I knew, I knew when she mentioned her dead husband and two disabled children, that I was out of a deal.
This is a ruthless game, lacking any semblance of empathy or sacrifice. Frankly, I would hold the whole sad lot of them hostage if it resulted in taking me off the proverbial bench into the ruckus.
It’s publishing, the world I really, really, really want to be in. Allegedly, they (being the cumulative industry) don’t like the word “really” but this blog is the only outlet of power I have so who cares what they think.
I do, I absolutely, certainly and sincerely do.
There I was, seated in a large conservatory at Bloomsbury, the home of Harry, inside was brimming with choirs of chattering and pleasantries. I was attending a meet-an-agent session thrown by said publishing house. I wasn’t invited; I paid like the ferret I am. Why would I be asked? I’m a pleb, a nobody clothed in an outfit I couldn’t afford and clutching chapters from a book I needed to write. An agent was the first step in a long, winding road to Oz and a hardback in my hands.
“Hello, I’m Christopher what’s your name?”
The man seated next to me made me feel markedly better about myself. He was middle-aged with a dirty blonde comb-over and desperation washing his face
“I’m Danielle.” Thinking, here we go, I’m about to be showered with flirtations. I tossed my hair back in my usual evil way when approaching prey I’d rather play with than eat.
“Have you ever been to one of these?” He stammered in his Easter-egg blue blazer.
“Nope,” I said.
“This is my second time.” He chuckled. He looked down at my arm suddenly in a kind of wonder.
“What does your tattoo say?” He asked, still staring.
“Practice Resurrection, it’s from a poem I love by an American poet, kind of a pastoral narra–”
“–that’s amazing because the book I’m writing is about coincidence, rebirth and what the other world is trying to tell us.” He said in so many words. (I’m paraphrasing).
“Jesus.” Said my head voice. “Wow” replied my vocal chords.
“So your tattoo is essentially a sign–I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” His face lit up, and his eyes began considering me as if I were Mary of fucking Nazareth.
I doubted I was his salvation and his resolute delusion only worried me further as I looked around at all the eager faces, perhaps I too was hearing voices from beyond. I’m crazy; I knew it. This was a huge mistake. I decided the only way to fight such uncertainty was to ignore him and focus on my coffee until they ushered us into our various groups to chat with the big book fish.
The room was cozy, and a conference table was somehow squeezed amidst shelves and shelves of Bloomsbury titles. Ten of us wedged our bodies into seats as the two agents introduced themselves. I know agents, it felt stunningly familiar to all the times I was in rooms with the upper tier of Broadway while working for a Casting Agency in New York. The same gargantuan confidence and power exuded from the same ordinary looking people.
We introduced ourselves in turn and presented a blurb of our books. Lots of weight loss and history books, one woman was writing on behalf of an African refugee who was captured by rebels, blah blah. Another outside voice, reinterpreting one they barely understand. I did feel my eyeballs retreat to the back of my head with this. Then came the woman beside me, retelling her harrowing tale of losing her husband to cancer while caring for her four children, two of whom suffered from a very rare, entirely disabling genetic disorder.
“Fuck.” I mouthed while nodding empathetically. How the hell would I ever compete with that?
I could see the agents brightening at this torrid story like pigs in shit.
Christopher, the omnipotent wasn’t in my group thank goodness. When my turn came around my Caribbean accent rang out in the congregation of Englishes as I laid out my idea in a paragraph.
“… Jean Rhys for a new generation but with less prostitution.” I prided myself on that last line and could feel my shoulders shimmy in a little celebration.
“So it’s a bit like a Caribbean “Eat, Pray, Love?” Asked one agent.
My form wilted, “I can’t stand Elizabeth Gilbert, how dare you!” I wanted to say.
“Mmhmm.” is what I retorted, trying my best to hide the rage tick forming in my face.
I don’t ever want to be compared to someone like that. She encountered other cultures far more interesting that her own, whereas I came from such a fascinating place. Surely my perspective was superior to Gilbert’s. Wasn’t it?
I didn’t know which was worse, being crazy or wrong.
During the lunch break, Christopher approached me. “Can we switch our one-to-one sessions, I think I have a better chance with your person.” He asked, referring to the second half of the day when each writer has a 15-minute private meeting with our agent of choice.
Part of me started thinking like Christopher. Maybe this was a sign; maybe an opportunity is being offered to me from the universe, and I should listen. Maybe his meeting is the one meant for me?
“No, I think it’s best we stick with our own,” I replied. Being wrong was better.
“Oh alright.” He looked dejected, like I was a disappointing four leaf clover.
“He’s an odd one, scared the hell out of everyone in my session.” Came a voice from in front of me. Across my little table sat a lady with frazzled brown hair and terrible teeth. She wore chunky jewelry and reminded me of a university fine arts lecturer.
“Yes, he is,” I said. She was a former journalist who lived most of her adult life in Rio De Janeiro. She’d had a parrot whom she loved and a son and a husband. She spoke Portuguese and wanted to put together a book for her family. Simple.
Anyway. The day was full of characters. A woman who was a surrogate for her daughter. A Danish man writing about public speaking, who would then launch into a dull, overdone presentation every time he was asked about his work.
My meeting with the agent went better than I’d hoped. She asked for sample chapters. I floated home, thinking that all my downtrodden-ness was about to end. I emailed my whole package of two introductory chapters. The weeks that followed were full of nerves and jagged nail edges. I’d bitten them all down to the nubs.
Six weeks passed and I received another email from an associate of my hopeful agent. She wanted to read my chapters too. Ok! I sent them to her, in a kind of drunk glee. Popping imaginary bottles of champagne.
It’s best to be rejected around horses I’ve found. There I sat with my cousin’s horse Maria and her neighbour Harvey. I read the email over and over as Maria looked for carrots in my pocket.
“Don’t feel passionately enough about it…Don’t. Feel. Passionately. Enough. About. It.” The words drummed against my cranium like a black and decker.
Well, shit. I was punched in the gut, lolling around the animals in a depressed stupor for the rest of the afternoon.
For the next few days, I cried. I cried like a little bitch. I looked at my unfinished chapters and urged inspiration to take hold, to dig me out of the ragged feeling that I might never be that writer I’d visualized over and over in trains, planes, and automobiles. Hope would always be present in these moments, these daydreams. My headphones lodged in my ears, melodies streaming through my consciousness, dulling the outside and allowing me access to my musings as the world whipped by. It’s amazing how one person’s lack of passion in your thoughts can take that hope away so forcefully.
It’s starting to come back, slowly. The first venture into making my book a reality has been harrowing, I’m glad it’s over. I’m relieved I know what to expect for the next one hundred. Crazy psychics, disabled children and coffee, lots of coffee.
Christopher was wrong about the meaning of the words I have permanently etched on my arm. They were not there to be interpreted for his gain. They are my literary compass, and they remind me to keep shedding the charred skin from many burns and push backs.
I’m working on it. I’m practicing my resurrection like a motherfucker.