Today is the second day of a road trip I’m taking to western New York. I spent most of the day yesterday driving through the rain, and thinking about what I would be doing the rest of this trip. My goal is to find, and walk, labyrinths. By the end of yesterday, I knew that the theme of this trip, at least so far, had become “After the Storm.”
This morning, I woke up in my motel room by the airport in Buffalo. I got packed up, grabbed some complimentary coffee from the lobby, and hit the road before sunrise. I knew that my first labyrinth was about a forty minute drive away, so the sun would be up before then. As I drove, I thought about what question I’d ask of the labyrinth. “Ask about the book.” That came to me as clear as the sky was not. The eastern sky was getting pink, and there was no rain, but a thick blanket of clouds crossed the horizon. “Ask about the book. Keep it small right now, ask about why you struggle to find the joy in knowing you’ll be published next year. Don’t make it about something bigger or broader. Keep it local.” Okay. I’ll do that, I thought. Thanks for that!
I arrived at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Springville. Behind their parking lot was a pavilion, which directed you to the labyrinth.
You can see in the photo the labyrinth behind the pavilion. It’s made of mown grass, with the walls of the labyrinth made of the tall grasses. This kind of labyrinth requires regular maintenance, or else the mown grass ceases to be mown, and the line between path and wall becomes very fuzzy. Well, this labyrinth has not been maintained for some time, even to the point that there were thorn branches blocking the entrance. I walked around the outside of the labyrinth, to see if there was an alternate way in. There wasn’t, so I was unable to walk it.
However, it wasn’t a loss. My question for this labyrinth was going to be, “What do I need in order to find joy in being a published author?” I still found a reflection on that question. Much like this labyrinth, I have let something get overgrown. I have allowed something to corrode. There’s something I’ve been ignoring, which has made it so difficult for me. You’d think that I would be thrilled. The book I spent so much time writing, the book that is the story of my life, the manuscript I sent to so many publishers throughout the last year, that book has been picked up by Boyle & Dalton Publishers. I should be thrilled! But I just haven’t been. I just keep feeling — nothing — about it. Every time I say the phrases “published author” or “holding my book in my hand” to myself, it’s like it’s for the first time. It never sinks in emotionally. That’s what this impenetrable labyrinth showed me. There’s something like that in me. I headed to the next labyrinth to try to figure out what that was.
The second labyrinth of the day was at Wayside Presbyterian Church in Hamburg. It’s a seven-circuit Cretan labyrinth, with a gravel path and inlaid bricks for walls. The question I walked in with was the same as before: “What do I need in order to find joy in being a published author?”
The answer came to me quickly: “I’m not sure I want my story out in the world.” The story I’m sharing is my own life-story, in pretty vulnerable detail. I have shared a lot of it already on this blog; in fact, the old series “Snapshots of My Depression” is what formed the whole idea of the book, and most of those posts have been expanded into chapters in the book. But somehow I felt today like there was a part of me that really wasn’t sure I wanted it to be revealed to the world. Despite my openness (which many people have called “bravery”), there’s also a big part of me that always wants to hide out in a hobbit-hole somewhere and exist as a hermit. A part of me that wants to be unknown, unknowable. Walking this labyrinth, I realized this: I have tried to be very sensitive to the other people who are mentioned in my book. I have gotten permission from some of them, and I plan to ask others for permission as well. But I never asked the main character for permission: me. So I knew what my question had to be for the next labyrinth: “May I publish your story, Michael?”
The third labyrinth of the day was at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Buffalo. It’s another seven-circuit Cretan (a very common layout), with walls of inlaid bricks in the grass. One neat thing about this labyrinth is how it skews on one end to weave around a tree.
But it’s clearly an old labyrinth, and both nature and progress are taking their toll. The bricks are sinking, making it harder to see the path, and there was a plastic pipe blocking one section and the wall of a fence blocking another. Nonetheless, it wasn’t that hard to follow.
Walking this labyrinth, I found myself hemming and hawing about whether to allow myself to publish. I talked about how other people might comment or criticize, how others who were mentioned might challenge something I wrote. But when I reached the center, I said, “And others might see themselves in it.” And it hit me that I had to publish it. If it could speak to others, and be a comfort to them, I couldn’t prevent it. But I had a condition. As I walked back out, I said that this feeling of not wanting to publish it isn’t really about the book, but about my own normal depression. It’s the same feeling I get whenever I’m revealed. And so my condition was, “Yes, I may publish it, if I keep working on accepting my story as good enough, keep working on accepting myself as good enough.”
Just after finishing the journal entry for this labyrinth, I checked Facebook on my phone, and noticed that Boyle and Dalton, my publisher, had just within the last half-hour, posted an “Author Announcement” about me. I’d been waiting for that for a week or two, and apparently they waited until I’d come to terms with this on my own. Amazing timing. I shared their announcement on my own page, and started to cry.
I walked to the fourth labyrinth, just a half-mile away at Unity Peace Park in Buffalo. Another seven-circuit Cretan, this one had a gravel path with inlaid brick walls. It was in much better maintenance than the previous one — it looked pristine and clean, with a few black walnuts and autumn leaves on the path.
The question I asked here was, “How do I feel now that Boyle and Dalton have announced it to the world?” My answer was clear: magnificent! As soon as I started walking, I felt like I was being gently, but firmly, pulled along. As I walked, I realized that I had received this morning the complete answer to my original question: “What do I need to find joy in being a published author?” I realized that there were exactly three things I needed:
- The internal affirmation that I received at the third labyrinth, that it was okay to publish this story.
- The external affirmation from Boyle & Dalton, which meant this was public and real.
- The timing of those two things, which to me is evidence of divine affirmation, that this is exactly what God wants from me. Coincidental timing like this is always something I interpret as from God.
In the center of the labyrinth, I got chills down my spine thinking about it. I can’t remember the last time I had chills.
I walked out of this labyrinth with the feeling that I could finally put that behind me. I am ready to be an author. I have work ahead of me, to make Darkwater even better than it is now before it gets published, but I feel ready and empowered for that work, and I am really looking forward to holding that book in my hands. This particular storm is over. I am living after the storm, and it’s amazing.
And that was just this morning. I walked four more labyrinths this afternoon. I’ll write about them in a little while.