Get on the bus . . .

My sister reminded me the other day to think of life as a bus ride, and events or people (friends and enemies) as passengers. There are passengers who stay for the ride—all the way to the end of the line (whatever that is). Some stay on for a few stops. Some get off, then get right back on a few stops later—for a while or the rest of the trip . . . You get it, right?

To the best of my knowledge (I’m still waiting for her to fill in the gaps), my sister has been a scientist, a model, an improv actress, a stand-up comedienne, and a TV writer. She’s the risk-taker I wish I could be. I’m sure my sister didn’t have writing in mind when she shared her wisdom, but her bus metaphor—at least for me—applies to MY writing.

My personal “bus trip” has been far less exciting than my sister’s, but taking a cue from her, I took a risk—my way. In 1999, I challenged myself to get back to the creative writing I loved as a girl. Every quarter, I received the fat catalog of classes at UC Berkeley’s Extension program. Every quarter, I flipped straight to the section on Writing. One class in particular kept catching my attention: Exploring Your Creative Potential. The intention of the class, so the description went, was to discover if one could write. I knew I could write—business stuff. I knew I could tell a story—that had been my joy as the oldest of my ten California cousins—complete with chapters, sound and light effects.

I don’t remember how many times, I circled that writing class with a bold felt-tipped pen, ripped the page from the catalog, pinned it to my bulletin board and didn’t enroll. But, I do remember the last time I found that catalog in my mailbox. I marched up my steep driveway, through the kitchen and up the stairs to my office and fussed: “put up or shut up, Jackie.” The time had come for me to either take the class or stop pretending that I ever would. In retrospect, I used family—three kids, a husband who traveled a lot—job and home as excuses. In retrospect, forcing myself to manage all of that and write was one of the best choices of my life.

From the day my editor, Karen Thomas at Grand Central Publishing, accepted Searching for Tina Turner in 2008 to the day it will “hit the streets” this coming January, this ride has been the best. My publishing journey has taken two years, that’s the front story, not the back story to my ride on the bus. I got on when I enrolled in my first class in 1999, I got off when family life took precedence. I got on again with more classes, workshops and writing dates. I got off because I was scared that trying something new in my ‘50s would prove me a failure. Then I got back on, because everything we do has the risk of failure. I had to remember what I told my kids: it’s okay to be afraid, just don’t let the fear keep you from doing.

At the onset of this publishing journey, one of my fellow Finish Party writers stressed the importance of maintaining an even emotional track because there were bound to be crazy highs and miserable lows. I can’t believe how true her words have been. I’ve tried to follow her advice, most of the time. I jumped for joy when I saw the Searching for Tina Turner cover art. I shed tears when I saw the marketing blurb in the Grand Central Publishing sales book. I labored over ideas for my next book while proofreaders edited. I giggled all the way from my mailbox to my doorstep to my kitchen table after seeing my galley copies—my name in print. I know I’ll break down the day I walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelf or someone buying it or a reader crying where I cried, laughing where I laughed. But the highs and lows come before publishers give the big thumbs up.

Like passengers on the bus, some agents were vaguely interested in the novel, others declined right away (with nice letters or poorly photocopied generic responses), two asked for a reread then passed on the manuscript a second time, and one—thank you, Richard Abate—stayed on for the whole ride. That was hurdle number one—well really, hurdle number one was writing my book—but there’s no denying there were a number of hurdles in between.

I like the idea of the bus as a metaphor for writing, or life. It means I accept people and situations for who and what they are, the constancy of comings and goings. I’m enjoying the ride, savoring the words of congratulations, and trying not to take rejection (too) personally. I’m working hard to understand that “getting off” the bus isn’t really a rebuff; it’s just the natural course of life—the inevitable shifts and changes. The thought of life as bus ride makes me focus on the here and now and value every experience, every person for “getting on” in the first place.