FALLING AWAKE | Part of the gamble

Recently I was going through a file of old articles and I found a cover story I wrote for the Post-Intelligencer, illustrated by a drawing of a woman holding a stem that is reaching for the sidewalk. Clearly, I was desperately trying to find my place in Belltown and all that showed in the artist’s sketch.

Rereading the article reminded me of how bewildered I can feel in uncomfortable situations. To this day I fear this level of bewilderment when it strikes, and it struck hard this past weekend.

I was invited to Eugene, Ore. A woman heard me speak in Seattle and was “determined to create an event with you as our speaker!” There were 80 women present at her tea. I am lucky for the invitations I receive.

But luck is luck. And it can change.

Before I left for Eugene, I received an email. Would I pay a visit to a book club in the area?

Why not?

But bookclubs are tricky. Once the wine starts to flow, and it generally does, in vast amounts, I feel less and less a part of the club-ness.

The hostess picked me up and we drove into the hills. When a gate swung open, I started to feel anxious. When I spotted a bear rug tacked up by double front doors, I took my sunglasses off and said, “wow,” because I couldn’t think of anything else to say, and also because trophy killing always makes my anxiety rise.

It’s funny how one thing can make you realize you are in the wrong home with the wrong readers until your insides whisper: “Ut. Oh.”

But what I saw next made me think, “Help! Will someone please help me?” A collection of heads hung over the fireplace: wildebeest, zebra, rhinoceros, cheetah. The sight of them — horned, hairy, magnificent— broke my heart. She told me they were from Africa, because she seemed to think this mattered and that I would be impressed that her husband was a trophy hunter, and I wondered why she couldn’t see, or hadn’t thought that I, an artist, wouldn’t be appalled. I know this sounds like a stereotype, but in my case, I don’t even have words for how appalled.

I thought: How far apart this woman and I am. Yet, after reading my book, she said she felt she knew me. My God, why? Trophy hunting is an example of such brutal, individual entitlement I will never understand. I must have said something about this in my dang book, right?

Honestly, I couldn’t remember.

An outsider is a dangerous thing to be without true professionalism. From that moment on, I tried to project confidence. I read a page from my book, talked some. And, of course, the Q & A.

“Where do you get your inspiration?” The dreaded question. Because I don’t wait for inspiration. I go to work everyday whether I’m inspired to or not. Most days I don’t want to. I said — and I knew I was setting myself up — “Hillary Clinton inspires me.”

The room was silent for a while.

The hostess, embarrassed now, brought up Hillary’s “lie.” And I thought: Benghazi? Again? There is terror and war on so many fronts I can’t keep up and this is what you fixate on? What is it with Benghazi? What, what, what?  Why are women so hard on women?

Maybe it was the beady eyes of the Jackal that allowed me to speak with such honesty. “What is wrong with you people? How much harder does a woman have to work at something to prove she’s capable of the job?”

I was so proud of myself. So proud of speaking up this way!

There were 15 women present. I sold two books.

And that’s how it goes. Failure, like fear, is just part of the gamble.

MARY LOU SANELLI’s latest book is “A Woman Writing.” For her other writings, go to www.marylousanelli.com.