The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 29, 2006

Features

Around Home My meeting with Playboy

Summer vacation: traditionally an ideal time to travel to new places and try new activities. For those of us who attend professional conferences in the summer, it's also a chance to pick up new ideas and strategies — at least that's what I was hoping when I signed up for a five-day writers' conference. My writing had been going fairly well, but I had been doing a lot of stories for a parenting magazine and wanted to get out of that rut. The conference seemed like the perfect opportunity to find some new markets for my work. According to the program, not only did it include workshops, seminars and panel discussions; we'd also have the rare opportunity of a thirty-minute consultation with a randomly assigned editor from a major magazine.

"Randomly assigned" were the key words. We were not supposed to be looking for work from them or pitching stories, just getting feedback. I imagined sitting down to talk with an editor from Vogue (would she laugh at my shoes?). Maybe I'd meet someone from Ms (was I ready to defend the choices I'd made in my own work/life balance?). Or perhaps it would be The New Republic (in which case I'd better be able to offer a theory about what happened to Senator Kerry in the 2004 presidential race).

I showed up, as instructed, on Friday at two-thirty. One of the conference organizers greeted me with what, in retrospect, might have been more of a smirk than a friendly smile. "You'll be meeting with the features editor from Playboy," she said. The features editor from Playboy! Randomly assigned, indeed. Never mind my shoes or my state senator: I had other self-image issues to worry about now.

I followed the conference organizer into a small dark suite. A fabulously hip twenty-something man in perfectly faded jeans and a black blazer was seated at a conference table. With a flick of his eyes he took in the sight of me — short, slightly frumpy, nearly 40, and not exactly slender. I mentally wrote my own headline: Suburban playgroup mom meets soft-porn king.

I reminded myself that he was there to assess my writing, not my physique, and tried to break the ice. "Features editor at Playboy, huh? So you're the guy who hopes people really do read it for the articles!" His arched eyebrow said it all: Like I've never heard that one before.

Paging through my portfolio

We both attempted to regain equilibrium as I sat down at the table and he began paging through my portfolio. He struggled to look engaged as he flipped past an article about choosing a preschool, briefly skimmed one titled "Playground Politics," and took a moment to rest on "Breastfeeding Basics." I bit my tongue to keep from crowing ,"Bet you didn't know you could use them for that, too!"

All the questions I'd planned to ask when I'd signed up for the consultation dropped out of my mind, replaced by a clamor of other questions. Things like "How many times have you partied with Paris Hilton?" and "What did you make of Anna Nicole Smith's appearance in front of the Supreme Court?"

"I don't quite think we occupy the same niche," he said, once we'd been sitting there for so long that he couldn't possibly still be pretending to read "Teaching Your Toddler about Recycling." "But clearly you have some good story ideas that editors at the right kind of magazines could use."

I remembered that I was there to get objective professional advice. "Is it time for a facelift, or should I start with Retin-A?" I wanted to ask. No, that wasn't the right question. I was supposed to be asking him about writing, not my potential for babedom.

The conference organizer knocked at the door. "Your three o'clock is here!" she called out. It was my cue to break through the discomfort and thank him for his time. The editor stood up to walk me to the door, visibly relieved that our conversation was over.

Why was I so insecure?

That was the most miserably self-conscious half-hour of my entire adult life, I reflected as I waited for the elevator. But in truth, I knew the disappointment was mostly with myself. Why was I so insecure? Why did writing about parenting issues make me feel unsophisticated and mundane?

I recognized the feeling. It was early adolescence all over again. I'd forgotten what it was like to believe that people are constantly watching you and snickering behind their hands. Potential article topics began to roll through my mind. "Helping your daughter survive adolescence." "Peer pressure: how moms can make a difference." "My thighs are fat and my skin is weird: Learning to empathize with your middle schooler."

Hey, I thought. I'm getting some ideas here. I'd been looking for a change from the early childhood themes, and here one was. Maybe that meeting hadn't been a total waste after all.

I could hardly wait to tell my husband that I had found a new direction for my career. And it was all thanks to Playboy. I imagined coming back to the same conference next year to tell the editor of my newfound success.

But not without trying to lose ten pounds, first.


2006 The Carlisle Mosquito