I didn’t want to. I just did. Cry, that is.
I was actually having a lovely time at the “Conversations and Connections” writing conference until we hit the moment of speed dating with editors. I froze. Choked. Lost it. Whatever negative verb you want to pick, it probably fits.
The problem was partly that I’d brought the wrong stuff. I was thinking these were going to be agents talking more about the wider publishing industry, so I brought more of the “what would you think about a book with this kind of stuff?” material – two already-published pieces. What I should have brought to show the editors of literary magazines would have been that piece of fiction I’ve been working on forever or some poems or an excerpt from a piece of creative nonfiction I’ve been playing with.
But life has been too hectic for me to have had that stuff at the ready or to have even digested the confirmation email from the conference enough to understand what I was getting into. So I was unprepared to take advantage of a great opportunity, and, in my fatigue and overwhelm at the prospect of preparing our house to put on the market, I showed up at the speed dating door feeling like a literary loser, imposter, poseur who didn’t even deserve a seat at the table.
I stood in line with essays in hand, and when I heard they had more poetry editors than poets, I took someone’s advice to go upstairs to print some poems I have online. But when I got back downstairs, I just didn’t feel right about showing a rare piece in rhyme (published in a themed issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly) or a poem about my c-section. That’s not the kind of stuff I’d send to an open call in a mainstream literary magazine.
When I reached the room where all the editors sat, I felt like I was being asked to do some physical challenge in my high school experiential education class that terrified me. I could not imagine myself jumping off the ledge to reach the trapeze. As with that experience 20 years ago, the fact that I was terrified by the editor speed dating was even more upsetting than the terror itself.
So I walked out and ate my lunch, hoping this was more of a blood sugar issue than anything. And I even had a nice conversation and two-minute essay-swap with another writer (also a mom) in line, but as soon as I got to the door and the staffer asked, “Which genre?” I was at a loss.
A simple enough question, but at that moment, it came to me as a prompt for an identity crisis for someone who doesn’t really know what she wants to do when she grows up — or when her son (and possibly her not-yet-conceived second child grows up). The last thing I wanted to do was say really stupid stuff to an editor and/or break down and remember me as that basket case from the conference with the confessional c-section poem or the healing-your-inner-child essay.
Even though my friend from writing group was there with encouraging words, as was Hildie Block, with whom I once took a great workshop, I excused myself and started bawling in the elevator. I sobbed for a few minutes outside, eavesdropped on a woman telling someone on her cell phone that she’d spent a bunch of money for extra speed dating sessions and then offered her mine. Once she got of the phone, she said, “Do you want to talk? You’ll probably never see me again.” I declined and readied myself to trudge through the cold April rain back to the Metro where I distracted myself by reading Savage Love in the City Paper.
I called my husband and asked him to keep my son out — or at least out of the basement — until 5:00, when the conference was to have ended. And I finally sorted my writing as I’ve been needing to do for way too long. It’s finally in a filing cabinet and I have a much better sense of what I’ve got. (For prose, at least. Poetry is another story.)
I knew it was just one of those days when I needed to hit rock bottom — not unlike my birthday. If they start to happen more often (thank you blogging for helping me keep track of my mental health), I’ll have some motivation to get back to some groovy-happy habits that I never should have abandoned in the first place.
At least it was only $55. And there’s always next year.