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Boxing the Octopus: all content copyright 2008 Colleen Thompson and Joni Rodgers all rights reserved.
One of the most virulent self-sabotaging viruses with which I inject myself is this compulsion to post-mortem meetings, parties, and conversations with my agent, editors, and memoir clients. Did I say the right thing? Did I talk too much? Did I sound too Southern? Southern enough? Was I supposed to eat the broccoli florets or were they a garnish? Should I email the hostess and explain that thing I said about not liking cats because what if she used to have a cat to which she was particularly attached and it was hit by a car driven by some jackass compassionless writer who boorishly eats garnishes and says whatever pops into her head at cocktail parties?
As a writer by profession and a hermit by nature, I've come to accept the fact that I am socially retarded. I try to mitigate by not drinking alcohol at parties or lunches. (So much healthier to drink alone late at night with only dogs to witness my pathetique.) I don't try to fake a more Midwestern accent or try to fake anything, in fact. I lack the organizational skills and short term memory to be successfully full of crap. I have to be myself, for better or worse, and then I have to go home, taking comfort in the simple fact that no one cares about me.
Truly, they don't. It's liberating. My presence in that office, restaurant, or professionally lit pool area has nothing to do with amusing anecdotes about my kids and everything to do with the market value of my skill. As long as I don't fall in the pool or set a parking valet on fire, I'll be remembered only by those who asked for my card -- and only a few of those will remember why they asked for it. And only a few of those will feel the need to follow up. (My follow up consists of "thank yous" only. It's important to me to avoid any whiff of hanger on; I let them come to me.) One lesson I'm still learning: when to go and when to stay home.
I was at a seriously star-studded party in LA last week, and I didn't fall in the pool or set anyone on fire, but on my way home, I felt rotten about it. I'm not going to any more of these things. In my post-mortem obsessing, I decided I probably did more networking than was kosher at a purely social function, and now I'm worried that the hugs and happiness with which I left my client after the final read-through of her manuscript are tainted by this image of some opportunist clumsily mingling in a halter dress and heels.
A few years back, I did a book with the mom of Tour de France wunderkind Lance Armstrong, and as luck would have it, Gary and I were in France that July, spelunking around the art caves in Dordogne. We caught up with le Tour in Besancon and watched Lance blaze the final time trial. His mom had hooked us up with passes to the VIP section in Paris, where she was going to be chilling with Sheryl Crow, Robin Williams, and that set.
As we stood in line at the airport, preparing to check in for our flight from Geneve to Paris, Gary and I looked at each other and just went...nah. We'd had so much fun on this trip, we didn't want it to end.
"We should go," said Gary. "I mean...if you really need to be there. For the book."
"I got everything I needed at the time trial," I shrugged. "There really isn't any reason for me to be there other than..." I didn't know how to complete the sentence. "Networking" maybe, but isn't that just a nice word for "sucking up"?
So instead of drinking champagne with the rich and famous in Paris, we spent the afternoon at an outdoor bar in Geneve, drinking beer and watching the final leg of le Tour on a Jumbotron, stupid in love after twenty-some years together, talking, laughing, totally enjoying each other. One of the reasons I hated that perfectly lovely party (full of perfectly nice people) last week was that it took place on Gary's birthday, and I spent the whole night wishing I was home in Houston, drinking beer and playing Scrabble with my old man.
Hollywood's a nice place to visit, but as the saying goes, I wouldn't want to live there. The tricky part is knowing when to leave.