Frogs and Ponds
by Mary Ellen Stepanich
My growing-up years were spent in a sleepy little town in southern Indiana. My entire world was contained in just a few square miles. I was surrounded by my entire family – maternal and paternal grandparents, multiple aunts and uncles, 23 first cousins, and several “kissin’ cousins.” In the rural setting of my youth, “kissin’ cousins” were far enough removed on the family tree that they could marry without fear of producing idiot children.
I can still hear my grandfather saying, as he remarked about some local blowhard bully, “He’s gettin’ too big for his britches. He ain’t nothin’ but a big frog in a small pond.”
As you probably know, a “big frog in a small pond” is someone who is well known in his hometown, most popular in his neighborhood, or revered among his small circle of friends. On the other hand, most of us who are authors are struggling to become well known in a much larger environment. We want to be big frogs in a big pond. In other words, we long to become bestsellers in our chosen genres.
Something happened to me recently that clearly identified my status vis-a-vis frogs and ponds. I was shopping at a well-known retail establishment, searching for my preferred headache tablets. The product I was seeking was stocked on the lowest shelf in a side aisle. That meant I had to bend down in a most unattractive pose, with my derriere protruding into the narrow passageway while I rooted around trying to find my brand. An attractive older gentleman eased past me and stood nearby. I rose up in frustration, unable to find what I was seeking, and without thinking spoke out loud, “They never have what I want. I could just cry.”
The gentleman looked at me, and with a slight grin on his face, responded, “Why don’t you sing it instead?”
I was stunned. For a moment I said nothing, just looked at the fellow, trying to determine if I knew him. I didn’t. Finally, I found my voice and asked him, “How do you know I’m a singer?”
“I’m one of the stage hands at the Westbrook Follies. You were so good last year, so funny. I’m surprised you didn’t hear me backstage. I was howling over that ‘tit for tat’ line.” I was astonished because I’d had the impression the audience didn’t get the joke.
We chatted for a short while and then went our separate ways. But the incident made me think about a number of things.
First, it pointed out that we never know who is watching us, judging us, and forming opinions about our behavior and our talents – whether it’s singing, writing, or pole-vaulting. Second, even in our own neighborhood, it’s extremely gratifying to know that people think highly of us. In other words, it’s rather fun to be “a big frog in a small pond.”
I have never had aspirations to be “a big frog in a BIG pond,” even as far as my singing and performing is concerned. But I had held the absurd hope that I might one day become at least a medium-sized frog, a recognized writer – if not in the big pond of the world, at least among the people in my professional circle.
Of course, I’ve been singing and performing on stage (and at banquets and in living rooms) for more than 60 years. But I’ve been writing and publishing what I’ve written for fewer than four years. So, it’s no surprise that my frog size is rather diminutive in the pond of the printed word.
That’s my primary reason for belonging to the Phoenix Publishing & Book Promotion group.
Dr. Mary Ellen Stepanich is a retired professor of organizational behavior who always told her students at Purdue, “I’m very organized, but my behavior is a bit wonky.” She has published articles in academic journals (boring), show scripts for barbershop choruses and quartets (funny), and an award-winning radio play, “Voices from the Front,” for Sun Sounds of Arizona (heartrending). Mary Ellen lives in Peoria, Arizona, with her cat, Cookie, and blogs on her website, MaryEllenStepanich.com.