When I got the email from my publisher that LIFE ON THE ROCKS was a finalist for the LA Times Book Award, my heart dropped. I gasped out loud.
My daughter, Isy was still waking up and she cracked her door open, "What happened?" she asked groggily.
I jumped up and hugged her. But I was shaky as I told her the news.
It's just such a full circle thing to be a finalist for this book prize because it brings me back to where it all started. Or where it all stopped depending how you look at it.
After I discovered coral in college, I desperately wanted to study them. But I never got into a coral lab for grad school - I was not at all qualified having only taken one biology class.
I did get into grad school to study satellite imagery of the ocean at USC. I wasn't a really great scientist, I don't think. And I often wonder if that's because I wasn't passionate enough about what I was studying. I thought it was fascinating but I think I also understood I didn't have the creativity to push the field forward. Maybe I wouldn't had I been studying coral either. But I'll never know.
Grad school gifted me life-changing experiences. I dove on the Great Barrier Reef, in Tahiti's coral reefs and up and down the Baja Peninsula. I saw fish fly and dolphins surf and whales swirl whirlwinds of water. I spend several summers working in Rome where my commute took me past the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. I spent months on ships and sailed across the equator with a certificate from King Neptune to prove it.
But, there was also a lot of time feeling like the bottom of the barrel, being very poor and very tired, and a lot of second guessing. I remember looking out onto the USC main quad from my dusty lab window, seeing people dressed up walking to events on the campus, which was beautifully manicured with colorful flowers in every flowerbed. One year, the Oscars were held just on the edge of USC, and the red carpet was on my walk home. In my cutoff shorts and and acid-stained t-shirt, I could not have felt farther away from that world of awards.
But now I'm headed back to USC for an award ceremony. I think back to who I was in grad school and she could have never conceived she'd be a writer, much less one who published a book, much less a book that received this kind of notice. It would have sounded so impossible to her.
I love wrapping up a blog with a bow. And this one has so many potential bows to tie: about believing in yourself, about following dreams, about the messages of hope and resilience from the coral. But none of those feel exactly right, right now. Maybe they will in a week or two or when I get back to LA. Instead, I think I'll leave this blog in the kind of emotional stew I'm feeling: disbelief, elation, and joy but spiced with a dash of melancholy.