On Politics, Liberalism And Being A Snowflake

Boots On The Ground

The year was 2000. I filed my first tax return. I think I was owed money from the government. I am not sure but I did not follow-up or deem it worth my time to find out. I was young, unencumbered and singularly apolitical. In the few years I had been eligible to vote, I chose not to exercise my franchise and I was proud of it. Often I remarked to friends that all parties concerned were horrible and what was the point of voting one in over another. I sat in a tiny circle of intellectual, politically aware friends feeling alien. The conversation was intense, their engagement a puzzle. Most of the issues they talked about went straight over my head.

Then I moved to the US. I worked, studied, paid taxes and did little to interact or engage in anything for two reasons. I was not a citizen. Paying taxes was not optional. All I knew was that the US has a President, not a Prime Minister and that elections were not the vibrant, chaotic, loud carnival it was in India. Over the years I figured that there were two parties. Beyond that I could not be bothered to figure out where I lay on that curve, what was it I believed in and what was worth fighting for.

All this changed in 2010. I became a mother. I became a citizen. The two were seemingly unrelated until the 2012 election. For the first time in my adult life I wanted to be part of the electorate that decided what policies would govern us for the next few years. The choice seemed obvious to me. I registered as a democrat and rooted for Obama. In the rare conversations that arose about politics, my friends tended republican and their resonant cry was “Why should I pay taxes to subsidize xyz for people who do not contribute to the tax pool?”

“Why indeed?” I wondered but felt strongly enough about womens’ rights and marriage equality that it overrode every other feeling I had. I did not pause to think. Then a few more things happened that affected me personally. I now had in my family children who were part of another family that was disproportionately affected by the policies that less government meant.

These people I had grown to love and respect did not wait for government handouts because they wanted to laze around and do nothing. On the contrary they needed a hand up so they could pull themselves up from situations that were circumstantial. They strived hard to go to college, to find jobs while they battled illnesses that consumed them because of their surroundings. They were the product of generations of sub-par policies. I cannot generalize and will not attempt to do that, however, it opened my eyes to very real need that exists. That religious and governmental interference on women’s bodies was not to be tolerated. That there were women and children who suffered because of these policies.

My children go to public schools. They are blessed with teachers who are vested in their success. The special education program has seen my children improve by leaps and bounds. That includes guidelines from the education department at Federal and State levels. Specialists  who evaluate children to figure out how best to help them. Tools and resources to optimize the time my children spend at school. Extended school year programs to make sure my children do not regress too much as they start a new grade.

As a mother of a neurotypical child, I probably would have wondered why schools need so much funding when my child is not using many of those services. As the mother of children who need help, I am beyond grateful to see my tax dollars at work raising the next generation of citizens to be productive, functioning adults.

All this because of investment in public schools and policies that are inclusive. The current political climate is aiming at destroying those provisions in exchange for lower taxes and cronyism. This is now personal.

My mother who has not paid into the social security system and who will one day be a citizen here will be bankrupt by the medical insurance industry if not for Medicaid. This is a system into which my husband and I have contributed for over 20 years without the expectation of anything in return. We are not talking of the impoverished here. I called many clinics for a consultation for my mother and was told I could not have an appointment because they do not take on patients without insurance. This, even when I was willing to pay out-of-pocket. The system is broken. There seems to be no will to fix anything but a savage need to destroy what little exists.

I am termed a snowflake and a liberal. I had to look up those terms. I realized that I am a liberal and perhaps a snowflake and I am darned proud of it. If I have been rabidly apolitical, the year 2016 made sure I morphed into someone who now knows more than the fact that there are two parties. I am actively engaged in finding out how local politics work. I am aware and listening. I am willing to raise my voice where it counts. I call, fax, email my representatives so my voice counts. I am now part of this system of humans who can make a change. The government which until recently was an alien, monolithic black box now appears to me like a beehive. A hub of active, dissonant voices doing their best to protect interests and going beyond the self. We may have failed as a nation in 2016. I sure hope 2018 and 2020 will change. Government and politics I now realize are the people. People like me.

Of Standing In Judgement

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A couple of days back, we sat as a family at the dinner table passing rotis and subzi and talking about our day when Pattu decided to show us her newfound trick of drinking water from a tumbler without touching it to her lips. We were suitably awed and I quipped “you have earned your last name.”

Even as I did, I felt uncomfortable. The kind of unease that comes from referencing problematic heritage. The fact that I take pride on and yet feel responsible for a subtle condescension for those who cannot drink that way. The moment passed only to insinuate itself into my head later at night as I sat at the computer browsing Twitter.

A week earlier, I read Alex Tizon’s recent viral piece on modern-day slavery. Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido called Lola by her family. I remember reading that piece and marveling at how well the essay was written even as I wanted to stop reading because of how it made me feel. I paused, read, reread and let it sit with me. The essay brought many feelings to the fore. Sadness, affection, horror, anger, empathy and a sense of resignation. It also felt uncomfortably familiar.

Pulido’s story is one of being sold, possessed and eventually set free though some might question the choice of the word free. She lived to primarily serve the family she was with. She toiled without question, was treated as subhuman and eventually it took the author until he was past his prime to realize and try to undo what his family had subjected the woman to. We hear of the story only through the author’s voice and are left wondering what it would have been like to hear Pulido tell her story.

Even as the piece went viral, the strident note from the western audience was one of horror, singularly missing the cultural connection and an inability to look at what perpetuates this kind of abuse. My first thought when I finished reading the story was that had this happened now, she would have been Sangeetha Richard. A difference in upbringing, exposure to the English language and knowledge of the options available to her would have made a difference.

I try to imagine Ms. Pulido chafing under captivity of sorts scared of running away, probably given to understand that escape meant a greater kind of torture. I imagine her viewing law enforcement and police with deep distrust. A legacy from growing up where she did. As an immigrant my first thought is about what kind of visa issues she would have had that would have limited her options. Most of all I imagine her growing up all her life with a family that is not quite hers yet there is no other family out there she can conceivably want to be with.

As for the author, I wish he had come to terms with what he was seeing earlier. I wish he had made reparations that were better than what he did. Most of all I wish he and his Lola rest in peace.

It takes great courage to put your story out in the world for everyone to read, to dissect and pass judgement on. I can only imagine this was his way of recognizing Lola for who she was and what she represented to him and perhaps as a beacon for other Lola’s out there thinking of escape. It also is a chance to bring those conversations on race and privilege out in the open. To create an understanding of the systems that perpetuate inequality and perhaps do something about it.

I’d love to hear from you if you read the piece. What reactions did it provoke and why? Did the story remind you of slavery, apartheid, caste system or any form of systemic abuse? Did it make you think about race in the larger context?

Odds And Ends

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I step out of Laddu’s preschool and walk leisurely.

“Are you Laddu’s mom?” the little girl walking toward me asks. I nod, pleasantly surprised to be addressed that way. She smiles, wishes me a good morning and skips behind her twin. Their mother walking a few paces behind stops and chats with me before she scurries off. I drive home, the radio more of background noise.

Slipping my sneakers off in the garage, my eyes fall on an array of sneakers, shoes, flats, flip-flops all tired, scuffed and frayed. Entering the home, I spy Ammu’s small bunny on the cedar chest. The image of her all sad and morose comes to mind. Today has been one of those days she woke feeling irritable. The morning went downhill from then until I scooped her up in my arms before she left to school, sat her on my lap and pretended to make the sadness bubble out of her. I did it a few times before she smiled. Perhaps it worked for she skipped, hopped and jumped her way to the bus. I pull the trash to drop orange peels and notice one of Pattu’s pants. I remember watching her come back from school Friday, a huge hole near her thigh. I remember asking her to drop it in the trash.

It is that time of the school year when clothes, school bags, lunch bags, shoes and socks are all in varying stages of disrepair. They look tired, faded and jaded. The school days seem to stretch too long, the weekends too short. The promise of summer is within reach. It shimmers just beyond reach holding out hope that the end is near. I am ready for a reset. For long languorous days filled with nothing. I am ready for mornings unharried by demands of lunch boxes and healthy snacks. I am ready for the impromptu ice-cream outings and evenings on the patio watching the sun go down. Most of all I am ready for shorts, sleeveless tops and overhead fans.

Saathi is home after what feels like eons. A mini break before he starts on a new venture after twenty years, practically his entire career at one company, in one group, with the same people. Everything feels new and apprehensive. The kids are off to school and we are headed out to the temple. A ritual that calms my head and makes me feel like we are all set to embark on a new journey.

The house is in disarray. The clothes are folded and stacked on the table in the hall, there since Amma folded it a day before. The kids have strewn puzzle pieces, the wooden ones all over the floor. I step over them eyeing piles of documents to be sorted and filed and moving away. I will get to it all I tell myself.

On another day when the sun shines a tad brighter, the kids tumble out of the home in joyous bubbles and Saathi is out slaying digital demons. I will conquer. I will crown myself a domestic goddess.

What I Want For Mother’s Day

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I am at the sink rinsing out the small steel cups that are smeared with guacamole. “It could have used a little more salt and lime juice,” says Saathi taking his time with his share. “Amma makes the best home made guac…” trails off Ammu.

I am smiling. In the weeks Saathi was away, the children regularly told me that they enjoyed the food I made. That I was the best mom ever. Perhaps, they sensed my need for validation. Perhaps, they just had a collective epiphany.

The postal mail lies on the kitchen island. A flyer from a furniture store, a coupon from Kohls that features jewelry and gadgets on sale for Mother’s Day. I scan them, trash most of it and save the 30% off coupon.

With Mother’s Day around the corner, the kids are making plans. Plans that involve breakfast in bed, flowers and some trinket. They trekked to the local dollar store this past weekend and smuggled stuff they “bought” on their own. I am chuffed to realize my children are old enough to give in to the trappings. I am also stumped by how they decided this is what Mother’s Day is all about. As a family we have never had breakfast in bed. Ever! Flowers if any, are from people who visit us for the first time.

I play along, agreeing that they should celebrate me the way the rest of America celebrates its Mothers. It also set me thinking. Considering there is such a thing as Mother’s Day and there is no running away from it, what do I really want?

My first thought is that I need a day off. A day off not just from chores or all things motherly but from the weight I carry around on my shoulders. The thing called responsibility. That thing that wakes me before my alarm goes off. That thing that has me scrambling to fix lunches, scour for healthy snacks and stand by my children as they work on Math. It is that thing that makes me say “No! You can’t go out to the yard unless I can see you from the kitchen window.” It is that thing that gives me a minor heart attack when my children run out into the parking lot before I can lock my car and turn to them. It is that thing that has me up at night when we have difficult conversations and I am not sure if I had the right answers for them. So, yeah! a day off from thinking, worrying, caring, nurturing, cooking will be great!

Then I think I would love a good breakfast without me having to slave over it. And while we are at it, perhaps a trinket, something cheesy from my children and the father of my children will be nice. And, maybe a pedicure and a slice of cheesecake will make my day.

The truth is that probably I will settle for a hand written note from my newly turned writer children, few hundred hugs, slobbery kisses and a meal outside the home. Not bad huh?

On Privilege, Race And Unpacking Cultural Legacies

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Late one night this week, I stood at my doorway waving my friends good bye. There was a bite in the air and a breeze that made me long for a warm wrap and perhaps a hot cup of tea. The clock showed a little past eleven. I turned the porch lights out and made my way to the basement. I cleared the table, pushed the sofa against the wall and looked around before I turned the lights out.

I rinsed out trays, packed away the remaining pieces of the vegetable puffs I had baked earlier in the day. My mind was active, the way it is after stimulating conversation. I knew I had to go to bed but I was not ready yet so I retired to my study instead. Reclining, I idly perused my social media, skimmed through and replied to emails and shut down the laptop. I sat in the dull light trying to make sense of many things.

The book we discussed was The Mothers by Brit Bennett. A book set in a small subdivision of San Diego almost exclusively populated by African Americans. The story meanders in an out of the tightly knit community. It is at times reflective, at times judgmental but mostly real. Real in a way that most other books I read don’t feel. There is nothing fanciful, no uplifting ending, no neatly tied plot resolution. I loved the book for the way it offered an immersive experience, not spelling out things for the others. It is casual, the way it shines the light on systemic injustices, on choices that are organic and the desperation that seems to permeate most of the lives the book talks about.

As we traded notes, one friend remarked she could not relate to the book as she felt far removed from it and I understood exactly how she felt. I pitched in about the ‘wake’ parents I see on transracial boards when they realize their children are are being pulled over, followed in the stores and being targeted just because of the color of their skin.  The conversation felt awkward at times, like dipping toes into uncharted territories. There was so much I wanted to talk about but felt hesitant to bring up for fear of sounding resentful.

A day later, I sat late into the night again with a different set of friends with whom I share a common upbringing. We talked about politics, race and prejudice. For probably the first time in my life, I vocalized the privilege I experienced as a brahmin in India. The kind of things I took for granted, the ease with which I assumed things would work. The accommodations people made for me without having to ask for it. The way friends would feel defensive about eating non vegetarian food alongside me.

The conversation went on to include self deprecating jokes and we kept the banter light. Under the surface though simmered an altogether different conversation that was the result of moving from privilege to being at the receiving end of racism.

In the calm of the evening after my friends have stepped out, I hear my children playing in the basement oblivious to the kinds of things they will experience as they grow up. Two of them being insulated by the color of their skin and the third being defined by it. We talk about race in simple terms at home and the idea of being Indian by heritage and American by birth is hard to comprehend.

Mostly the twins refer to the three of us (Laddu, Saathi and I) as Indians and to themselves as Americans. Digging a little deeper, I find they equate white with being American. I reason, I challenge their assumptions but most of all I am stumped by how this happened despite being aware of what we talk about and what we consume on TV.

A day later, a lot of the thoughts whirling in my mind are a jumble with no coherent threads. The overlap between being raised as a brahmin and now raising children of different races leaves me unsettled. It makes me realize there is much to unpack, deconstruct and understand. I struggle with trying to put into words all that I feel.

Any links to people, resources that will help me gain an understanding much appreciated.

Names, Birthdays, Identity – Grappling With All Things Adoption

 

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“Pattu, Pattu! Laddu has grown up. She has hair on her legs just like our cousin. Soon she will be tall and have three babies. Two adopted and one borned to her…”

“I will adopt all three of mine.”

“I want to born mine. No adoption for me…”

The conversation catches my attention and I am rooted to my spot near the stove for fear that if I move, they will stop talking. The conversation peters out and I notice Saathi standing quietly by the sink. Our eyes meet and we go our ways. I pack lunches while he warms up his milk.

By 9:00 AM, I am back in the house. The twins are off to school. Saathi is at work and Laddu is in her play-school. The conversation from the morning plays in my head as bits and pieces of the previous day comes to mind.

“Amma, I don’t want to be Indian,” says Ammu. She pauses and continues “they tease me because I am Indian and my mom is fat.”

The trailing bit of her statement is muttered under her breath. I can feel the guilt thick around her as she says it. I sit in silence trying to figure out which part of this is adoption and which part regular life.

I eat my dinner in silence and when I think my thoughts are clear, I speak. I talk to her about body image, about why what she said about me should not affect her. We talk about what it is like to be different, to stand out in a crowd. We talk about things we can change and the stuff we can do nothing about. Pattu chimes in every once in a while bolstering her sisters account of bullying at school. To me it feels like these are things they can handle on their own. We go through the usual talk about ignoring people who bully. We talk about standing up, about talking to the said bullies about how they are hurting feelings. I cap the conversation with an offer to talk to their teachers about the bullying. They both nod and stay silent. I let it go.

I clear the table while the children retire to the sofa.

“Alexa, tell me a bed-time story.” coaxes Pattu. Alexa asks for her name to customize the story for her and Pattu pauses just a second before offering up her non Indian middle name. I stop what I am doing to look at her. She refuses to meet my eye.

As I tuck her in, I let her know it is OK to go by her middle name, she does not have to feel guilty about it. She nods and on impulse gives me a hug.

In the silence and daylight, these conversations mesh in my head offering me a lot to think about. In the weeks preceding their birthday and the days after adoption has been circling the air, infusing our thoughts and actions. If the rest of the year it lies simmering under the surface, birthdays bring them out to the forefront, putting the circumstances of why they are where they are right in middle. We mostly talk, process and set it aside. Some of these conversations are hard. Some of these questions on names and identity have no easy answers.

If my child wants to go by her middle name at school for the next year, I feel she should be able to. Saathi wonders if we are giving in too easily. If by letting her change names to fit in, we are avoiding issues rather than confronting them. I can see truth on both sides. So, I let it sit and stew in my head deferring decision making for a later day.

The conversation from the morning on babies and adoption sheds light on how children understand genetics and what they expect parental influences to be. I wonder how their ideas will evolve over time as they take into account nature and nurture. There are no pioneers who have laid this path out for us. We bumble along, figuring some things out, deferring a few and trusting that whatever happens is for the best.

If parenting as such is an adventure, adoptive parenting raises the bar a little higher, makes the journey a little rougher and pushes you a little further. It makes you unpack your ideas on race, culture, language. It strips you of any authority and makes you begin from scratch. You learn with your child and hope you will both make it out OK in the end.

Reflections On Relationships

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I am on the phone with my cousin. I have it on speaker, tucked into my blouse as I clatter and clang washing dishes. She puts up with the noise and me as we trade notes on our week. I hang up and feel a physical wave of gratitude wash over me for her time and concern.

It isn’t often that I feel overwhelmed like today. I’d like to attribute it to hormones or to the tumultuous week I have had. It sets me thinking about people. About family in particular, immediate and extended.

Parts of our conversation reaffirms what I already know. We let our families get away with the worst of behaviors in the name of blood ties and years of investment in relationships. We let ourselves be bullied, disrespected and put down repeatedly. We take it in the name of respect, affection and even love. We defend it to people outside, making excuses and even lying. We do it repeatedly until at some point we start believing it true.

We enable behaviors we find abhorrent in people outside our circle because we do not want to believe someone who is part of us can be that bad. We condone and when we don’t we passively watch giving tacit encouragement.

I sit in the silence of my home thinking about people who could have been in my life but are not and feel something akin to wistfulness. I search for regrets and find none. I think about the things I tell my daughters each time they come home complaining of bullying and realize I cannot expect them to follow in my footsteps unless I walk the walk.

“Walk away if you are not respected.”
“Retain dignity.”
“Refuse to engage with bullies.”
“Stand up for yourself and for those who need help.”
“Love is not love unless there is respect.”
“Own who you are and do so with pride.”

I tell variations on the above at random times to all three of my daughters. I see them eyes wide, willing to believe in it. I look back on the interactions I regret in my life (the ones from which I wish I had walked away) and am grateful they were in the past long before children came along. I hope if there is one thing they take away from growing up as my daughters, it is that they are comfortable with who they are and that there is no one on earth who is indispensable to them. That they can find peace in silence and good company is one in which there is as much give as there is take.

To The Moon And Back – We Love You

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The sun slants in through the open glass of the side door. It feels warm against my face. All three kids surround me. One is convinced her sleeping bag needs a wash. The other two are taking their first delightful steps into the Harry Potter universe. The questions fly thick and fast. I can’t seem to suppress my smile as I get ahead of myself initiating them into what I consider my equivalent of the magic of Enid Blyton books of my childhood.

The laundry is sorted and I am puzzled by what seems a smaller load than usual and it hits me just a second later that Saathi is away tending to his dad. For a moment the loss is visceral. I stand holding on to the washer to stop from staggering. I collect myself and start the wash cycle.

The music blares from the basement and Laddu’s cries are plaintive. She wants me to go downstairs to play with her. I tried telling her that I am busy but my voice is drowned by Selene Gomez crooning. I give up and so does she. It occurs to me that any other week Saathi would be down there pushing her on the chair with wheels as she squeals with glee.

If in the initial years of marriage and coupledom the missing was an aching, visceral everyday thing, it has mellowed into that far off distant feeling of absence that taints everything in the house. The air we breath in, the empty chair at the table, the crumbs under the kitchen island. Saathi’s loss is felt more by the things that we let slide, by the sudden remembering of the things he likes, in the absence of snores, in the TV that stays silent through the evening, in the vegetables we do not eat, in the grocery store runs that do not happen, in the sprawl of shoes in the garage.

It doesn’t affect me every day but it comes down on me in one huge pang that weighs me down and renders me incapable when it does. It reminds me of the things I take for granted. The company in the morning, the good cop to my bad, the reassuring murmur of his voice late at night after the kids are in school, in the music that precedes him as he comes down the stairs, in the smile that lights up my life.

I miss him. I miss him in ways small and big. Mostly I miss him at the family dinner table, a larger than life presence that touches all of us.

“Daddy, daddy!” the girls shriek at the sight of their dad on the small rectangle of my phone. Beyond the initial screams, they fade away, the idea of conversation daunting. Laddu acts up after I put the phone down. She clings to me for reasons unknown. In the minutes before she falls asleep, she asks for her dad.

Laddu remembers him the most reminding me to tell Appa that the candy she is eating is delicious, the popsicle she is enjoying is creamy, the gooey upma she is licking yummy. “I peed in the potty Amma. You have to tell daddy,” she exclaims as she runs out of the bathroom. In the mundane everyday moments his absence is a huge presence.

My eyes absently move to the top of the screen taking in the time and date and mentally calculating the days until he is back. It is then I know that this is the grown up version of love, the love-you-from-a-distance, I don’t miss you everyday, the I wish you were here, the garbage does not take itself out, kind of love.

Adulting

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I walk in the cold morning air cognizant of the fact that Laddu is in her carseat and probably straining to get out. I grab the empty recycle bin and hear a sound that make me whip around. Ammu is visibly sobbing and running toward me. The time is 8:16 AM.

We run, the two of us. She grabs a different pair of shoes and I am already backing out of the garage. She slides into the car and slams the door shut. I drop her off at the bus stop pausing only to kiss her and remind her to find the smile I packed into her pocket for her. Her face lights up and for a moment the day feels transformed.

Pattu presses her face against the window as only a child can, full of love and expectation. I beckon her over to the drivers side and she gets a kiss as well. She runs off promising to keep an eye on Ammu.

Laddu walks ahead of me in the way a child with good sleep and a full tummy does. I ask her if she wants a flower and she stops. I climb the grassy mound and pick one from a tree in bloom. A magnificent pink umbrella shielding us from a grey sky. I hand it over to her and she marches ahead so sure of herself that I am envious.

It has been over a week of adulting. Doctor appointments, paying bills, setting out the trash, doing groceries, cutting vegetables, planning meals, running loads of laundry, folding and putting away clothes, helping with homework, mediating, negotiating and non stop being an adult.

Then there are the decisions. Big girl decisions like caring for parents, running interference, initiating life changing events. It hits me that I am officially at the zenith. If it has been a slow climb into adulthood, from this point on it plateaus before I make the slide to the nadir. There is no looking for advice anymore. There is no passing off responsibility. There are no crutches to lean on or people to hide behind. The decisions I make on behalf of my family, my mom, my father in law are all on me.

The decisions in themselves are simple but behind them are huge exercises in determining priority.  My children or my parent? My convenience or sacrifice? Everyday hassle or living with guilt. There are no right or wrong answers. Just forks we take on the journey hoping to reach the end with as little damage as possible.

I survey the now empty home, silent save the sound of the dishwasher. For a minute it occurs to me this is how it would be like to single parent except for the niggling thing called earning an income. For all my fears of the unthinkable, the worst has been about how I would raise kids. This week has been an exercise in understanding what that would be like.

I have been far more patient knowing there is no good cop waiting in the wings. I have pled when I would have yelled. I have been firm where I would have given in. I have been judicious in my use of time when I would have sat and browsed for hours on end. I have cooked full meals despite a hearty dislike of cutting vegetables. In essence, I have grown up, put my big girl pants on and dealt with it.

This adulting thing? It is hard but not impossible.

Philadelphia Writers Workshop – A Recap

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All week before the actual conference, I went about my day thinking about it. I lay awake at night thinking of plot, structure, synopsis and query. Then a day before I decided to chuck it all and just go as an attendee. I vented on twitter tagging my posts with #phillyww and before I knew it, there were a bunch of us sharing nerves and making plans to meet before we got to the venue.

I was up early, drinking my coffee with a nervous energy that had nothing to do with caffeine. I arrived at the train station twenty minutes before time and sat in the cold, my fingers freezing, my mind numb.

I saw my new friends before they boarded. We spent the next forty-five minutes getting to know each other, talking about our book babies and real babies and walking to the Sonesta in downtown Philadelphia in the cold morning air. One of them has a book coming out in May (Scottish historical romance anyone) and the other is pitching a young adult fantasy (trilogy in this case).

I looked around for my sponsor, the rockstar publishing agent Eric Smith and could not find him. So, I networked instead. The sessions started on time and the first one I sat through was one on writing memoirs. The presenter Anne Kaier knew what she was talking about and the hour sped by before I knew it. I took copious notes, exchanged contacts with my neighbors and trooped out to find my new friends had already pitched to their target agents and had been requested to send in their material. After whoops of joy we separated again for the next session.

This one was by Chuck Sambuchino who broke down the process of querying in such simple terms that for a moment, I felt like even I could do it! The presentation was sharp, witty, chockfull of relevant examples and practical advice. If his website was a lifesaver when I was first getting to understand the US publishing industry, his presentation was even better.

We broke for lunch even as I was ready to faint with hunger. A sandwich at Potbelly, my new acquaintances already feeling like friends, I returned fortified. The first session of the afternoon was a panel of agents critiquing anonymous first pages in front of an audience. I had submitted a page and by the time they were done, I was wiping tears of joy that my page had not been pulled. They were incisive, brutal and extremely honest.

It worked this way. One person read the page, if three agents raised they hand, the material was stopped. Most pages had at least one raised hand by the time the first paragraph was done. Top comments? Opening not gripping enough, too much backstory, not enough focus on the protagonist, too much setting, not revised or edited enough for submission. Each agent brought a fresh perspective to the submission. By the time the hour was up, I walked away knowing a lot more about what agents saw when authors submitted than I could have gleaned from the web. For this session alone, the workshop was worth it.

After this, I opted for a session on craft and revision. I think I took about three pages of notes for this alone. The speed was slow, the material not as showy but it was solid. Definitely much needed for me. I popped into the last session of the day on social media and blogging and left mid way as it did not say anything I did not know. The bonus of that session was I got to see an author I liked in person.

On the way home, I felt tired. The good kind of tired that happens when you have packed more into a day than it can hold. I only hope the next time I do go to an event like this, I will be one of the throngs waiting to pitch to agents with stars in my eyes and dreams of book offers in my head.