close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-7

Close Encounters of the Publishing Kind

It’s been a strange week. Not bad, not overly stressful, just strange. I haven’t quite kicked the insomnia, but it’s afforded me lots of time to get work done. While the rest of the world sleeps, I write, or I read deep into the wee hours and wake up with a book on my chest, open to the last page I tried to absorb. This week leaned strongly toward the bizarre.

I ran into someone that I didn’t expect to see ever again.

It started out as an uneventful week: teaching, writing, the usual. Sunday night I started feeling under the weather and went to bed early. Monday morning I awoke with the flu. Monday and Tuesday were spent on the couch hydrating and reading: an indie paranormal treat, a scary new bestseller, a bit of mystery, some romance; a variety style session of reading and sleeping.

Just what the doctor ordered.

Wednesday I awoke without the chills, went to work, and talked about narrative writing with my students. All day I had a feeling that something strange might occur. You know that feeling that tickles your neck but disappears the moment you look behind you?

That was the feeling. Eerie but often unfounded, I dismissed it again and again. I read too much dark stuff. Monsters are everywhere in the pages I turn. That must be it.

Walking through the city after work, I crossed Seventh Avenue and almost collided with a woman I used to work with. I said excuse me and walked a few steps, but then realization took me back. Glancing over my shoulder on the corner of 34th street during rush hour, I see a whole lot with one passing look.

Then I kept walking. Eyes averted, I left the scene. She may or may not have had a moment of recognition, but didn’t say a thing…at least not to me.

Some background: we were best friends. We don’t speak now…at all. We went to college together, meeting in an undergraduate literature class, and became best buds pretty quick. It was insane how much we had in common. Same major, graduated with our BAs together, made the same decision to stay there for the MA program. Better yet, same anxieties, same preferences in books, similar family issues, same passion for writing and of course both forced to glean responsibility, sacrifice childhood and grow up way too fast.

During school we both got internships and were later hired as editorial assistants at the same major publishing house: so happy to have someone who “got it” nearby. We slogged through countless manuscripts, spent time on myriad projects unrelated to what we wanted to work on, and tolerated monotonous grey cubicles lined with postcards of our editorial accomplishments tacked up as reminders. One day we would be on the other side of the desk.

One day they would be reading us.

So at the time, it seemed worth it to stuff a thousand jiffy bags a day with galleys. It seemed worth it to mail merge a zillion labels, aligning them perfectly in the center of the right side of postcards that would go to anyone and everyone in the book world. Sitting across from scrutinizing (and much younger) Williamsburgers with entitled glances, polished pumps and visible eating disorders, we worked our asses off.

There was indeed lots of fun to be had despite the fact that we weren’t slaves to fashion, did indeed enjoy reading, and even ate sandwiches in front of others! It wasn’t all torturous. Not at all. Even though my friend and I didn’t partake in the weekly happy hours with “them” and we didn’t engage in the hurtful insulting and petty trash talk that flowed faster than the presses, we did have some great times. There were book parties, readings, signings, unpredicted appearances by celebrities in the hallways, and of course seeing your name in someone’s acknowledgements…priceless.

The best part: we could tell each other anything. My best friend was just two floors down and I could pick up the phone and dial an extension for a one minute convo that would ease my stress. She would always brighten my day. It was great. I hadn’t had an intelligent, trustworthy female friend in…well…ever.

Both my friend and I loved to work with books, read incessantly, made enough to pay the rent while squeezing in writing between school, second jobs and family dramas. Everything else was just background noise.

One day we had a falling out.

Over what?

Nonsense.

We had a misunderstanding after a night of cocktails that erupted into the end of a friendship.

I thought about all of this and realized quite a bit in the span of a few seconds.

First, life went on just fine after we parted ways. I got a better job, bought a house, and then got an ever better job doing something I love. I look at the last five years and see nothing but progress.

Secondly, I thought about the circumstances surrounding our “breakup” and I recall trying my hardest to reconcile. My pleas came in the form of well thought out cards, emails, a letter or two and countless unanswered voicemails. All of which, fell on intentionally deaf ears. Lastly, and this is what hit me the hardest, she looked absolutely miserable.

We all have bad days, but this had to be one of her worst. She and another girl were engaged in one of those moments that nobody wants to have. My former friend was gesticulating wildly and in the midst of a venting session about…you guessed it: work! Her counterpart smiled tensely and nodded with faux understanding. I’d have bet my mortgage that the poor soul was wishing for a subway grate to suck her in. That would be less painful than being on the receiving end of that pointing finger if I recall correctly.

Pink cheeked and flustered, lugging two giant bags, she raged on: “They have no idea! They better stop messing around, get it together, and get the job done!” (I’ve kindly removed all expletives. Even I was taken aback for a split second, and I can be quite the potty mouth)

So I thought: “Same haircut, same purple lipstick, same commuting Nikes, same frustration about publishing job. Wow that sucks.” And I kept walking.

If there’s one thing I’m happy about these days is that I have time for myself. I write, I teach, and I get paid to do what I love. No more slush piles, no more Atkins bread thrown over my cubicle wall because I weighed more than ninety pounds (true story) and no more spoiled brats in adjoining cubes.

Life is good.

Sometimes we need these weird reminders of how far we’ve come. I’ve grown and progressed. Some people stay the same. Some of us don’t. Do I hold grudges? No way. Would I change a thing? Absolutely not.  I wish my former friend well and hope she finds happiness someday.

When you can live the life you want, everything else is just background noise.

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