Baked Beans on Toast and Other Disappointments

I am an after-the-fact realist. Translated, a born romantic that has learned to accept reality, albeit not with grace. Two instances come to mind.

On an previous trip to Scotland, near Inverness, I spent a wet, chilly morning viewing medieval castles and trying to spot the Loch Ness Monster.  We found a small, warm cafe for lunch, and I was excited to see “beans on toast” on the menu. In my mind’s eyes, I would be served an inch thick slice of wonderful, just-baked brown bread, toasted to perfection, with a huge helping of oven baked beans, oozing with a rich, dark sauce. I was beside myself with anticipation.

What I received was a slice of thin, slightly-toasted white bread–the kind that can be condensed to the size of a marble if you wad it up. Accompanying it was a tablespoon of cold, canned pork and beans, placed precisely in the middle of the bread. I nearly wept.

A few years later, I planned a trip to the United Kingdom to spend an authentic English Christmas with friends who lived in the Yorkshire area. I fantasized what it would be like to experience a traditional Christmas devoid of plastic lawn decorations, artificial trees, tacky decorations, and the “buy-buy-buy” mentality that seemed to prevail in my home town. I wanted to get away from the commercialization and the over-the-top hype I found so depressing.

I pictured myself wandering through the small village where they lived, peering into beautifully lit shop windows contained quaint holiday scenes. I saw cozy afternoons before a roaring fire in a small pub, drinking a hot drink from a pewter mug, while locals came in, brushed snowflakes off their caps, and wished me a jolly holiday.

I saw myself sitting down for an elegant Christmas dinner, lit by softly glowing candles, while we sipped vintage wine from 100-year-old crystal glasses ( that were, of course, only used on that special day of the year). And, yes, I thought a Yule log would be burning in the deep-inset fireplace.

You know where this is going, don’t you? I’ll spare you the details; although, in fairness, the paper party hats and “crackers” did add a bit of zest to the holiday dinner. Clearly, Christmas in Merry Old didn’t live up to my romantic notion; rather, is was the world as it is, opposed to the world as I wanted it to be. Writing and publishing isn’t much different.

A week ago, I was on a panel with several other authors talking about self-publishing versus “being published.” We all wrote in different genres, and had different interests. One person talked about the value of social media; one referred to her sound marketing background. I talked about why it took a team (friends, volunteers or professionals) to bring a project to fruition. Most of the time was given over to a Q & A session with the attendees.

As I looked at the audience, I thought to myself, “There is talent there, and good books waiting for a reader.” I hoped their work would make it into print. I hoped they’d enjoy both intrinsic value and financial reward from their effort.  That is the romantic view. The reality is that only some will find publishing success.  Some will keep their faith and keep writing; others will turn to a different endeavor or creative outlet.

Yesterday, while browsing at a book store, I gravitated to the sections that held the type of books I like to write–and like to read. The shelves and tables were heaped with the latest offerings. As a reader, I was delighted. As a writer, nothing can be more intimidating than looking around a large-chain bookstore and seeing the sheer numbers of books–knowing that along with the “hold-in-your-hand” books, a vast number of ebooks are also available. Is it romantic or delusional to believe your first–or next–book might join the ranks of the best-selling new releases? Which notion should you hold onto while you click away on the keyboard or fill the pages of your notebook?

I just read The Martian. I don’t know if Andy Weir expected the book to become a best seller and a film. My guess is he didn’t. Rather, I suspect that as a self-described “lifelong space nerd,” he simply wrote about a subject he loved, in a field he knew. Did he have a romantic or a realistic idea of how the book would be received? Hard telling. But, he must have believed in himself–and what he was doing–to plan, plot, develop, write, rewrite, and put it out for the universe to accept or reject.

I still think that someone, somewhere in the world, serves savory baked beans on superb bread,  just as I believe there’s nothing wrong with being a romantic, as long as we accept the reality that sometimes follows.

Best Wishes to All My Readers for a Joyous, Peaceful, and Healthy Holiday Season