a girl with stars in her eyes and flowers in her hair.  I am a fuck up.  I am a peasant.  I am a queen.  I am a loser.  I am a winner.  Most of all, I am a soft-hearted, sappy, beautiful, sensitive, laughably vulnerable daughter of God.

I was wrong about what selling a book would do for me.  I am not rich.  I still wonder where the rent is coming from some months.  I am not famous.  I am a minor author in a sea of authors, most of them more successful than I will ever be.  For this, I am grateful.  I am so glad I didn’t get the million dollar contract.  I am so glad I didn’t get the fame.  I am so glad that instead of being given those things, I was allowed the gift of figuring out what really matters.  And darlings, it’s not fame, and it’s not money, and it sure as hell isn’t the cheap popularity that masquerades as love.  It’s love itself.

The people that matter loved me long before I ever sold a book.

About Tawni Vee Waters