Saturday, November 03, 2007

Does being around too many literary stars make you feel small?

Comparisons are funny things. Healthy comparisons between/among people can lead to either self-acceptance or change. Unhealthy comparisons can lead to competitiveness, jealousy, and even worse, undermining.

This week I was around so many literary stars that I had to take a nap. First there was the Orhan Pamuk event in Gaston Hall, that was much more fun than I expected. Giving someone an honorary doctorate can be a recipe for snoozy, safe speeches and lots o' pomp, but this ceremony was brief and elegant, plus the author seemed genuinely moved. I've gone to the Folger for the PEN/Malamud awards and seen the other side... where the author treats it as something akin to a living canonization. Mr. Pamuk was different. He seemed rather shy about it. Afterward, I asked him what it's like going through the ceremony, because it looked a little bit like getting married. He said it did sort of feel that way, and that it's over so quickly you hardly know what happened.

Later in the week on the day of the National Press Club's annual Book Fair, Booklab brought Sebastian Junger to campus to talk to faculty about his kind of publishing. This was for an audience almost all of whom had published, some in a highly distinguished way, so it wasn't a "how to write" chat at all... more of a master's round table. But the guy has done more than I have -- much more -- and that following on the heels of meeting a Nobel laureate felt a bit heady. Deborah Tannen was there (more amazing literary firepower), plus some of our stars like Charles King and John Glavin.

Then on to the Press Club to meet Stephen Hunter from the Washington Post, Hannah Rosin who now writes books all the time, John Prendergrast, plus Barbara Mujica and Bernie Cook from Georgetown. I was beginning to wonder (a) if I'd ever write again; and (b) if I'd get a bad case of "this sucks" every time I got started. Jealousy's not usually my main problem, and I'm not starstruck, either (they're people and they write books...). But then there's that whole other thing... that sense of feeling small.

Do you ever get a case of this? How did you handle it? Write to Booklab with your thoughts for dealing with "They're so big and I'm so dinky"-itis.

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