Never in my life had I seen such a gathering of falseness. My senses were bombarded with haughty talk and the limp-wristed gestures that seem to be favored by those who like to call themselves authors. The classroom smelled like whiteout. That seemed strangely ironic to me at the time.
I’m just a thirty-year-old nobody, I thought. What in the hell am I doing here? I scanned the room to see if I could discern what was true and false. I didn’t uncover much of the former.
I found a speck of truth sitting in the corner of the room, just out of reach of the braggarts and on the fringe of the cloud of bullshit. Just like me. He sat still and calm – but inquisitive – like a guy who visits the local airport just to people watch. He was just observing, much like myself, but his posture was similar to a zoologist studying animals, while I was a house painter trying to understand Picasso.
I scanned the room for a seat, and eventually took one next to a fifty-something, oddly dressed woman with comfortable sandals and bad toes.
"I'm Marge." she said before I even managed to sit. "I'm from Cleveland."
"I'm Brett." After a quick handshake, I opened my notebook and prayed for the start of the class.
She kept glancing at me, like a sprinter waiting for the bang of the starter pistol. I looked straight ahead. She was poised and ready to tell me all about her plan to be the next Danielle Steele, but I was not going to give her the chance. I was worn out by the time the class began, and I had been there for exactly three minutes. I counted them.
I figured as much, I thought as the truth seeker from the far corner of the room took his place at the podium. He proceeded to give us an hour-long lecture on how to become a published author – minus the bullshit. It was quite humorous to see the faces in the room lose their cockiness as his words sunk in. I smiled as I thought about all the, I’m brilliant because I say so people who would not have the heart or desire to keep up with me.
I watched them check their watches and fidget. Some even got up and left, dreams dashed by the idea that no one was going to simply hand them a best seller. I noticed the woman sitting next to me – who I had affectionately named Snaggletoes - shifting in her seat. Apparently, she had lost the desire to tell me her story. It was glorious.
The one man in the room with the right to be arrogant was anything but, and I remember thinking that to be a refreshing change. He reminded me of the running back that scores a touchdown and then just returns to the huddle, no end zone dance, no back flip – like he’s done it a thousand times and has no interest in boasting. I felt I just had to shake the man’s hand after class, and I did. I went to my next class with renewed hope, and with my first role model firmly in place.
I looked over my schedule of events seeking something that I could use to better myself. What I found was an irresistible opportunity to witness the degradation of mankind. I originally wanted to see the performance poetry session, since I had never seen that kind of thing. I pictured it to be a room full of beatniks, dancing about in circles, barking out anti-war poetry while wearing Birkenstocks and berets. My assessment was incorrect, as I later learned, but I did not attend the class. Another attendee told me all about it over lunch. I regretted missing it, but the class I did attend was simply too interesting to miss.
I laughed aloud as I entered the packed room. They didn’t even have a seat for me, so I stood near the door. At the front of the class was the baby seal among the sharks – a literary agent. She spoke for about an hour to a hushed room of predatory wannabes. I imagined an African prairie; the lone antelope surrounded by the lionesses, the desks and chairs serving as the tall grass. I could see people with one leg in the aisle, waiting for her to say, “Thank you all for coming” so they could pounce. I chuckled out loud, but only for a moment.
The rest of that day and the next were spent wading through waves of crap in search of pearls - rewarding, but filthy. I discovered, as I have in any pursuit I have attempted, that people could be counted on to attempt almost anything to appear to be more than what they really are. The discovery proves comical every time.
For all its faults and headache-giving attendees, the conference did manage to end on a high note. The last thing on my schedule was an open microphone event, where aspiring authors get their opportunity to put up or shut up. The room was predictably vacant, with only those few of us on the fringe attending.
The highlight of the open mic would have to be the moment that a nine-year-old boy stood up and read the children’s book that he authored when he was seven. He smiled and joked about how the book was written “a long time ago” and that he has “gotten a lot better at writing since it came out”. I listened intently as he read the book in its entirety, which took all of five minutes. We all clapped when he finished, and the child ran off the stage into the waiting arms of his proud mother.
When all the reading was done, I walked over to the boy and shook his hand. I then walked out of the room, my second role model firmly in place.
Brett Pransky is a business columnist and mid-level executive with aspirations of becoming a fiction author and novelist. He has several article and short story publications under his belt, and is currently working on the first of what he hopes will be a series of novels. Brett resides in Columbus, Ohio, with his biggest fan, who happens to also be his wife.
Copyright 2003-2006 AntiMuse