Snow Day

When I woke up for “work” this morning, I had a voice mail message: one co-worker was sick, the other co-worker was getting sick, and since they were the only two would be at the “office,” I couldn’t go in. It’s like a snow day, my girlfriend said to me, turning off the alarm.

Except it wasn’t. Thursdays are my favorite day of the week. My “work” is an unpaid internship at a literary agency in Tiburon. My “office” is a gorgeous cottage on a winding road atop a hill so steep I can barely walk up it. There are views of the bay. Inside, it is like the unused study in a railroad baron’s mansion (which doesn’t bode well for ergonomics), bookshelves and desks built into the walls, leather couches, a fireplace and hanging above, a portrait of a man–probably a literary figure I should know–who appears to be missing his eyeglass and pipe.

It is a three-step journey for me to get to work. I get up around 6:20, ride my bike a couple miles to my co-worker’s house. We drive to Crissy Field, park, and carpool with the other co-worker over the Golden Gate Bridge to Tiburon. I’m not sure how long all the traveling takes, 1-1.5 hours maybe.

I don’t know how long it takes because I like the trip and I like the office. I like hearing my alarm signal me to prepare for an actual responsibility. I like that I keep busy on Thursdays, and that I escape the aimlessness of my self-structured days. I don’t even mind that I’m not paid. I just pretend the whole day is a book-themed field trip adventure to the breathtaking stomping grounds of the wealthy. Or something like that.

I spend most of the day reading unsolicited novel manuscripts and nonfiction proposals. Most of what I read is pretty damn poor (yet not without merit). I sign a lot of rejection letters. Before deciding I’m a power-mongering killer of dreams, remember that I also receive rejection letters, often after spending an entire day writing them. Being on both sides, as a writer and a gatekeeper, keeps all this publishing shenanigans in perspective for me. Sometimes it really does matters whether the reader has or hasn’t had his espresso before reading your submission.

My favorite part of the day is the morning, before I’m jaded and have paper cuts. When I’m hopeful that even though a best-selling manuscipt won’t be inside, I’ll meet an intriguing person. I have opened submission packages from the delusional predicting apocalypse, serving convicts, veterans (of the Iraq, Vietnam, and Gulf wars), people who write at elementary school levels, and those who have produced thousands of self-published pages. The mail pours in from every state in the U.S and from many countries, from people who have had painful lives, unique lives, accomplished lives. From people who are hopeful, humble, honest, desperate, yearning. Writers.

Not that all of the above makes for awesome literature. But sometimes it seems that in the worst writing there is the most inspiration. If Joe Schmoe in Nebraska is still going strong after pumping out his ninth unpublished horror thriller that is “a cross between Stephen King and Dan Brown,” then who am I to dust the ceiling when I could be writing. Other people are trying. They are sitting at their computers, seeking fame and fortune, desiring to entertain, communicate, connect, exorcise demons, and solidify in permanent ink a legacy that expresses, magnifies, refracts, and elucidates a life lived.

My mom had a snow day today. In New Jersey. But it was warm in San Francisco, hot in the mid-day sun. And it certainly wasn’t a snow day. It was just a day in which I missed crossing the paths of other writers.

3 Responses to “ Snow Day ”

  1. Harbeer Says:

    I was a literary agent for over two years in NYC (if you count the unpaid internship period). The worst submissions came from people who’d always wanted to be a writer but went to law school instead, and now they’re rich and retired and finally have the time…and if they were ever good, well, “use it or lose it” as they say. It’s great work though, but I ended up quitting because, despite the easy hours and whatnot, I blamed the fact that I didn’t want to write when I got home in the evening and on the weekends on the hours I spent on others’ writing all day. Who knows–maybe it was a legitimate gripe or maybe it was a lame excuse, I’m not saying I have any regrets.

    On another note, I found this sentence interesting “Sometimes it really does matters whether the reader has or hasn’t had his espresso before reading your submission,” because I take pains to ALWAYS use the feminine when I employ a general pronoun. ALWAYS. I think I was definitively convinced, ironically, by another man, Rob Brezsny, who wrote, “it’s only fair that for the next 3,000 years we use ‘her’ for the generic singular pronoun instead of ‘him.'”

  2. nina Says:

    I constantly struggle with whether to use masculine or feminine when using a general pronoun. Sometimes I say “they,” which is poor grammar. Sometimes I say “he or she,” which sounds bad. In this instance, I said “he” to be clear that I wasn’t talking about myself with the espresso. And well, if I were a man, I would probably take pains to always use the feminine. However, I’m someone who is seen as a woman but who is much more comfortable being regarded as a man and who prefers being referred to as “he” over “she.” While you may be making up for thousands of years of patriarchy, sometimes I choose the masculine simply as a personal preference to make up for the 29 years in which I’ve had to listen to the ill-fitting “she.” I think pronouns are way more complicated than they often seem. There is an entire chapter, more or less, about them in my major project.

    And I didn’t know you worked at a literary agency. I will have to bug you about that sometime. If I worked at a literary agency everyday, I certainly wouldn’t be writing. Which is why I only work there one day a week.

  3. Harbeer Says:

    Yup. That job was cake in so many ways, and I’ve still got some contacts, too. Damn, it was a long time ago, though.

    I understand the pronoun thing is more complicated for you, it’s just that I noticed it and so I mentioned it. here is an argument for “they.”

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