Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Now Hiring: The Boss of Me

I need someone to tell me what to do. I need someone to sit me down each day and say, "Write X number of pages on this screenplay, send this book to a reviewer, write a synopsis for this book to submit to X publisher, read these articles, do yoga, now drink some coffee--no, not that much!" Et cetera.

There's so much I need to do right now to get my writing career off the ground again, and only one of those things is WRITE. That one I can handle--I've been doing it for almost ten years now. It's the other stuff--following the markets, making submissions, doing research, reading in my genres, deciding which of my many projects I should start or finish next--AAAAUGGH!

I should mention that I do technically have a boss, but she's extremely sweet and would never order me around, and besides, the stuff I do for her is for her, not me.

I need a manager. A strict one. What I would like is a market-savvy version of my dictatorial second grade teacher, Mrs. Daub. All I remember about her besides the fact that she seemed to hate seven-year-olds--to me, the most likable age of all--was that her husband sold canoes in the mall.

I also remember the time this kid Andy brought in his model trains he'd gotten on his trip to Chattanooga. The trains were passed from child to child for examination, and at the end of their journey, one of them was in two pieces. Mrs. Daub slipped effortlessly into Gestapo mode (if she weren't too old to be alive now, I'd suspect her of running Abu Ghraib). She went around the room and asked each student to describe the exact state of the train during the moments he or she possessed it.

I was, of course, near the end of the line. The hours of interrogation rolled by until I was in a state of panic. When it was my turn I stammered out--

I was a fearful child. In addition to the standard phobias such as monsters under the bed and in the closet, I was afraid of lightning, vacuum cleaners, the Blob, and balloons. I've outgrown all but the last. I was also afraid of sleep for a day or two, because in first grade our gym teacher told us this story about a boy who was running in the hall and fell and hit his head and got a concussion. The nurse told him to be sure to tell his mom when he got home, but he forgot, and that night he went to sleep and died in his sleep. Until that moment, I hadn't known you could die in your sleep. He was trying to tell a morality tale, I guess, about running in the halls, but he ended up freaking us all out about an activity that takes up a third of our life. He wasn't rehired the following year.
--------------END CONTEXT-------

I stammered out something like:
"Well, I, I was, um--when I got the train, I, um........I got the train and, uh, I turned it over--"


"...................um, I was--I was looking at the wheels, to see if--to see if they turned, and then--"

"Look, I don't want to hear your life story, I don't want to hear your thoughts about the engineering, and I don't want to hear how you were (mocking tone) 'looking at the wheels.' All I want to know is, was it broken when you got it?"


She moved on. The person after me said something about one of the trains feeling loose, and the kid after her, Freddie Meier, said, "Same here." Our teacher kept the five of us in the last group of desks (the prime suspects) through recess, while the rest of the class was released to their recreational pursuits.

Andy, meanwhile, was at a doctor's appointment during the Daub Commission hearings. When he returned, Mrs. Daub made me stand in front of the classroom in tears and tell him what had happened to his valuable show-and-tell prize.


"(incoherent blubbering) Nooooo....."

I sat down, condemned.


This is the best part.

THEN Mrs. Daub proceeded to tell the class how brave I had been and how she knew that I hadn't broken the trains after all. She said she knew that other children had been lying.

"And I'm looking at you, Freddie."

That was the end of it. When I saw my mom that afternoon and she asked if anything had happened in school today, I said nothing. Because even though I'd been publicly exonerated, I still felt responsible. To this day I carry shame for things I haven't done.

It just goes to show that you don't need to be Catholic or Jewish to have guilt. All you need to wear that Scapegoat costume comfortably is your own Mrs. Daub.

Well, this post took an odd turn, didn't it? Come to think of it, if I had her as a manager, even if she were market-savvy to the point of omniscience, I'd probably strangle her on the first morning.


This Side of Salvation

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Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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