I came without companion or acquaintance, the familiar path of finding one kindred soul and clinging to them never showed itself. Once I realized I could either melt into the shadowy corners or step forward and make something out of this time away from home, a new gear opened. I stared down the paneled rooms with their showy chandeliers and rose to stand to all of my five feet ten inches and walked straight into the experience.
These events are dizzying by necessity; sessions scheduled back-to-back, professional suitors inserting themselves between panel and bathroom, coffee and break-out session. The air was charged with an excitement, but every so often I could feel a crackle of something else, ferocity? The collision of so many aspirations and agendas made for moments of tension. I was happy to observe, keeping my tone light and my own hope guarded.
“Do you have a manuscript?”
I’d smile and defer, someone nearby was always more than happy to breathlessly interrupt with their idea.
“It’s a memoir, but it’s different ya know? Gritty, funny. Real,” she’d say, I’d smile and nod, ask a question or two. The conversation would wend its way back to family or career. I spent more time talking about my advertising agency and retail shop than I did my book.
I have 100+ pages of a manuscript sitting in my nightstand. The memory of each page is so vibrant, the time Sean sent me to the park with my laptop to work in peace; the mornings I woke before the dawn and resuscitated memories of my life years ago. Between those pages I kept my dream, using heartache and bad decisions to trudge my way up a ladder. My mentor read it, acknowledged the quality of writing, but off-handedly declared it wasn’t the story I was supposed to tell. I was stunned and so I kept writing and wondering if he was right.
“So, do you have a book idea?” I broke from my reverie, blinked and said that yes I did. “Two actually.” Sean’s warning echoed in my head, “Don’t give anyone your idea.” I’d thought he was silly to call out that warning, but I heeded his words. After the Publishing 101 panel that I live-blogged as part of my conference duties, I was sitting in a conference room, Kate Lee, the agent from ICM who spoke on the panel was checking email. I made a few jokes about the intensity of the session, then I asked about the threat of an idea being taken. She was very direct, as she was in her panel time, “Yeah, that will always be a risk.” I thought about it, “So it’s really just a leap of faith?” She nodded and said that it was.
I went about the rest of the conference with a new awareness. Penguin Books illuminated so many points that, along with the insight from people like Lauren Cerand (public relations), my path was suddenly clear: absorb everything possible and open myself to the next step. I mingled, dreamed and listened as so many things I already knew took root. It was revelatory to understand that I belonged, not because of any particular group of people, rather because I am a writer and I have a story to tell.
After the last session ended and the inaugural BlogHer Writer’s Conference was declared to be closed, I let myself be carried out onto the streets of Midtown Manhattan along with the throngs of guests dressed to the nines for some event or another. I walked lightly until I came to a clearing a few blocks from the hotel. I paused, indifferent to looking like a tourist, and drank in the halo of a wispy tree festooned with twinkly, white lights.
I’m home now. I’ve held my manuscript, tenderly looked at the pages Sean so lovingly laid out for me. I am proud of the words, but I know now the story I need to tell. It isn’t that one, not because a mentor said so, but because I know who is listening and what words will elicit the response that I have come to cherish here. It began to take shape months ago during a conversation Sean and I had. It’s good, better than good. The chapter outlines wink at me from a folder on my laptop. Pages already written propel me forward.
It’s when the ball is over, the fancy ensembles set aside and your unmade face staring back at you that you see your own magic. I am so grateful for the time away, made possible by my family and friends, that has me back at home, sleeves up and story pouring from my heart.