I have a weird Twitter handle. Nine years ago, when I was told by my new publisher to join Twitter, @HeatherHuffman was already taken. All of the obvious spinoffs were too long, and I am like a deer in headlights when it comes to choosing usernames. So, after weeks of trying to come up with a name/driving my family crazy, my sister suggested @Heathers_mark. (The underscore was so it wouldn’t read Heather Smark.) It seemed fitting and I was tired of thinking about it, so I went with it.
Aside from raising awareness for social justice issues like human trafficking and the failures of our current foster care system, a common theme in my novels is that we all have a unique mark to leave on this world. My tagline at the time was Leave Your Mark. It all evolved into graffiti parties instead of typical book launches. They were incredibly fun parties. The venue was a pub on Cherokee Street that was featured in several of the novels. Musician John Bartley, the inspiration behind the character Danny, played at them. Readers, friends, and family came from all over the country to launch my book babies in style. I hung giant painters canvas from the walls and everyone who attended signed or graffitied them.
Those tarps went on book tours with me. They went to fundraisers to fight trafficking and liberate captives from North Korea. They went to school talks, where 8th graders learned about modern day slavery, internet safety, and activism. People of all ages from all over the country signed those tarps, acknowledging that they, too, had a mark to leave on this world.
That time in my life — that campaign, those talks, those books — they are what I am most proud of (aside from my children).
And then life changed and through a series of unfortunate events (and unfortunate choices) I was forced to set aside the words and the causes and return to corporate America because kids require things like warm shelter and food in their bellies. (Needy little buggers)
And during the quiet years, life became less about leaving my mark and more about surviving and healing. It was a time of transition and pain and joy and growth and, ultimately, finding peace. During these silent years, I began to wonder if the mark I’d left was worth much at all. I gave talks about human trafficking to schools and women’s groups, but I’ve never had the impact of one sentence from Ashton Kutcher. The money I’d donated from book royalties was a joke compared to what he’d done. I began to feel silly. Useless.
It was too big of a problem for me to handle and there were so many other injustices I wanted to tackle that I didn’t even know where to start.
And then I got an email from a 70-year-old reader who said she’d learned about human trafficking through my books, so now she always keeps an eye out for it. This year marks a decade since Throwaway made its debut and I still regularly hear from readers who want me to know what the book meant to them. That is a rare and beautiful gift, and one I do not take lightly. The entire conversation with that reader is one I treasure on many levels, and I don’t think she’ll ever realize how timely it was for me. She reminded me that we don’t always know what kind of impact we’re having on other people, so we should keep doing what we know to be right even if we don’t see the results.
Not long ago, I was discussing climate change with my son and we were debating whether the responsibility for change lies with the individual or with corporations. I argued that while corporations certainly have the ability to make a greater impact, there are 7 billion people in the world. Surely if each of those 7 billion people did one little thing to help the climate, the cumulative effect would be great. Fast forward a month, and stories began to hit social media of the reduction in pollution thanks to quarantine.
Whether we intend them or not, our actions have impact. The ripple caused by our choices touches others, and we have no way of knowing how far it reaches. Not really.
I am realizing I got it wrong ten years ago when I encouraged people to leave their mark. Because we will all leave a mark of some sort on this world. It’s up to us to decide what that mark will be, for better or for worse. Rather than #leaveyourmark, I think the appropriate hashtag is #chooseyourmark.
There is so much about our world right now that breaks my heart. I can’t begin to know how to fix any of it. I know cognitively that control is only an illusion, we never really have it, but my life feels especially out of my control at the moment. If I can’t begin to know how to fix my problems, those of the world at large most definitely elude me.
So, I’ve decided to tackle the little things I can fix. I’m making a concerted effort to be kind to those around me — my children, my coworkers, the clerk at the grocery store… pretty much anyone I encounter. I ordered laundry strips and am switching our soap products to reduce the amount of plastic my family adds to the landfills. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a start. And, being totally transparent, the nice thing really is taking a bit of effort at the moment.
I can’t say if I will ever have any kind of grand impact on this world. Hell, I’m almost 43 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I have failed abysmally at choosing a life partner, I fumble my way through parenting, and most days I struggle to free the words trapped inside me.
But I can do little things to make the world around me brighter. I can encourage my children as they find their own path. Inch by inch, I can do my part to leave this world better for my having been in it.
Right now, the world needs all the brightness it can get, so I encourage each of you to look around you for the opportunities to make it better. I want to hear from you - what is your mark? What’s the thing you give the world to make it a better place? I promise you have something you’re capable of doing, whatever your circumstance. Share it with me and use the hashtag #chooseyourmark if you’re on social media.
The world is filled with an awful lot of darkness right now. Let’s see if we can shine a light together to make it a bit brighter.