Now, I enjoy talking honestly about being a writer no matter who the listeners are.
So I don’t mean to exclude any one group from the above statement, but the academic world is not my favorite audience.
Generally, at the meet-and-greet, I’m welcomed wholeheartedly. There are smiles extended, handshakes, even hugs. But academia has a way of making me feel sized up before I even take off my coat. A wise friend put a cold reception like this, “People will often resent someone they’d rather be.”
During the Q & A, a woman in the second row back stood up and introduced herself by telling everyone that she wrote for a literary journal (I’d never heard of). Let me explain: this would be like introducing yourself to a Barista at Starbucks by explaining that you know a thing or two about coffee, too.
I was floored. And amused.
“And what you said about confidence is interesting,” she said.
“But ... “
It was after her second use of the phrase “having said that” that I began to twitch in my seat. After the third, I wanted to yell, “Enough! Let’s hit the Blue Moon! Who’s in?”
Let’s just say that woman brought back a deep-seated affection for my father’s way of dealing with “showoffs” or, basically, anyone with a better vocabulary than his. Even though I had worked my whole life to be “more open” to all opinions.
I think back to that woman and to the next, even more irritating thing she said about another writer’s (I’d never heard of, either) approach to confidence, and how mine seemed “contradictory,” and, honestly, I wanted to scream, “Oh no you don’t! Because I don’t do that. I don’t compare my writing to anyone else’s so why should you? It’s just another way of trying to impress your peers, but it has nothing to do with how I feel. Writing is what I love to do, so I do it. And when I’m asked to share it, it’s icing on the cake. And you are ruining my icing!”
Several times over the last few weeks, I’ve gone over in my head what I wished I’d said, “Most days I start off confident, but after I’ve put in the hours, I can start to feel a little nuts, like I’m totally losing it. And this heightened state of certainty vs. a sudden lack of confidence always reminds me how sound my mental health has to be in order to drive itself crazy like this. So, yes, I am a contradiction.” Pause. “And if you don’t yet understand this paradox, I promise, you will.”
Motivational speakers don’t take me all that seriously, either, I’m mostly fluff to them. But I’m okay with that. I more or less arrived at my speaking career through the back door, and before anyone could decide what it is that I was actually doing, I was already doing it.
And I like to make my audience laugh so when one member the local literati labeled me “a performer, primarily,” I thought, I’m okay with that, too.
I don’t think he’d sink so low as to compare what I do to, say, adult coloring books, but, ahem, having said that, I am not embarrassed to be “highly accessible” either. The only baffling thing about me so that no one knows what the heck I was trying to express when I was done, is my haircut.
P.S. I got it after one of the Salon Divas on 4th Avenue said my shoulder-length style was “tired.” After which, a lot of confusing, overly-complicated emotions shot through the air before I agreed to “multi-layered-shingling.”
Or, you know, a bob.
MARY LOU SANELLI is a writer, speaker, and choreographer. Her collection of essays, “A Woman Writing,” is available from Aequitas Books. She can be reached at www.marylousanelli.com.