Something unusual happened when I served jury duty a while back, not just that I was excited about it. I struck up a sort of friendship with a fellow juror — I don’t recall her name, so we’ll call her Ann. She was very different from me, worked as an accountant, was years older, married, with children, while I was still years from all that.
Despite the differences, Ann and I were conversational, conspiratorial. She was friendly, albeit a little aloof. I was flattered, I guess, that she seemed interested in what I had to say. She was smart, well-spoken, dressed in expensive clothing and nice shoes – I didn’t recognize the brands, just that they weren’t from Payless or Target. When the trial was over, Ann invited me to a gathering at her house. Vague, just a “gathering.” I didn’t want to be rude and ask what kind of gathering, opting to chalk it up to that’s how rich, white working moms invite people over.
So I drove to Ann’s house, which was lovely. And large. At 4, 000 square feet her home was nearly 10 times larger than the apartment I lived in. Clean, new, not-thrift-store-bought furniture, a sunken living room. Ann met me at the door wearing only a smile.
Just kidding. Wanted to see if you were still paying attention.
Actually, Ann was dressed fine, sort of business casual. She led me from the foyer, through the sunken living room, back to a large den where twenty or so people of all ages milled about. A few light snacks were laid out on a dining table, and there were – I don’t know – packages of things, boxes, pamphlets. The event had an unusual vibe. The other guests weren’t unfriendly, but it all sort of reminded me of when I was nine years old in small-town Virginia and had just started Majorettes (remember baton twirling?). The girls and our moms had all gathered at the coach’s house for our first meeting. None of us really knew each other yet. Ann’s “gathering” kind of felt like that.
Then Ann started pitching Amway products.
Amway, the pyramid scheme multi-level marketing company in which sellers at the top get a cut of everything sold by people under them. The more sellers you recruit the more money you make. Simple as that.
I was a mark.
I’m slow sometimes, but I get there eventually, as my friend Marcia would say. I now saw the gleam in Ann’s eyes, the dollar signs. Her invitation had nothing to do with friendship or a desire to chat about our shared jury duty experience. Ann had seen nothing special in me. Feeling foolish and betrayed, I left.
A couple of months later, would you believe, this super cute guy asked me out to a “friendly gathering.” “What kind of gathering?” Vague response. I pressed. “I’m doing well with this business networking thing (or whatever euphemism the cult members employees had for it at the time). Maybe you’d like to check it out with me.” Sorry, cute guy, Amway is not my idea of a good first date. Next.
It’s easy to recall those memories when now, as an aspiring author, waves of advice crash all around me to promote, promote, promote. Start even before your book is sold, the blogs and tweets and writers’ magazines say. Show agents and publishers you know how to work the ‘net, that you’re the queen of social media, that you’ll be able to promote your book when it’s published. I get it; if you have no audience then you may as well not have a book. But what the advice-givers don’t mention is that this whole networking, community-building process could easily turn us into a bunch of Anns.
The artist’s lament? Sure. I want to sell books, but I won’t sell my soul. I love communicating with people in the online writing and reading community, sharing insights, fears, successes, and passion for literature. I don’t ever want to lose that. If, in this blog of mine, you ever see me mutating into an Ann, please, dear reader, slap me upside the head (in writing, please). Thank you.
P.S. If your name is Ann, I’m sorry I just tarnished it. I actually really like the name.