I am a big believer in milestones as organizers of one’s mental environment. Which is a fancy way of saying you won’t go crazy as fast as you otherwise might if the way you choose to view life, especially your own life, is in terms of accomplishing things. Any things, but especially “firsts” — first times you ever did this or experienced that.
Noticing the “firsts” in life is a way to give your experience a kind of coherence. You can make sense of things. It’s a way to ward off the terrible thought that you are nothing more than a tiny bag of biomass crawling over an oxygenated rock in an infinitely large and black and cold universe, that every pebble you walk on is billions of years more ancient than your very short and unimportant life. You can avoid thinking too much about that if you just keep track of “life’s little milestones.”
We teach this to children, who gradually learn things such as “That day is your birthday and you will turn five whole YEARS old!,” or as I told my son Mike when he turned 18, “Son, they’ll try you as an adult from now on. ” Things like that matter in a life.
So the other day I went into my favorite bookstore, Misty Valley Books, in Chester, Vt. Nice store, run by a very nice couple — the kind of place you imagine finding in every little Vermont town (but won’t): A good selection, warm atmosphere, a place where great authors come on weekends to read from their latest works, and on weeknights you can join a class of your neighbors to study French or Russian. An intellectual fort in the wilderness.
And that’s where my writer’s milestone happened.
I’d had an earlier one a few months ago in that very store, when I discovered that the owners had kindly stocked one copy of each of my little “Idiot’s guide” books, the one on “social intelligence” and the one on phobias. That’s a very cool moment in the life of any writer; the first time you ever walk into a bookstore and see copies of your own book (or better, books!) on the shelf.
And they even let me write my name in the books, as if it might “add value” to them in some way instead of detracting from it. I’m practically Stephen King, I thought, as I approached the shelves with the borrowed Sharpie.
Which brings me to the other day. Months later. Wandering there, not to see “my babies” this time but just to browse on a pretty Vermont fall day.
I find my books again on the shelf. Still I’m being stocked. It feels wonderful.
Until I find that both books still contain my signature. These are the copies I autographed months ago.
I knew this moment would come, of course. Really, it’s another “classic” milestone for writers — the moment when they discover that their masterpiece has been languishing on the shelf for months. Unsold. Un-flipped through, even.
Oh well. Two milestones out of three. One to go — the day when I shall find my autographed books on the markdown table outside, in front of the store, their covers flapping in the cold wind.