I don’t think anyone who glanced at the newspaper comics on New Year’s Eve, 1995, will ever forget that day’s Calvin and Hobbes. The last strip that amazing strip would ever post. The boy and the tiger trek through deep fresh snow, thrilled at the new, open world greeting them: “A day full of possibilities!” Then sailing on their sled into a giant frame of whiteness, exclaiming, “Let’s go exploring!”
We know those moments. The instances that inspire us to journey into an unknown. In fact, the only quality about them that is known is that we’ll end up learning a lot on the way. Moments like stepping into a new school, or falling in love, or seeing a car head into yours in flashing slow-motion. Or buying a new puppy, for that matter.
I lived one of those moments a few years back. I was glancing at a bestseller list, and a thought came to me. That over the years, certain sorts of books have always appeared on the (nonfiction) lists: new insights about someone famous by a noted scholar; in-depth studies of current events; autobiographies by important politicians. But fads also appear, and leave. And in this past decade, three specific genres had done extremely well – better than at any time in the past.
First was what, for lack of a better word, I’d call Guru Books. Ancient timeless wisdom, rewritten into an easily-digestible format for the mass audience. Such as Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, and the works of Eckhart Tolle.
Second would be books about what one knows at the end of life. Mithc Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie and Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, for example.
And third were animal books. Of course these stories have always been popular, through Lassie Come Home and The Call of the Wild, back to Aesop. But this recent trend was more specific. John Grogan’s Marley and Me was the giant, but it seemed every new list sported some other book about a dog or cat.
Duly noted. And I shrugged and went on with my day.
But that thought kept coming back to me. And at some point, another joined it. “Isn’t it, then, ironic that the greatest teacher of timeless wisdom I ever knew, especially with issues about the end of life, was a dog?”
And this thought also kept returning. And nagged at me until my eyes opened in realization: “Uh oh. I think there’s something I have to do.”
As with so many journeys into the unknown, if I had known back then how much effort this excursion would take, I would have balked at it. But that’s the beauty of not knowing.
The many months it took to create the first draft; years of struggles – to rewrite the book into something worthwhile, to create an audience to interest a publisher, to move past that into the new and terrifying world of self-publishing, and to dive off a cliff into the pitch-blackness of publicity… all lay ahead.
A couple of months ago, I told someone a tiny bit of this and she responded, “Such a labor of love.” And it hit me how perfect those words were.
First, that this has involved so much more labor, and so much more love, than I’d ever imagined.
And second that there’s that other meaning of the word “labor.” At least the way we hope it goes: We “make love” and that leads to “labor,” which leads to encountering something we love altogether newly.
Years ago, a bratty puppy cussed at me with her first bark. My heart melted, and everything in my world changed forever. Up to and including now.
Thanks for joining me here today. I couldn’t be happier to have your company.
Let’s go exploring!