This week I enjoyed what is arguably one of the great moments of my writing life. At the annual Maine Literary Awards ceremony a few days ago, The Field House won the non-fiction award and was a co-winner of the John N. Cole Award for Maine-based non-fiction. What an affirmation of all those years of work, what a rush of adrenaline when they read off my name – twice! So why did I feel so unsettled and uncomfortable in the days following this great triumph? Why was I not floating on a cloud of happiness all week?
One obvious reason is the violent murder of 19 children and two adults that I read about the day following the awards ceremony. How can our little paper certificates mean anything next to that horror, or the fact that it was distressingly less shocking than it should have been? But that can’t be the whole story of my disconcerting unease. Nothing felt good or right in the face of that news. Those of us at a distance must find a way to acknowledge and absorb such horrors, bear witness, act to change what is wrong, but then we must somehow continue muddling our way through the business of life, joys and sorrows, disappointments and triumphs.
I tried to untangle my complicated response to winning. There’s imposter syndrome – they must have made a mistake. I’ll never be able to write anything good again; it was a fluke. There’s success phobia, the pressure to satisfy newly heightened expectations. Better not try at all, they’ll be disappointed; too much attention.
But that one confused me. Since my book came out a year ago, I have basked in the success of the book, which came in the form of attention from enthusiastic readers. That feedback has been wonderful. It is unfailingly gratifying to learn that my writing has moved someone, made them happy, sparked new thoughts, inspired them with the life story of Rachel Field. Clearly it’s not attention that bothers me. It is, I think, the aftermath of “winning.” As much as I wished and hoped to win the award, I hadn’t anticipated the feeling of…remorse? My win meant someone else’s disappointment. That sucks. That does not feel happy at all.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled and elated by the recognition that the Maine Literary Awards gave me and my book. It is what I have dreamed and wished for! I feel fortunate, validated, supported, and buoyed up to carry on with my scribblings. I am also, however, prone to sometimes tiresome cerebrations over the complexities of living in this world. Most wonderful things have baggage to go with them. I can’t help hefting the baggage along for a little ways, to see how it feels.
Here’s what I think I’ve learned this week. Those things we imagine will provide happiness don’t always measure up. They’re complicated. Here's what made me uncomplicatedly happy this week: My granddaughter’s smile, a snake crossing a bridge, a palette of spring green seen from a mountaintop, a walk with a friend, a turtle in the grass, old Clara walking all the way out to the back of the field, still going at 14 ½, taking life quietly, one day at a time.
I wish all of you a generous dose of uncomplicated happiness. May it lead you all the way across the field, across the bridge, through the weeds, to a place of peace.
Robin Clifford Wood is an award-winning author, poet, and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her children, grandchildren, and granddogs.