By the time you read this, I will be hurtling down the highway in my battered old pickup, heading into an unknown future. My innards coil and constrict like pissed off snakes, my heart hammers in my ears and my mind is racing twice as fast as I am driving. My book tour has begun.
I will be on the road a month before I get to return home to Sacramento, but that’s only the first leg. All told, I will be living out of my truck, flogging my book to whomever will listen, for more than 100 days this year. Maybe a lot more. I expect to meet scores of new friends, see places I’d only read about, endure long drives and navigate problems yet unseen.
I have worked a long time for this moment. Far more than the year it took me to write it, really. Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast is in many ways the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of experiences, of research, of trial and error and triumph. Now it’s time to set my child free and see how it fares in the wider world.
Part of me is thrilled, full of hope that this book will be read by many and will add something new to the world’s knowledge. I have this crazy daydream: I’m old, and I meet a young woman in the woods carrying a tattered copy of my book. I ask her how she came by it. She tells me it was handed down to her by her mother, many years ago, and that she’s cherished it since she was a little girl. It’s just a daydream.
But sometimes the nightmares come. Empty book signings. Scathing reviews. Financial ruin. Or worse: Nothing. The moments I fear most are when I envision the book sinking like a stone, out of print in a month and forgotten. That I have spent so long to shout from a rooftop, only to find that no one’s listening, no one cares. The only thing left to do then is to step away from the roof, turn aside and walk away. But to where? And to what purpose? Back to politics?
I’ve been to this place before. So have you if you’ve ever wanted something so much for so long that you’ll sacrifice far more than is rational or sane to achieve it. I first felt these fears, this adrenal rush, decades ago as a distance runner. Season after season, you train so hard your body breaks, then you heal and return stronger. Again and again and again. You forsake normal life, normal friends. But it’s all worth it, you tell yourself. Because at the end of it all, if you train hard enough, run fast enough, there are the Olympic Games. Yes, many of us harbored the insane notion that we might — just might — be able to run in the Olympic Games, or at least the Trials. No one dared speak that dream aloud.
It is the star of greatness that shines over us during our drudgery. Write another draft, run another lap, lift a heavier weight, add another chapter, over and over and over again until you think you cannot go on, but of course you do. Happily, even. This, after all, is why you are here. This is your purpose. Or so you tell yourself.
Then, on the appointed day, you walk into the stadium gleaming with confidence. You have done everything in your power to win this race before it even starts. As football coach Bear Bryant once said, “It’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference.” You have followed Bear’s dictum to the letter. But then you step on the line and look into the eyes of your competitors. Doubt dulls your veneer of bravado. They had the will to prepare, too. Maybe moreso than you. Oh yes, folks, I know this feeling all too well.
The gun goes off, I start the engine of my pickup, and it begins. Only God knows how this race will end.