You know what I hate the most about being an author who publishes her own books? Having to be my own publicist and promoter and network navigator. Not only does it require that I leave my cave, it also requires that I talk to strangers about my work in an assertive and confident way….which makes me feel vaguely ill. Especially when I don’t do it right and it blows up in my face.
Its one thing to be humble and shy and unassuming. Its quite another to just sound and look like a complete loser – BECAUSE one is too shy and meek and scared to assert otherwise.
Case in point. I was invited to attend a Commonwealth Short Film Premiere thingy. I’m not quite sure why I was invited. Its either because I’m a Samoan that’s written some books. Or because one of my stories got an award in a Commonwealth thingy a few years ago. (Or because they heard I never go anywhere and I have no friends and so they felt sorry for me.) Either way, I was very tempted not to go. Even though it would be an opportunity to meet with decision makers in the NZ/Commonwealth film and creative arts industry – the thought of hanging out with a bunch of strangers was not my idea of a good time. (I mean, heck I havent finished watching every episode of The Good Wife yet…) But, I reminded myself that I am a big girl. You can do this. How hard can it be? Big Son offered to babysit because “You need to go and network and promote yourself Mum.” When your own kid is trying to pep talk you – how can you chicken out? I put on clothes that hadnt been slept in and housework’ed in. I even brushed my hair and put makeup on!
I invited my fabulous niece to go with me because the Hot Man is away in Samoa. So there we were… We watched some interesting short films from different countries around the world. Then we attempted to mingle in an artsty, intellectually stimulating fashion with all the artsy, intellectually stimulating folks. The urge to bolt from the room was very strong. I tried – and failed to score myself some Diet Coke – so I was sorely missing in liquid courage. We ended up beside a lovely silver-haired lady in a very elegant black suit dress. I mistakenly assumed she was feeling ‘out of place’ and a little overwhelmed (like me.) We started chatting. I offered to get her a drink. She reassured us ‘it’s alright, thank you – my husband is getting one for me.’ We talked about the films. She asked which one we were connected with. I said none of them. She asked if we were in the film industry. I said no. You could tell she was trying to figure out what the hell we were doing there….the moment screamed for me to introduce myself with confidence and glowing assertiveness as ‘the author of the contemporary Pacific romance series Telesa’….
But I didnt. Just kept smiling like an idiot. Sipping juice wishing it was Diet Coke.
We talked about how important it is for Pacific stories to be told, to be shared, to be funded. She said, “I know there are many Samoan writers out there besides the great Albert Wendt, with stories to share. The Commonwealth Foundation wants to help get those stories told in print and on screen.”
Did I maximize that perfect moment? No. Shyness/stupidness/fearfulness all combined to make me say nothing. I kept smiling like an idiot. Sipping juice wishing it was Diet Coke.
Then the lovely woman’s husband joined us. It so happened that he is the former NZ Governor General. Who has just been appointed the new Chair of the Commonwealth Foundation (in the whole wide world.) With him was one of the NZ Film Commission bosses. The lovely woman greeted them eagerly, “I’ve been talking to these nice young ladies about the films. They really enjoyed them! They aren’t involved in the film making and just came because they were interested in the program. Isn’t that wonderful?”
The Film Commission boss lady asked, “So how did you hear about it? Did you just walk in off the street?”
That’s right. She thought we must have crashed their artsy party – for free juice and appetizers probably. I died inside. I babbled, “Umm, no, I heard about it…I got an email…” The Chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation and his lovely wife and the NZ Film Commission boss lady all nodded. Encouragingly. Probably thinking, ‘This woman is a loser.” I know that’s what I was thinking.
I smiled like an idiot and sipped juice – wishing it was straight shots of Jack Daniels so I could blame my idiocy on drunkennes. Or rocket fuel so I could set myself on fire in a blaze of humilation. Hey, maybe that’s why they only serve wine at these events? So people can get an alcoholic buzz and be brave enough to network?
I skulked away from them after that and drowned my shame by eating cake appetizers. I did no networking. No creative arts connecting. Nothing.
At home Big Son was not happy with me. “You didn’t introduce yourself? You didn’t network? You didn’t say ANYTHING about what you do? What a complete waste of time!”
I whined, “Its not easy for me to go out there you know. Baby steps. I went, didnt I? That was something? Give me some credit for that?”
He was bristling with outrage, “No it’s not. You always tell me, there’s no point just sitting in a class if you’re not going to engage with the material and with the teacher. That’s what you did last night. NOTHING! All you did was waste petrol getting there. I’m not going to babysit anymore if you’re going to be useless.”
“I looked nice though! And I smiled a lot. That’s something.” Was my lame defence.
Big Son’s response was curt. “Nobody cares if you looked nice.” He mimicked, “I wrote nothing on my exam paper but I was dressed really good and I smiled a lot during the exam. That counts doesn’t it?”
I had nothing to counterattack with. Why must this child be so incredibly clever? It’s very annoying. He left for school with these parting words, “I don’t want to hear anymore about it. I’m getting so mad thinking about how pitiful you were and how you wasted those opportunities.”
He was right. I was so depressed I had to go get donuts for breakfast to choke my sorrows.
What do we learn from this? Next time I get invited somewhere faintly strange and artistic – I should just stay home. Watch ‘Good Wife’. And drink lots of Diet Coke.