Mom and I had plans to go to the movies together that night.
I arrived to pick her up right on time, but when she opened her door, I noticed her face had a strange expression on it.
“Just a minute,” she said, turning her back on me. She returned a moment later, with a newspaper clipping in her hand, her face a study in anxiety.
Wondering what news could possibly take the place of ‘hello,’ I scanned the torn fragment she handed me.
And then my heart just stopped.
It was a New York Times review of the book I had been working on for several years – a psychological non-fiction study of muses and their relationships with artists. A New York Times book review of my book! I had dreamed of this very moment many times.
Only, in my dreams, the review always had my name on it, not someone else’s. And definitely not an author who, up until that point, had only written novels.
I’d been sold out.
I was crushed, devastated, breathless. My dream, my breakthrough project, my years of research and work – and there it was, with someone else’s name on it.
The book was a unique take on a rather obscure topic, could someone else have had the same idea?
In the days to come, I received phone calls and emails from friends around the country who were well aware of what I’d been working on, and who were all wondering – hey, isn’t that your book?
I spent three long days walking along the Potomac River trying to catch my breath, trying to reconstruct what could possibly have happened. My Washington, DC-based agent had sent my book proposal to an editor in New York for a second opinion. The editor’s harsh and skeptical critique left me unable to write much of anything for almost two years. I realized now that she must have liked the concept and my outline enough, however, to pass it along to someone else – someone with a recognizable name.
Through bitter tears of frustration, I berated myself for being too thin-skinned and not continuing to work on the book I believed in, despite the criticisms. It was my concept, inspired by my own circumstances, I should have kept going. It felt like someone had taken my autobiography and put their own name on it.
All of this happened 17 years ago, back in 2000 – the year that fell between the year my sister died and the year the twin towers in New York City were struck by planes, forever changing the world. I was broke and single, trying to get by as a freelancer in the capricious and challenging world of film and television, while raising two kids.
Reading my journal from that year – a journal of hope and dreams, a journal of aspirations and frustrations – I want to reach out to 2000 Kristin, who seems now like a little sister to me, and tell her not to give up.
2017 Kristin wants to whisper in the ear of 2000 Kristin and say, “Don’t let this experience jade you. You are resilient! You will soon create a new and better book project. You will continue to make a living in film and television for many years to come. You will blossom into a professional photographer and travel to Belize, Barcelona, New Orleans, Iceland, Mexico and Greece. You will spend Christmas in Finland with your son who is a university student there. You will have adventures in Geneva, Copenhagen and the Pacific Northwest with your daughter. You will move to Asheville and live in the mountains. Your kids will be fine, and you will find love again.”
But at the time, the hardships kept coming. A beloved uncle and mentor, who had been a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. My own father’s health began to falter. The IRS was hounding me. The bills mounted up with no steady work in sight.
But the kids were fine and somehow I kept going.
And then one day, a former client rang with a question about a film I had written and co-produced for him the previous year. Once we caught up on that, he asked me how things were going.
Under normal circumstances, I would never have unloaded my miseries upon a client. But times were anything but normal. I admitted I was having some trouble finding work and wasn’t sure how or if I could even make it through the next month.
“May I offer some advice?” he asked gently.
Here was a self-made, multi-millionaire offering me advice, maybe even a grant for a new film, I thought hopefully. I hesitated only a second before responding.
“Sure,” I said, curious to hear whatever he had to say.
He chuckled softly. (Had I said something funny?!)
And his suggestion came as a great surprise.
“Kristin, let go, and let God,” he said simply.
That’s it?! I wanted to scream. How’s that going to pay the bills? I’m not a church-going person and his words offered neither consolation nor inspiration. So I thanked him politely and ended the call as quickly as possible, disappointed and feeling even more adrift and alone than before.
But those five little words continued to resonate in my mind throughout the evening and by the time I was ready for bed, I thought to myself – oh, what the hell? It’s not like you have any other options right now. Give yourself a night off from the worries and pressures of being in charge. And so, I let go.
The following morning, the phone rang again. This time it was Dr Bill Baker, the general manager of WNET, the New York City PBS station.
“Kristin!” he said, skipping the usual pleasantries. “I have a project I want you on right away. Are you available?
It’s called, The Face: Jesus in Art.“