I was scheduled for a pre-mother's day book event at The Book Passage, an amazing and popular bookstore just over the Golden Gate Bridge. This beautiful and vibrant bookstore did everything right. They made flyers. Promoted me on their website. Shared me online. Readied the room with chairs and a microphone and a book display.
I did everything right, too. I gathered my supplies. Set aside the time. Drove the 90 minutes from my house, ready to read and create and connect.
Then, no one showed up.
Not one person. Not one mother, dad or cute kid.
Johanna, the event host, and I waited in the big empty room for 20 minutes.
At 1:25pm, I asked her, “Does this happen to other authors?”
“All the time,” she replied unfazed, and told me how a nationally-known author had ten people sign up for a recent event.
There was a time when Sunday’s reality would have wrecked me. The embarrassment, the internal messaging that said, “You suck at this. No one cares about your books. Find a different gig” before slinking out to my car to drive 80mph toward home where I would belabor it for days.
Yesterday was different.
Instead of hosting a pity party, I thought, “Makes total sense. It's a gorgeous Sunday. Families are out and about.”
Instead, Johanna and I talked for 45-minutes about family balance, mom guilt and how women find the time to pursue their passions in the midst of raising kids. I’m a decade further on the parenting journey and had some wisdom to pass along. Her tears showed her gratitude. She told me I was an angel for her that day?! And she suggested I connect with moms groups in Marin County. She walked me to the cafe, bought me an amazing sandwich, and gifted me with beautiful personalized stationery as a thank-you for coming. I've never had personalized stationery!
Instead, I sat in the cute cafe for three hours, working on other writing projects. I perused the new memoir from Dani Shapiro and dreamed of someday publishing my own.
Johanna passed by again with a stack of my books. “I'm going to set up a Mother’s Day display in our kids section with your titles.” Fabulous — a display with my titles!
Then, “Are you an artist?” a voice asked me. I looked up and into the face of a woman who had sat down with tea and an oatmeal cookie. Her yoga mat rested at her feet. She had noticed my suitcase of rocks and paint. Part of my book event was to paint rocks for The Kindness Rocks Project.
“I am,” I explained and told her about my event that wasn't. “I’d like to paint one,” she offered.
“Please do” I said, making space so she could join me at my table.
Instead, for the next hour, Karen and I painted rocks and traded life stories, she an attorney and activist who had recently started her own soap making business called 13 Foxes Designs. “Some people don’t want to use the pretty soaps,” she laughed. “but I believe art is meant to be used and shared and replenished.”
She painted a fox on her rock. It was clearly an important symbol to her.
I painted a rock for Johanna, my event host, that said Caring for yourself is time well spent. Karen suggested the words.
The cafe slowly cleared out. Karen left, and it was time for me to go home, too. It’d be 8:00pm by the time I got back to San Jose.
My ride home once would have included feelings of failure.
Instead, my heart felt full and grateful for all the unexpected gifts of the day.
The Heart of the Matter: I had come for one thing that didn't happen. I left, however, with the gifts of instead.