I have been away for a week at a writing conference. It will take me a while to fully process the experience. There are layers that I must peel away like an onion and that will make my eyes sting as I prepare to slice through them. The experience changed me, as I needed to be changed.
On Thursday I met with the most distinguished man of the literary world that I will ever meet. It was as if I knelt at his feet; my offering of twenty pages stained with innocent ink, and hope littered in its white spaces. The chair he offered me was broken; a single cheek hung precariously off the one safe edge, my dignity struggled on the other.
He gazed at me through midnight transition lenses. Were his eyes making the glass darker or were his glasses turning his almond orbs into tiny spotlights revealing my absolute ineptness? Inept: That was the word he used to describe my story; or was it my writing, perhaps it was the author of it. He spoke to me as if it pained him; like the tin man grinding his un-oiled jaw, he was able to squeak only, “Drivel, folksy, backwoods.”
I felt the tears as they crawled up my organs, gaining momentum from all the emotional exercise I give them. I set my own jaw, knowing in this one heart beat of my life that I would not let the king of self-importance see my spirit leaking. I asked him a couple of questions: What did he think of the brother’s voice? He paused and for a split second his jelly-donut face oozed a cream-filled doubt. I asked him about my main character’s age and muteness, and he himself suddenly could not speak. If I could have moved my wooden hand, I would have slapped my forehead: He had not read beyond the first page-and-a-half.
He admitted it and told me he thought there was no market for my story and that he wasn’t sure anyone would understand it anyway. To make up for this slight, he picked apart my lack of a comma and a poor word choice until I understood my proper place once more: I was nobody. I understood it very well and a drawer shut in my mind. My story was placed inside and covered with a linen cloth.
I stood up when I had had enough; oh, and when he told me that he would only answer any questions that were related to what he had just discussed with me. There were none…only the barbed ones slicing through the sinew of my soul. I offered him my hand and thanked him for his ten minutes of time; twenty minutes less than we had set aside.
I left him in his unbroken chair.
My feet carried me away in a strange town. The tears marched their armies down my face until my lack of tissue was a problem. The bathroom was beside where he still sat. I unabashedly used my arm; it was a very ‘backwoods’ thing for me to do, maybe even a little ‘folksy.’ I decided not to tread too far from the afternoon session of the conference. My two sweet friends were saving me a seat inside; a seat I wasn’t planning to fill.
I chose a rather secluded bench and sat down, resting my aching pride. An elderly couple approached me and asked if they could have the seat. I obliged and stood outside the building my friends were in, until a camera man who was filming the conference set up his tripod right where I was standing. I found an unassuming rock and I did the only thing I knew: I wrote furiously in my notebook. I looked up and the camera was facing me.
I flinched. “Oh, am I in your way, AGAIN?”
The camera guy smiled, “Oh no. I’ve actually been filming you, if that’s okay. You are the epitome of what this conference is about.”
What irony. The conference, which hires the man, who breaks my heart, which causes me to write my sorrow, which prompts a person to be inspired, and include my moment in said conference’s video.
I opened that drawer in my head and took the story back out again, and I placed his words inside that drawer instead. And now I keep going; grateful for the experience, hungry to prove myself. And in my liberal use of the movie Pretty Woman:
Big Shot Editor: Yes, can I help you mere peasant person?
Rachel: I was here a few years back, you wouldn't read my story.
Big Shot Editor: Well, I never...
Rachel: Your literary journal prides itself on finding the best stories?
Big Shot Editor: Of course.
Rachel: Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go write now.