Consider the Philip Larkin poem, The Mower
, in which the poet unwittingly runs into an animal in the grass:
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
We should be kind. When I was just beginning to declare myself, timidly, to be a writer, many people were unexpectedly kind to me. They didn’t have to be. I didn’t expect it. But they were. They invited me to workshops, to gatherings of writers and teachers, to conferences. They didn’t laugh when I dared to imagine I might belong at such places. The energetic, book-loving Marilyn Courtot
asked me to review books for Children’s Literature, not yet the institutional database it is today but a paper newsletter. It was designed, in Marilyn’s words, to be “a lunchtime read for librarians to bring them up to speed on 50 new titles each month.” I gave it a shot. It was an education in critical thinking that serves me well all these years later.
Not everyone understood what I was trying to write–stories with Indian and Indian American characters and themes. Sometimes, even while trying to be kind, some writers unintentionally set me back. I walked out of a group where the members suggested I ought to work with tried and true themes and subjects–something more “American.” But I didn’t want to be tried and true. I wanted to be me, in my own words and by my own reckoning.
In 1993, the Internet had yet to enter everyday life. I moped, I picked myself up, I got on with it. I knew it was a messy undertaking but I went back to it anyway. I didn’t have social media to complain on, and thinking back now, am I glad! I could have taken my disappointment and blown it away in a tweetstorm, instead of turning it into energy that could generate a new book.
I kept on going. I found a group in Maryland, and later another in New Mexico. Twenty-odd books later, I’m still at it. And kindness still exists. Despite the descent of some virtual conversations into an abyss of endless nitpicking and name-calling, now it can exist online as well
. As Mitali Perkins
I write serious, global, ethnic fiction. My blog, Facebook, and Twitter allowed me to showcase that my voice is wider—that there’s humor. And I’ve [formed] relationships with librarians, with booksellers. Now I have these people who beautifully and earnestly will handsell my book.
And the writing–yes, it’s still messy. And I still depend on the honesty-and kindness–of fellow writers.