Sometimes a Moment will make me laugh and sometimes it will make me cry. This one did both. Cara Lopez Lee has some funny women in her life, and she knows the value of a good crack from a girlfriend. (Wait till one explains how Cara knew she’d made it). Cara also has one very instrumental woman in her life, as most of us do, whether that woman is present or absent. I’m talking about our moms. In the end, Cara’s Made It Moment shows us the fine stamp of motherhood, and how we yearn for it whenever it comes into our lives.
When Jenny Milchman asked me to answer the question, “how did I know I’d made it?” I was tempted to laugh.
“I made it?” I thought. “When did that happen?”
My memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands, has received positive reviews and achieved respectable sales in a post-apocalyptic publishing world. Still, sometimes my inner-critic says, “You can’t say you’ve made it until Terry Gross or Oprah calls.”
A friend and fellow-author told me recently, “You knew you’d made it when someone asked you to write a post on the subject of when you knew you’d made it.” This time I did laugh.
I told my friend about the moment my editor sat across from me at a writer’s conference and said he was prepared to offer me a contract right then. “I had to restrain myself from leaping on him and humping his leg like an excited dachshund.” Instead, I thanked him for the offer and told him I’d think about it.
Then I floated out of that conference onto the streets of Denver’s LoDo district, phoned my husband, and squealed like a teenage girl, “I have a publisher!”
Soon after that, my editor was reading a 900-page book in bed when it slipped from his hands and jabbed him in the eye, tearing his cornea. Sounds like a bad joke, right? But it really happened. It took him months to heal from that job-related injury – the equivalent of a ballplayer ripping a tendon – so he began letting authors go. I felt sorry for him, but I’ll admit I probably felt more sorry for myself. I was the opposite of Mary Tyler Moore, tossing my book into the air to some guy singing, “You’re not gon-na make it after a-all.”
But my editor kept me on. A year later, I broke the spine of a book with a photo of me kayaking on the cover and read out loud to 80 cheering friends at my book release party.
I thought, “I’m really an author.”
Then I drove around the American West in my dented, rattling ’95 Honda Civic Hatchback, and spoke to groups ranging from forty people…to one. Yup, reading to one person is really weird.
But I thought, “My audience and I are discovering each other.”
A young Canadian woman who was traveling the world emailed from Australia to tell me she’d read my book twice. She wrote, “Thanks for writing such a smart and funny book. It’s been an inspiration to me.”
I thought, “I have fans.”
One woman messaged me about reading my book when she was deciding to leave her abusive husband, a man who once threatened to put her body in a wood-chipper so no one would ever find her. When she left him, she traveled to Alaska, a place she had long wanted to visit but he had never let her go. In her note to me, she wrote, “I took your book with me and re-read it on the plane. You were great company.”
I thought, “My story is making a difference!”
My friend asked me for some advice, about whether to let a small press publish her memoir or wait for a better offer. I suggested that she and I not try to measure what it takes to “make it” by external results, but rather by an internal evaluation of what we value most. What I value most are relationships. For me, stories are another way to connect with others. That’s when I realized the moment I knew I’d made it:
My memoir is about my relationships with alcoholic men in Alaska and the relationship I developed with myself on my solo trek around the world. But the subject of my parents did come up. I didn’t grow up with my mother. In fact, you know that old joke, “My parents moved away without telling me”? One day when I was twelve, I phoned her only to learn that her number had been disconnected. I didn’t see her for seven years. We’re friends now, and I understand how her own painful history played a role in our past relationship. Still, I feared that after she read what I had to say about her abandonment, she might vanish again.
Instead, my mother sent me a letter saying she loved my book. “It’s all in there,” she wrote, “gritty determination, longing, love, friendship, humor, misery, anguish, leaping joy, gasping awe, suffocating loneliness, and eternal hope.”
That’s when I knew I’d made it.
Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands (Ghost Road Press, 2010), co-author of the novel Back in the Real World (Graham Publishing Group, 2011), and a contributor to the new anthology 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror (Thunder Horse Press, 2012). Her Girls Trek Too blog is dedicated to inspiring women to live life as an adventure. She has written stories for The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Wazee Journal, HGTV, and Food Network. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.