How Disney’s Magic Kingdom is like Publishing

No, this isn't Magic Kingdom. It's the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I want that magical mess remover.

No, this isn’t Magic Kingdom. It’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I want that magical mess remover.

I try not to make a habit of wanting things, especially the desire-in-my-loins-can’t-sleep-until-I-have-it kind of want. Because wanting something THAT bad creates the possibility of profound disappointment, and like most humans, I’m averse to being let down.

Take my recent trip to Florida. I kept my expectations for Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter in check—that portion of the vacation was all about my daughter and just the fact that we would be there, in the flesh, meant I had delivered the goods.

But in the most secret-est-est corner of my girl heart, I was gaga with wanting to see Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom.

Look, I grew up in the 80s, okay? I drank Disney like breast milk…or formula…whatever.  My first movie was Bambi, at which I cried, of course, because FIRE. Subsequent years of cartoon propaganda firmly established my indomitable longing for castles and princes and pirates and never growing up, so after two amazing days spent with my family casting spells in Diagon Alley and escaping from Gringott’s bank, we schlepped over to Magic Kingdom so that I could set sail on my favorite ride (at least the one in DisneyLAND), Pirates of the Caribbean.

MkferryThat morning, we rode the ferry through the perfect Florida sun across the shiny water to Magic Kingdom. I barely noticed the gathering crowds on my sprint to Adventureland. I could feel the zing in my belly when the pirate boat whooshes down in total darkness and suddenly the world is “alive” with animatronic ruffians dancing to player piano tunes.

Oh, happy day! No line!!

But wait…the entry was roped off. Several dejected pirates milled about holding signs explaining the ride was experiencing technical difficulties. I flailed my arms and cried out to the heavens. “Oh! The humanity!” Clouds slunk across the sky and smothered the Florida sun.

“Sorry, we don’t know how long she’ll be down,” said a lady pirate who didn’t even bother to add, “Yar.”

Tiny tears gathered in the gutters of my eyes. My 12-year-old daughter petted my hair. “It’s okay, Mom,” she said. “Remember how you love Splash Mountain?”

Disappointment, like a Death Eater, sucked at my soul. “We’ll come back,” I sniffed.

My daughter held my hand and pulled me along toward Splash Mountain. But when we got there, dead leaves collected in dirty clumps where water usually flowed. Closed for refurbishment. 

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” My daughter squeezed my hand. “Let’s do Big Thunder Mountain.” We shuffled along behind an old couple toward the orangey rock peak. This time, combative Wild West gunslingers held the closure signs.

“But when can I use my Fast Pass?” asked a red-faced woman driving a scooter.

“We don’t know!” a fake outlaw answered. “They don’t tell us!”

sadface“Oh, Mom,” said my daughter, letting go my sweaty hand. We kept walking. Lines were queuing everywhere. People were rabid with Black-Friday-like frenzy (before Cyber Monday existed). Wait times for most rides already were an hour. I spun around in Liberty Square cursing the forefathers. What madness had brought us to this point?

Then a question formed in my mind: Why did I even want these mechanical contraptions to fling my body around in this old, sun-bleached park? I couldn’t intellectually puzzle out the answer. For some reason, my heart was still going all squeezy. I wanted—REALLY wanted—the pirate ride to whisk me away. Not only from the current Magic Kingdom disappointment, but from another, more omnipresent one.

Before leaving on our much-anticipated family vacation, I was consumed by a burning desire brought about by the recent completion of my first contemporary Young Adult novel (tentatively titled Conspiring to Be Mary). I had become infected with The Want of publishing. The Want of seeing a dazzling cover wrapped around the pages of my words. The Want of knowing readers would experience my story of a dreamy teen girl struggling to escape her isolated Alaskan town.

When I describe it—all this unrestrained wanting—I feel Roman-vomitorium-barf-so-you-can-shove-more-in-your-face hedonistic. Selfish. Narcissistic. Why do I even want this? I don’t remember wanting publication so badly when I was writing the novel. I just wanted to write it. A real story. A real book. With complex characters and love and sex and hurt and humor. Why in the aftermath of completion did The Want grow so strong that after only four unresponsive agent queries, crushing disappointment looms larger than a broken pirate ride?

Back in the Disney park, the pirate ride never opened. We did, however, take a brief spin around Big Thunder Mountain that turned out to be a small success because, similar to almost every other aspect of Magic Kingdom, BTM Florida was way lamer than the Disneyland version. We also survived The Haunted Mansion, though we were stuck awhile next to a ghostlady carrying a hatchet when the ride broke down, and stood in line for two hours to ride the worst ride of all time: The Jungle Ride. I still don’t get why people take pictures of fake safari animals. Those three rides concluded our visit and cost us about $100 each.

My point here isn’t really to dog on Magic Kingdom (well, maybe a little), or to whine about my first-world problems (which I’m totally doing). What I’m trying to understand here is the nature of Wanting and Disappointment. How do people cope with such heart-squeezing? I can’t be alone in feeling so terrible when metaphorical doors close. Or rides break. Or agents say, “Pass.”

To let myself feel all bleak and Death-Eaterly is embarrassing, not to mention pathetic, absurd, and pointless. How can I teach my daughter to manage through real failure, if I act like such a wreck over a closed ride? GAWD.

I remember watching an Oprah back in the day. There was this woman who believed that to want a thing wasn’t enough. To make a desire come true, you had to push reality to do your bidding. Like forcibly make a thing real. Let’s say she wanted to own a nicer house. She’d cut out pictures of the house and pin them up. She’d buy paint for the new house, as if she already owned it, and get fabric swatches for the drapes she’d have. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but what I remember is how The Want only served her as motivation for The Doing. Action. Moving the levers that were in her hands.

Okay, so the Oprah lady was a bit extreme, but the simple idea of taking charge seems reasonable. I sometimes angst around feeling all powerless, yet I know that’s not true. I DO generally believe people have far more control over their lives than they exert.

Remember how great it was in Diagon Alley??

Remember how great it was in Diagon Alley??

While standing in our final interminable Magic Kingdom line, my daughter suggested, “Look, let’s just cut our losses and go back to Harry Potter Land.” To which I argued, “No. No. No.” My mind dark, funneled down to one tiny pinhole of light, could see just one waterway to happiness, and it only existed inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Eventually though, I gave in to the practical wisdom offered by my twelve-year-old.

“We were having fun at Universal, remember? Remember, Mom, how fun that was?”

Yeah, I guess I did remember. Vaguely.

In my hands were the keys (not literally, since we’d taken a cab) to our happiness, and that happiness did NOT include pirates. Wizards, as it turns out, are WAY MORE FUN.

Here is where I’d like to reveal a deep kernel of insight gained by comparing The Story of How I Got over Disney to the inherent disappointment in agent-finding/book-publishing. But see, I’m still all sad and snivelly. I’m stuck in that Hoping Phase, loitering longingly in front of a pirate ride that could open at any moment. Maybe one of my four already-queried agents, guided by the hand of God, will dip her polished NYC fingertips into the famous Pile-O-Slush, pull out and read my submission, and email me something along these lines:

Dear Meagan,

My life was forever changed by Mary’s story. I laughed. I cried. I booked a cruise to Alaska. Please let me represent you. The world should not be denied the experience of this book.


Amazing Agent

Go with me here. How would that Oprah lady suggest making this letter and my subsequent book publication a reality? Perhaps I could collage my own book cover, start referring to “my agent” in conversation as if she really exists, or email the electronic copy of my book unsolicited to everyone I know. I dunno. These all seem pretty lame (read: CRAZY), especially my  faux agent response letter.

Here’s the thing. Wanting isn’t bad, really. But wallowing kinda is, and maybe I’m *slightly* responsible for my own disappointment. It’s POSSIBLE I could spend less time obsessing over my rejections (which could actually just be not-yet-acceptances) and spend more time writing. Yes, duh. There’s no real lesson here, other than, I guess, to have fun. To find fun? To decide to have fun?

I’m working on two new projects, and all I know is both are way more fun than incessantly checking my email for agent responses. At some point, I may get sick of waiting, like I did with the pirate ride, and move on. On the other hand, some rides, like Big Thunder Mountain, eventually open.houseelf


6 thoughts on “How Disney’s Magic Kingdom is like Publishing

  1. I’m wallowing with you… and I too have realized, it’s time to take action. Writing aside, I am a Disney World junkie. It never gets old for me… I admit this with a small dose of trepidation, but it’s the truth. 😉

  2. Glad to have found you here! I know the wanting you describe so well. I’ve come to realize that the heady glee that comes with any small publishing success is far less satisfying than the actual work of writing. I know this, but still. It’s so hard to keep my focus where it should be: the work, the work, the work.

    • Agreed, Jenn. The relationship between writing and communicating (an act that requires sharing with another person, right?) is a constant source of tension in me. I care about storymaking for the sake of it. I care about learning through writing, investigating ideas, and unearthing new insights. AND I care about forming relationships. With real people–readers!–who have interesting responses and new ideas. I care about dialogue. This is a too-long reply and really what I mean is THANK YOU for commenting and sharing your thoughts here. I’m still sifting through all my FEEEEEELIIIIINGS about writing and publishing. Obviously. 🙂

      • I hear ya. I’m always baffled by those people who say “I’d be writing this book even if I knew that no one would ever publish it.” I’m like, hmmmm. I’m really not sure that I’d bother. I write genuinely hoping that someone will read it someday and care.

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