There's this great Bonnie Raitt song called "What Is Success?"--Is it doin' your own thing/Or to join the rest?/Truly believing, and trying over and over again/Living in hope that someday you'll be in with the winners..."--which pretty much sums up my own ambivalent attitude toward this subject. It's been on my mind a lot lately, because there been much talk in the blogosphere and in the major media too, about Leslie Bennetts' book The Feminine Mistake, and other books which take various judgmental tones regarding the "choices" mothers make. I put quotation marks around that word because very few of our choices are really freely made; most of us who had careers didn't opt out when we became mothers--we were pushed.
Be that as it may...it's been discouraging to me to see writers like Bennetts and Linda Hirshman and Caitlin Flanagan get reams of publicity and TV time, while the writers out there who have attempted to do a serious job of looking at the subject of motherhood and work in today's society--people like Joan Williams, who wrote Unbending Gender, or Ann Crittenden, who wrote The Price of Motherhood, or Miriam Peskowitz, who wrote The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, couldn't seem to buy, beg or steal any national publicity. My discouragement has extended to my own book, The Ghost in The House, which attempts to take a serious look at the subject of how depression affects mothers. Ann's book couldn't get any national exposure because TV people told her it was "too complicated." My book couldn't get any excerpts printed in national magazines--even magazines like O, The Oprah Magazine, which had helped me reach my 400-plus survey participants--because it was "too depressing." I have felt, at times, like a failure--not least because I suffer sometimes from the illness I wrote about. (It's okay--nobody has to write and tell me I'm not; part of this illness is distorted thinking.)
But a couple of things happened recently. Motoko Rich of the New York Times interviewed me about a piece she was writing about Leslie Bennetts' book, which prompted me to look up my own book's sales figures and those of the books that have gotten so much publicity. I found, to my astonishment, that my book has sold 600 copies more than Linda Hirshman's book, even though hers got tons of publicity and mine got none. Both of us have dismal sales figures, but still: wow. It makes you wonder--how do books get sold? Maybe standard publicity isn't all it's cracked up to be; maybe word of mouth really matters.
The second thing that happened recently was that Ann Crittenden appeared as a guest on the Power Loop of Mothers and More, which I belong to, and she talked about her own feeling about being an author whose book never seemed to make it to the national radar--but which is considered a modern classic now among those of us who are seriously interested in the whole issue of how women and procreation and work are going to be integrated into society in the 21st century. Ann is proud, and rightly so, of having said something thought-provoking and gotten her message out in spite of many obstacles; she spoke of that knowledge as "gold in the spiritual bank."
That phrase stuck with me. It made me realize that my own perceptions of what I've tried to do have been so limited, so confined to whether I get my three minutes on "The Today Show" or make it to the pages of the New York Times Book Review...when in fact there's evidence, considerable amounts of it, that I managed to write something useful to people, who are finding the book and reading it and getting some help from it. Which is why I wrote it, after all--that, and the urgent feeling that I had something worth saying.
So on this Mother's Day I'm not feeling like a failure; I'm feeling like somebody who has done something useful for other mothers, which is what I set out to do. Don't get me wrong: I'd love to make some money, and if "The Today Show" calls I sure won't say no. But do I need them to be successful? I think we all know the answer. And, oh yeah, I have these two gorgeous daughters who make me feel like a goddess, at least sometimes.
Happy Mother's Day, all you moms out there.