I have good parking karma. When my mom was in town last weekend, still very sick and weak and unable to walk long distances, I got a front row spot, and I mean the very FRONT spot, at every single store we visited–four of them one afternoon.

Mom was aghast. “This is Austin,” she said, gesturing to the SUVs circling the lot with malicious carnality. “How did you manage all these good spots?” She was relieved, no doubt. The temperature was over 100 and she lost energy fast, as she has since eight rounds of chemo and twenty rounds of radiation.

I explained. “I never ever, not once, cut someone off for a parking spot. If I am alone in the car, I never take a front spot, even when it’s open. I leave it for someone who needs it–someone with little kids, or someone older, or just tired or in a hurry. I park near the back and walk.”

We entered the craft store to a rush of air conditioning. “And so this gets you good spots when you need it.”

“Almost always,” I said. “That’s why everyone else always makes me drive to Sixth Street!”

I wished this karma worked with more critical parts of my life. Since high school I have helped others with their writing–fixing term papers, editing newspaper stories. In college my friend Janel and I would escape to empty computer labs and pace the room, spouting lead sentences for our Daily Texan features to each other until they satisfied our critical ears.

In my novel group, I’ve critiqued endlessly, read entire newbie novels, rewritten query letters and reviewed synopses. Sometimes I’ve put in days or weeks of work to help someone else. The other day I did a bit of research to help a friend send a killer proposal to the very same agent I had also sent my book to. And her novel is superior to mine, a better fit even for the agency.

But the karma fails here. Others do read my stories and give me valid criticism when I ask, although I’ve found sometimes they feel they can’t help me figure out what dissatisfies me about a particular work. And I have had stories published, which I suppose is more than some ever manage, so I should be grateful.

But the big payoff, the super proud moment of some national publication, some prestigious lit mag, or the Holy Grail–a novel contract–eludes me despite this being the third time in my life I have devoted all my energy to it.

Maybe some small parts of our social network, like parking, work into the weave of the universe’s checks and balances easily, not unlike needlepoint on a tapestry, one long thread that helps create a larger more complex image.

But the big things–wealth, fame, approval, validation, reward–those are independent of how we act or live or help others. They are random, unprejudiced, rare. Not merit based or even considerate of need. Like the lottery. I know that in order to win, you have to buy the tickets. You have to get in the game. And I’ve done that, devoted years of creative energy and time, sometimes with great sacrifice, like spending all the grocery money on Quick Picks, just to take the chance. But fate isn’t Karmic when it comes to this.

I remain the one everyone says they owe. But fail myself. No debts. But no bonus either.

Instead I revel in my little glory. A rainy day. Two pouty kids. A desperate need for Kraft Easy Mac–right NOW! And a car slides out of a spot by the grocery store door. So I take it.

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