The other day I took my son to
the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I enjoyed the Inner
Harbor, but the aquarium? Not so much. I figured for the $27 per person
entry fee I might see something spectacular. Now don’t get me wrong,
there were some pretty amazing fish in there, but I came away yawning.
I did like the dolphins, although we couldn’t catch a show, only a
training session, which was cool. What I did take away from our day at
the aquarium is this: First, I am glad I am not an eel, and second,
fish are like writers.
We’ve all heard the expression,
“a little fish in a big pond.” Well that’s what a writing career is
like for most of us. We’re the little guys swimming as hard as we can
to keep up with the bigguns, staying on the current; or maybe we want
to keep our distance, stay separate, and survive. Seems to me life in
an aquarium, and in the publishing industry, is all about survival. But
here’s the thing. All those fish created something marvelous together:
an eco system, a symbiosis where each species is somehow dependant on
the other. I’m not just talking about the ever popular food chain,
although, as I watched the divers feed chum, which we all know is
pulverized fish, fish that have met with the Saturday Night Live
Bass-O-Matic, that notion became all too clear. The food chain is alive
and well in the ocean.
I saw shrimp that dig holes by
clearing away tiny rocks so they can burrow inside, but in doing so
they disturb the substrata so much that it kicks up food for other fish
to gulp down. So yeah, they all matter, from the tiniest shrimp to the
Fortunately, however, in
publishing we don’t actually get eaten by bigger writers. We might get
overshadowed the way a giant stingray casts its great shadow over the
little, well, whatever they called it, and eclipses it. But just for a
moment. Then the little fish is free to enjoy the limelight. But I
didn’t get the sense that the little fish wanted to be the big fish.
They seemed perfectly content to live out their careers in the shadows,
sometimes swimming alongside and at other times feeding off the big
That’s right, some fish scour
the backs of other fish for parasites they can chomp down like popcorn.
In a way, smaller writers ride the coattails of the big guys, gleaning
what they can from their experience, following them around, nudging
them into corners, sharing a meal just to get a . . . oh wait a minute,
I believe that is called a writer’s conference.
But the thing is all the fish
work together, rely on one another, except, I wasn’t too sure about
that great big giant green eel I saw squirming in and out of the huge
rocks. I’m sorry, but he was just plain ugly and no one seemed to like
him—the other fish, I mean. They pretty much kept their distance. Poor
soul. Huge, green, and unloved. Guess there’s better things in life.
I suppose it’s the sharks that
seemed to fascinate the people the most. They’re kind of like the
Steven Kings and J.K. Rowlings of the aquarium. People flocked to the
shark tank. They couldn’t
get enough of watching these great animals
swim so effortlessly around and around the tank, unbothered, by
anything else. They put their heads down and kept moving. Sharks are
amazing. They are very confident, good at what they do, and they keep
moving and entertaining.
I enjoyed the smaller displays.
The ones with the little fish, the colorful ones—vibrant yellow Tangs
and purple whatever they were, the odd anemones and urchins and sea
cucumbers that looked like they were crafted from God’s Play-Doh. Now
those I could watch for a while. I likened these fish to the literary
writers of the world. Gorgeous, but not so popular.
The aquarium was big and full to
the gills with fish, all living together in a mostly peaceful
environment, working together, feeding together protecting, one
another. Okay, the big ugly green eel wasn’t, but I guess when you’re
that big and that green and that ugly, you can do whatever you want.
The point is, publishing is a big aquarium with a lot of fish, and we
all need one another to make the environment work.