Editor’s Note: We featured a selection from Kenna Lee’s book, A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate earlier this year at The Fertile Source as well as a follow-up interview with Kenna and are very pleased to have her filling us in here on the life of the book since we last spoke with her. She was also recently interviewed live by Mikala Kennan of Writer Speak. –Tania Pryputniewicz
By Kenna Lee
“How’s the book doing?”
That’s the question people who haven’t seen me for a while invariably ask. It should be a polite question, indicating their interest in my creative life, but it mostly makes me sigh. A long, drawn out, explanatory sigh. The thing about the book is that sales respond directly to how much energy I put into marketing it. And the book is third.
Now, I’m a third kid, and I turned out okay. Well, okay-ish. But when I think about my thirdness, it’s usually in the context of attention I didn’t get. I’ve noticed that my own third child has developed a precious assertiveness to attempt to claim her rights in a family universally taller than herself. Her toddlerhood was pretty much one long car ride to and from her siblings’ activities. Her baby pictures are all crammed in a box still awaiting organization into an album. The regular, normal third stuff. Fortunately for her, she’s got a loud, strong voice and knows how to use it.
As for my other third, the book, it usually depends entirely on my voice, and my voice seems to be otherwise occupied helping people with homework and answering work calls. Going into this whole thing, I told myself over and over that the book was third, it had to be third, it had to stay third.
First: kids. They have not long ago survived an acrimonious divorce and have to navigate the strange waters of shifting between two homes with different value sets. Their newly single mom needs to be very present, mediating between their three sets of often competing needs.
Second: job. The full-time one that pays the mortgage and provides health insurance for aforementioned kids. Not to mention (through gritted teeth) child support to the X. Plus, I actually like the job: hospice nursing may be emotionally taxing, but it yields rewards on the level of soul.
Third, waaaay down at the bottom of the list, whining for scant attention: book. Make that books. There’s the one that came out this year, and the one—or maybe two?—in process. Which means that with the tidbits of time I manage to throw this direction, I again have to mediate between competing needs: sell current book or write next one? (Translation: odious web networking or relatively pleasant musing on narrative architecture.)
This sequencing of priorities is for me, given my situation, obvious. The book must be third. As the number one faction would say: Duuuhhh. So, then I ask myself, why the big sigh? Why aren’t I more satisfied with the fact that the book is provoking a great reader response, getting positive if infrequent reviews, and taught me a ton about the process of producing a book? What did I expect? (Oh, well, yes, then, if you really want to know. Of course I secretly hoped the book to be “discovered” somehow and become the Next—but much better—Big Thing. I’m not immune. Nor am I so unrealistic as to have held those hopes higher than my smallest toe.)
Whence the dissatisfaction? Is it the individual ego trying to assert itself from underneath the pile of mothering work? Is it simply the remnants of having grown up in the wake of second-wave feminism, the age of Enjoli commercials, the era of “you can have/do/be it all?” Perhaps it’s just a vague sense of injustice, like I want a reward for having done the “right” thing in keeping my kids at the top of the list. Or else I want number three to find it’s own way, much as my daughter has.
At any rate, the book languishes at third, and the part of me that is in the book languishes too. As my mother, often exasperated with trying to meet the competing needs of her three kids (as well as her husband, farm, aging parents, and graduate work), tended to say: “life’s not fair.” We can’t all be first. But maybe, just as I have with my daughter and my mother did with me, I will be able to help the “other third” find a way to let it’s voice be heard. After all the homework is done, and the kids are asleep. Until then, the book will be doing what it’s doing now: all it can. And that’s okay. Ish.
Kenna Lee is a part-time environmental activist, full-time hospice nurse, and all-the-time mother. Her book, A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate, was originally subtitled “a mother’s desperate race against despair in a changing climate,” but when you print the word “despair” on a book cover, it looks like something that you’d find on the remainder shelf. She is doggedly trying to convince all her readers to buy the book from independent booksellers rather than from that internet company.