“Some of us were talking, and we think you’re adorable.”

A fifty-year-old woman told me that I was adorable after I pitched a book idea. It was called The Awkward Years Including This One, and everybody laughed when they heard the title. I spoke with two agents and an editor and a publisher, and surely they’d be so taken with me that they’d sign me right there. “It’s a coming-of-age story about me, a twenty-nine-year-old man, wrestling with faith, women, vocation, and public restrooms.”

Everyone was smiling, leaning in. I was doing it. I was really doing it. This was the moment I had been waiting for. I was about to get signed onto a major book deal. Or signed into one. Or through one. I am professional. I am kind. I am smart. I am important.

I was in a room of forty people, and I was unprepared to pitch my book. Mostly because I didn’t have a book. I had 80,000 words in the form of essays, sitting on a cloud. The Cloud. “Show of hands: who wants to pitch?” We were facing the panel and moderator, and my hand did not go up. Two hands went up. “That’s it?”

My hand went up.

I paid for this conference, dammit, so you will listen to every word I have to say! Please. I am now paying for embarrassment, I thought. This used to be free. The moderator passed out small pieces of paper, and I wrote my name.

He explained the rules: go up, pitch, listen to critique, sit down. This may not sound like a big deal, but the people on the panel all wore fantastic, “don’t-waste-my-time” faces and they held the key to our futures. If we smacked a home run, these four Shark Tanks would X-Factor us, slam a red button, and the floor would drop out and we’d be rocketed into super stardom. Plus we were all scared writers, secretly thinking everyone else was a better speaker, writer, and human being.

This was a big deal.

I started scribbling ideas in my journal: “The Awkward Years Including This One” A series of essays humorous essays documenting about growing up including and trying to

The first name was selected.
Dear God.
Please don’t let it be me.
A woman’s name.

She walked to the front and pitched. “I’m a professor at MIT and I have multiple degrees—”

Ah crap. I suddenly became very aware of my shortcomings: namely, my lack of any credentials at all.
Another name was called.
Dear God please no.
Another woman went up.

Furious notes: A coming of age story, through a series of essays documenting the brutal + hilarious situations I find myself wading through struggles–

Another name.
Another prayer.

I will tell them that I don’t want to waste their time. They’ll be so impressed, they’ll sign me. The ol’ noo I couldn’t possibly, but please ask me again and again until I say yes.

Another name.
Another prayer.
Another woman.

“Next up…Bart…Toshi?”
“That’s me, it’s pronounced like bocce.”
Small laughter. It wasn’t even a joke.
“Try writing Bartholomew as a kindergartener. What a nightmare.”
Healthy laughter.
“Okay, go ahead!”

I pitched the project, had their undivided attention, and they loved it and asked me questions:

“Have you ever been published?”
“Do you have your MFA?”
“How often are you submitting pieces?”
“Not often.”
“You have to figure out what this project is, because a memoir cannot be a series of essays…”
“…Great, where do I sign? Or do you sign? Who signs what?”

I did not say that last part.

Despite the four reasons for imminent failure, I was flying. This was fantastic! These people loved my idea! They loved me! No MFA? Who cares?! I’m doing very, very well, thank you.

And then the session ended and a lady told me I was adorable and the conference ended, and it was Monday at work.

Adorable. Was that it? Was that…it? Babies are adorable. Puppies are adorable. I was told once that if I was a model for a boring clothing catalogue it would be Eddie Bauer. Nothing adorable about Eddie Bauer! Did they just like me because they thought I was charming? And these writer-people will laugh at anything. Speakers would say “goodmorning!” and the crowd would lose it…I couldn’t trust them. No, this pitch was a fluke.

I’m back at the office, staring at my screen, drinking my coffee and two percent milk, wearing the pants that used to fit really well and the shirt that got burned by the drier and I’m scrolling through emails and scanning random to-do lists that I re-make every forty-five seconds. “Call Bill,” “Email Rachel,” “High-five Greg.”

Everything is undoable, nothing is funny, every email overwhelming, every request from a coworker a terrible intrusion. I started to feel sorry for myself. I sat in that puddle of despair and couldn’t step out. I went home and watched Manchester by the Sea because I wanted to feel more sad, and that worked. A friend told me about another wrecking ball of a movie called Crash Reel, so I set it up, stepped in front, and let that destroy me, too.

My sister called and asked how I was doing and I said not so good. I told her I was on top of the world Friday through Sunday, and I was sulking in the world’s basement with the lights off on Monday. I told her about how I was so excited to do all these things that I learned over the weekend—I had a plan, I wasn’t just good—I was a great writer, I was going to make it. Wherever it is. Then Monday came and you know the rest.

When the despair finally lifted, I realized that I haven’t been willing to do the work. I’ve been showing up inconsistently, trying to hit home runs. I’m swinging hard at the first three pitches, striking out, getting upset, repeating. The problem is, I am not a home run hitter. I am a base-hitter.

So my new life starts today with new, achievable, goals: show up, one at-bat at a time, one swing at a time, get base-hits, be steady, conquer the entire world.

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