REMINDER: The questions posed in this occasional column are written by actual people.
Dear Savvy Sister,
I finished my novel last year and a junior agent read it. She said it was “pretty” and suggested that I rewrite the whole thing and add a plot. Sigh.
So I spent the last year studying the elements of storytelling with a brilliant guy in my community. We worked out a plot line and I’m rewriting.
Here’s my question. This new teacher of mine is a thirty-something, church-going, Catholic Republican with a brilliant literary mind. I can’t tell you how many times I stuck my foot in my mouth before I figured all that out. He is also the only man I’ve been close to since all my gay boyfriends died in the AIDS epidemic. I don’t know how to be around this guy. All my brothers-in-law are fools, my father died young, my stepbrothers and stepfathers were idiots. I’m a 55-year old lesbian in a terrific relationship with a wonderful woman but I’m having the hardest time getting along with this guy. It undermines my confidence in my ability to forge literary friendships in a profession that depends highly on whom you know and who will open a door for you.
It ocurred to me that the only one reason I feel the need to get along with a Republican Catholic church-going teacher is because he is my teacher. I’ve always had trouble with authoritarian figures. I think I just need to disengage. Again.
Stepfathers? Plural? How many did you have? Honestly, how some people survive childhood eludes me.
Listen, sweetie, it’s possible this has never happened to you because you’re, you know, gay, but I think you have a little crush on your man-teach. It’s okay! Don’t freak! It does not mean you’ve switched teams. Hey, I’m all about the testosterone, if you know what I mean, but I’ve had me many a crush on a cool chick. Hey, MKB? Are you reading this? When you were captain of our high school volleyball team and gave me rides home after practice, I THOUGHT YOU WERE THE BOMB.
You’ve got a couple of monumental issues here. The first is to find a way to be yourself around this guy, and in exploring this, you’ve stumbled upon one of the greatest dilemmas facing the world right now: our reluctance to be friends with people who think differently. Obviously, it never occurred to you that a Republican Catholic man would treat a middle-aged gay woman with dignity, respect, and even fondness. But you apparently (and unwittingly) tested him by saying all sorts of inappropriate things before you knew his mind slant. Maybe he’s not what you stereotyped him to be. Maybe he’s not a very good Catholic – meaning he thinks more clearly than, say, the pope. It sounds like maybe he *likes* you, because that’s What Jesus Would Do.
Stop thinking of this man as a church-going, Catholic Republican and start thinking of him as a brilliant mentor. If you feel compelled, have a chat with him: Listen, Ernest, do you have a problem with me being gay? If I’m wrong about him, and he points out that upon death, you will burn to a crisp just past the gates of hell, then ditch him. Really. No matter how gifted he is with brilliance, his perceptions of your abilities will be tainted by his belief that people like you should be exorcised, or at the very least, forgiven for your mere existence.
But my guess is that this guy thinks you’re Coolio, which means you owe him the privilege of stuffing your stereotypes about people like him into the dark recesses of your purse and letting him glimpse your own true self. You can be friends with a Republican! It’s true! I’ve done it myself, in fact! Don’t be so convinced of your righteousness that you slam doors in the faces of people trying to achieve goodness via a different route.
Your concerns about cultivating/maintaining relationships that can open doors for you is not so easily addressed. Full disclosure: I’ve got the same issue. Oprah? Oprah? Goddammit.
Your assertion is that literary publishing these days is all about who you know. But electronic publishing has changed everything. Increasingly, authors can be in charge of their own destinies, and can chart their own routes to success on either traditional or newly forged paths. Keep writing, little chicken, and continue to pursue publication – but don’t start thinking that your success depends on you being nice to some douchebag at a cocktail party. It doesn’t. Hold your head high and feel confident when you say, “I AM A WRITER,” regardless of whether your books reside on a retail bookshelf or in a REVISED NOVEL desktop icon. Investigate e-books and podcasts. Also, what the hell is a JUNIOR agent? Fuck ‘er.
If all else fails, you can collaborate with me on the My Left Hook Publishing empire, which will happily support the distribution of interesting, lively literature that’s properly punctuated and never contains the abbreviation LOL.
HAHAHA! Now that’s a real laugh.
Peace out, peeps.
the Savvy Sister.