Friday, May 17, 2019

The Pitch

I wanted to turn around and go home as I made my way to the third floor of the Hilton near LAX.  The parking lot had been jammed. I’d snagged the last spot and had tentatively filed in behind all the other aspiring writers toting laptops, files spilled out of tote bags, and the ultimate accessory, a coffee in hand. 

I’m at a Los Angeles writing conference to pitch my manuscript to an agent.  I’ve got three ten-minute pitches with three agents in between the morning sessions. I’ve written and rewritten the pitch countless times after calling on two friends and my sister to describe my manuscript in their own words.

My oldest son, Allan, told me to focus on the book. “No gimmicky sell, Mom.  Just be straightforward.”  

On the drive over, I’d tried to memorize my pitch. “Forget it,” I’d thought after numerous flubs and missing my exit on the freeway.

Way out of my comfort zone, I continued to the elevators. “I’ve got to keep at it,” I’d told my husband, Hank, after learning about this opportunity.  “This book’s a hard sell, a ‘quiet read,’ but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.”

All the triggers are creeping into my psyche as I check in at the desk. What am I doing! DO I actually think I have something to pitch? Is it good enough? Worthy? Look at all these writers. They have such a sense of ease, such a look of confidence. Perhaps they’ve been to this rodeo before, but I’m terrified!

I take a seat on the row of chairs facing the small ballroom that houses the agents. The carpet is a swirl of brown and olive green with random, galaxy-like circles ranging in size.  Who picks these hideous carpets? Is it to hide the stains?  This makes me smile, and I realize that humor is the tonic here. 

Around me, writers study their pitches, heads deep into a typed page, mouthing the words. Some are pacing. All shapes, sizes, genders and races and one writer has put his nametag on his dog, a large mixed-breed that he has brought today. “No gimmicks,” my son had said. I smile again.

“Ok!” blurts out a woman at the door. “All up for the 9:40 time slot!”

As they queue up, it hits me. This is f**ing American Idol for writers. Look at them, these last-minute contestants, rehearsing the pitch, adjusting a skirt, deep breathing and shifting their weight side to side. 

Who, I wonder, will get a golden ticket – the ticket to representation!

I feel the tension rise at 9:48 when the doorkeeper calls out the two-minute warning and the 9:50 group inches closer to the double doors.

Dim the lights.

“Exit right if you’re happy and left if you want to cry,” says the doorkeeper.

A writer directly in front of me is staring at himself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror.  Young-ish, he’s dressed “artsy” in designer skinny jeans, trendy sneakers, and a camouflage backpack. This one’s not starving, but clearly ambitious as he mouths his pitch in the mirror, his hands, emphasizing key points. A pointed finger here. Arms outstretched there.

I’m fascinated. Who can do this in front of people? Five minutes. Ten minutes. He’s still at it in the mirror when the doorkeeper yells the final call for 9:50. 

With one last look, he winks at himself and dashes for the double doors.

I’m competing with this? 

As my 10:00 time-slot ticks closer, my mouth becomes dry. My stomach is in knots and I stand to join the lineup that has just been called. I smooth out the paper nametag (my last name misspelled with an added “r”) stuck to the lapel of my blouse and wait.

“Ten o’clock,” the faux Ryan shouts. “You’re up!”

I straighten my shoulders as I walk through the double doors. “You got this, Heath,” I tell myself, and search for my first agent.

I make my way through the maze of one-on-one tables, a placard identifying the agent. I find my first agent and take a seat. We greet each other formally and before I start the pitch, I look back at the doorkeeper.

“I’ve just got to say before we get started, this is frigging American Idol. You’ve even got Ryan.”

She burst out laughing and my fear melted. Just like that.

“Be you,” Hank had said before I left that morning. “You’ve done the work. That’s enough.”

Dim the lights…

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Return to a Ritual

     I’m seated in an annex to the right of the nave with its own little altar. A beam above illuminates a modest depiction of Jesus on the cross, giving this smaller rendition a sense of quiet awe. 

     St. Andrews is Romanesque Revival, large in scale with thick rounded columns and high arches. The long pews that grace the nave are empty today. It’s almost noon on Wednesday during Holy Week and the Church is all dolled up. In front, there’s a thick red ribbon in swag across the entrance in recognition of this special time in the Catholic faith where Palm Sunday starts the week, followed by Holy (Maundy) Thursday, the retelling of the story of the Last Supper. On Good Friday, the church gathers in remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross and Easter Sunday rounds out the week celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

     I take a seat and wonder what to do.  Now what? Do I kneel? I don’t really remember the rites of Catholicism.

     My eyes settle on the rose-marbled column next to me. Then, to the grey-marbled steps that lead to the small altar. I study the striations. Strangely, this quiet, cavernous church calms me.  My eyes lift to the altar and I’m flooded with memories of attending Catholic schools for thirteen years and all that came with it - mandatory masses, the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and staying in the pew, alone at Communion time, as my baptized Catholic classmates queued up to take the wafer,  “the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

     So, why as a non-Catholic, do I return?  I’m Episcopal. Why a Catholic church?  Especially, given the scandals in the Catholic Church at present.

     Religion for me is all over the map. Just this past July I was moved by the Rabbi whose soothing voice brought the news of my mother’s passing on that 4:00am call. It was this same Rabbi who greeted us at The Jewish Home For The Aging an hour later, who comforted me as I approached my mother’s room, where she lay, to say my last goodbye. This Rabbi, so gentle and kind, so needed that morning.

     “You do death well,” I’d told him later. “I’m converting.”

     “It’s a lot of work,” he’d laughed. “You sure?”

     Gratitude pulled me to St. Andrews today.  Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I wondered if I’d even thanked God for the good things – a grandchild on the way, my husband and children happy, and in a good place, or even something as simple as the pink climbing rose outside our bedroom window. I know I sure as hell call on Him when it’s bad – he’s the Guy I pray to 3am when the “night thoughts” seep in like a leaky pipe. When I need solace. It’s as if I am reaching out for His hand to take mine and make it all ok when things have been tough.

But really, have I thanked Him lately for these blessings in my life? I stared into the darkness of our bedroom, wondering. Have I been so wrapped up in the good that I haven’t needed Him? 

As the sun came up with the morning choir of chirping birds, I woke with a mission. I needed to check in with the Man upstairs on His turf. What is termed, His house.

I believe that one’s house of God can merely be in a garden, or, perhaps a space in your head. I don’t think He really keeps score that way, but I’m here now in a Catholic church though I’m not a Catholic, and am thanking Him.

I’m not a regular churchgoer of any stripe, just a woman raised in Catholic Schools who is revisiting that strange comfort in ritual I’d found as a child.

It’s just a moment, a time, and a day in a week when I feel the need to stop and take stock. Things are good now and yet, I know that life is a series of ups and downs and things can change on a dime. But, for this moment, this day, it’s good. 

I cross my legs, place my hands in my lap and say a silent prayer.

Soon, the church bells ring in the noon. A petite, dark-haired woman around my age approaches. “If you’re staying for the weekday mass at 12:05, it’s in the chapel.”

“Thank you,” I say. 

I wait, hands still clasped in my lap. My eyes scan the small annex and I watch her leave through the double doors that lead to the chapel. Should I go? I tell myself I’ve done my thing and that God doesn’t keep score.

But I need more today.

          I rise and head to the chapel.