My siblings and I always used to say that our sister Heather was our parents' favourite but that was okay with us, because she was our favourite too.
I kind of feel that way today. Erin Bow is both a member of my writers' group and the newly chosen 2011 winner of the TD Canadian Children's Book Award for her debut young adult novel Plain Kate. I gather that some writers' groups are hotbeds of jealousy and one-upmanship. Not ours. I will freely admit to moments of envy but they are vastly, vastly swamped by a deep sense of community and clan. I'm so deeply proud of Erin and in awe of her abilities to go to dark places in the most unflinching of ways and to create bright spells of hope and humour in the midst, while wordsmithing in the most jaw-droppingly beautiful way. While the rest of the writers in our group are enjoying small successes and kind rejections, Erin is being swept along -- but we understand exactly why, and we're having fun being bridesmaids next to her.
Popularity is a curious thing. Last night, my grade nine son talked about how he's straddling two worlds -- the smart geeks and the popular kids - and how he doesn't want to be the coolest kid at the geek table or the geekiest kid at the cool table. He's pretty sure, and so am I, that he'll work this out, but it is the perennial high school dilemma that continues to play its way out for the rest of our lives too.
For writers, this sometimes means figuring out whether you'll write what sells or write what is in your heart and mind. When those overlap and when there is brilliance, you have Erin. Actually Erin's success sustains me some days because it's a relief to know that in these days where publishers and book chains and independents are failing, excellence still finds a place in the catalogues, on the shelves and at the award ceremonies. It inspires me to work harder.
At the same time, I remembered my own high school experience last night and I told my son that I had never been willing to pay the price of popularity. I know a lot of people who lurked at the margins of their high school (their workplace, their university residence, their neighbourhood), noses pressed against the glass of popularity, wishing they could get in. Not me. I sort of always believed it was a choice -- that if I really wanted, I could morph into the Popular Girl. That gave (and gives) me a peculiar contentment. I'm not willing to mask or cut off parts of me in order to fit into the popular crowd.
Some people just have "It." Our middle son does. Erin does. For some people, it's not a matter of making a choice -- they just are popular because everyone wants what they have to offer, because what they offer is just awesome. Certainly not everyone who is popular is a sellout. Some are the most authentic and original of all.
And that's what should -- and did last night -- receive the prize.