Three weeks ago I was in Hawaii, Maui, tropical paradise, on the first vacation W and I have taken together without our families in five years, our reward to ourselves for the last two really difficult years, and we were having a horrible time.
For starters, we were violently ill. Not just I-have-a-cold-and-I-feel-kind-of-crappy ill. Seriously, disgustingly-so-I’ll-spare-you-the-details ill. We had one great beach day and then the clouds rolled in, literally and figuratively, and as the wind whipped palm fronds outside our condo window we lost four full days during weather that made it too cold and unpleasant to even sit on our lanai once we could move.
I’d hoped so much for this vacation to be a relaxing, rejuvenating experience. Instead, everything kept going wrong. On the first day we felt human again after being sick, we tried to go snorkeling but the parking areas had been blocked. We parked a ways down the road and walked to the guidebook marker and then couldn’t find the trailhead. We decided to snorkel somewhere else even though we’d lost the better early morning hours, and as we were getting ready and feeling better about at least getting into the water, and after W had smeared Vaseline over his mustache to create a working seal, his mask broke when he tried to put it on. It was like our vacation was attacking us. Restaurants were closed, roadways and trailheads were blocked, blowholes and waterfalls were dry, people were rude. There was constant traffic noise outside our condo loud enough to drown out the surf and make it hard to sleep. I understand—understood then even through my disappointment—that there were a million ways things could have been worse. But I felt defeated.
About halfway through the trip we switched condos on the most beautiful day since we’d arrived. The sun shone, the turquoise waters shimmered, and whales spouted columns of water into the air in welcome as we drove to a new part of the island. We drove through the only tunnel on Maui and it was like we’d pushed reset when we emerged on the other side.
For the next five days we enjoyed perfect sapphire skies. We saw the best magic/comedy show ever at Warren and Annabelle’s, found a couple of delicious restaurants, got misted by waterfalls and walked through black lava caves on the Road to Hana, and finally saw turtles, six of them(!), feeding in a small cove near a rock formation they call Dragon’s Teeth. We witnessed gorgeous sunsets.
We went on a sunrise whale watching trip and were treated to head spins, fin waves, tail flaps, and even breaches from dozens of whales. We got to listen to the Humpbacks singing—did you know it’s only the males who sing?—live through the boat’s speaker system. The boat was uncrowded and we saw whales before we’d even left the harbor. Six to eight thousand whales are swimming around Maui this time of year, looking for breeding partners and giving birth to the products of last year’s mating season. We even saw a mom/baby pair. It was amazing. Really amazing. I wanted to do it again as soon as we got off the boat. Later that same day from Napili Beach we saw whales breaching a few miles out and a turtle right in front of our condo. It was like the sun brought out the animals and chased away the wind and clouds along with our negativity. W even got down on one knee and proposed.
Writers think in terms of metaphor. What physical detail can be used to express a feeling, and though this one is totally cliche, it’s still true: the sun will come out eventually. Bad things, like bad weather, can’t last forever; this too shall pass. We just have to keep moving forward so we can make it to the other side of that tunnel and be greeted by whale breaths in perfect blue seas, welcomed into a landscape brimming with promise.
This vacation wasn’t exactly what I’d wished for, but I think it was a great reminder as I move into the next few months. With the pre-pub reviews and reader reviews and sales rankings and all the ways in which the reactions to my book can disappoint me, I need to remember that so far, the good has far outweighed the bad, and of course there will be bad reviews. Some of them won’t even be about the book—the “I like dogs and this book doesn’t have enough dogs” types of reviews, or from people who are just angry with the world. But I’m still nervous. This is my baby. I want people to love her and treat her well, and once she’s out there I can’t protect her anymore.
Whatever bad news comes in, it will fade, though, because in the end, publishing Hand Me Down is a dream come true. I wouldn’t give up any part of it. And even a bad day in paradise is still better than a bad day anywhere else, right?