I had just read a friend's lament that someone who'd never bought anything from his farm had given his business a 1-star Google review for an utterly ridiculous reason. No doubt he wasn't happy, but he took it in stride and invited friends and family to rebut the rating and encouraged everyone to maintain their sense of humor,
Just as I finished reading his post, I got my own discouraging message. A review that summarized my book as overlong with an unsatisfying ending. Quite a difference from a few days before when I'd received a five-star award of excellence from the Historical Fiction Company. I printed the more recent review and filed it away, but the sting of the person's words wasn't as easy to put out of my mind. Disappointed, I pulled the review back out and read it several more times, trying to find something positive. Ultimately, there was nothing that compensated for the negative summary judgement.
Despite the fact that the temperature outside was close to 100 degrees, I retreated from the world by heading straight to the barn. There's something about the laziness of humid summer air, the rhythmic swish of the horses' tails momentarily dispersing those pesky flies, and the peace of knowing that nature's inevitable cycles guarantee that fall is just around the corner if we can just hang on.
No doubt my horses wondered why on earth their human had decided to move heavy metal panels just as the sun reached its zenith. They ignored my grunts and groans and showed no interest in my stumbling steps when sweat ran in my eyes and my muscles turned to jelly in the heat. But they perked up and turned, as one, to watch when I dragged myself into the shade of the center aisle and stretched out across the unopened bags of feed stacked nearby. I contemplated turning the stall fans to blow directly on me instead, but reconsidered, knowing I could retreat to the air-conditioning soon while the horses would have to remain in the stifling July air. They were hoping I'd serve up an afternoon snack of water-soaked alfalfa. It was not to be.
Another thought had wormed its way peacefully into my puddle of self-pity. I found myself contemplating the memory of Dad's thoughts on beauty pageants. "It's just one person's opinion on one day," he always said, "Nothing to worry over." Usually, he went on to say that pageants weren't all that different from the livestock shows he remembered from his younger days in Denver. " All those heifers all decked out. And today, one of "em will get a blue ribbon. But, on any different day or with any different judge, any of the other ones might have gotten that blue ribbon." Most importantly, our conversations about beauty pageants (and almost any other contest) always ended with, "You're the most beautiful one in the bunch to me!"
Those words went a long way. I hope everyone has someone in their lives to remind them how beautiful they are. Plenty of people will tell us that we're "overlong" or have something that's "unsatisfying". It's important to hang in there...to remember that on any given day, there will be a different winner...it's only one person's opinion on that one day.
Oh yea, and later that evening, I got the message that my book had won the New York Book Festival's Unpublished Fiction Award for 2023.