Everything All At Once

This longer than average blog is absolutely true.

I was twenty-two and was looking for something in a store on Thayer Street in Providence, RI. I didn’t know why I had gone into this store. It was a kitchen store and I didn’t need anything for my kitchen but there I was anyway, looking. And as I was looking and looking I saw Amanda P. across aisle.

It had been years since I’d seen Amanda. I’d had a pretty consuming crush on her when I was in seventh grade. Imagining Amanda as my first girlfriend was a pleasant distraction and one I could count on when I didn’t know what else to think about. When my mother told me she’d met Amanda’s mother at a party and that Amanda’s mother had told her, “I asked Amanda if she’s interested in any boys, and she’d said, ‘Oh, Billy Kenower, I guess,’” I knew it was time to act.

I should have paid closer attention to Amanda’s qualifying language, but you hear what you want to hear. When the great blizzard of ’78 struck, burying us for a week in our homes, I made the call. Amanda seemed a little alarmed when I said hello. I asked if she wanted to go to a movie sometime. She answered, “I’ll think about it.”

As far as I know, she’s still thinking about. I spent the week letting my heart rise a little every time the phone rang. When the snow was plowed and the schools reopened, Amanda and I never mentioned the call to one another.

Months later one of Amanda’s good friends, Catherine W., let it be known that she wanted a boyfriend, and that she wanted that boyfriend to be either me or my lifelong best friend Palmer. Catherine was pretty and popular and seemed very girlfriend-like. Palmer and I discussed the matter and decided I would be Catherine’s boyfriend.

Catherine and I went to parties, we slow danced, and she was the first girl I kissed. Shortly after that first kiss, however, she broke up with me. Turns out it was really Palmer she wanted to date. He asked my permission, and I said, “Oh, go ahead.” I felt less disappointed than I believed I should be.

Theirs was the passionate seventh grade affair Catherine had been hoping for. They were an item. According to Palmer, they made out a lot. Towards the end of the year he sang “Come Sail Away” in a band of which I had once been a part. Catherine sat front row, staring up at him as he closed his eyes to hit the high notes.

But then terrible news: Palmer would be moving to Philadelphia at the end of seventh grade to live with his father. My best and only true friend would be too far away to really be called a friend anymore. Summer came and Palmer left. I assumed Catherine was heartbroken. I would have to make new friends; there was no longer any way to avoid it.

In the fall, Palmer returned for a special visit. All The Guys gathered to hang around with Palmer while he was in town. We would go down to Thayer Street to meet up with some other kids from seventh grade, because everyone liked Palmer. As I walked with The Guys down Thayer, I saw Catherine ahead of us just as she saw Palmer. Her face broke into a smile and she started to run. She had long blond hair, and I was aware of how it flowed behind her as she ran. She nearly tackled Palmer, and I stood beside my best friend and my ex-girlfriend, watching their dramatic embrace, thinking, “I wonder what that’s like.”

All of this passed through my mind in an instant when I saw Amanda in the kitchen store on Thayer Street. In an instant I remember the blizzard and asking her out and her thinking about it; in an instant I remembered dancing with Catherine and our first kiss; I remembered Palmer singing and I remembered Catherine running up Thayer Street to hug him. And as I remembered all this, I turned toward the windows looking out onto the Thayer Street, and as I turned I saw a young woman with long blond hair running up Thayer and throwing her arms around a young man.

It was Catherine.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Find A Friend

Having just wrapped up the conference, I was reminded again of something I have written about from time to time in this space. One of my many assignments this year was to help run the speed pitching sessions. If you’re unfamiliar, in this format writers are given two minutes apiece with four agents, timed by yours truly. It seemed kind of exhausting for everyone involved—except me. I was having fun.

It is no coincidence that writers conferences borrowed a tool developed by dating services. The link between dating and agent seeking is profoundly direct. Because I am not looking for an agent, I was able to observe this experience from a comfortable distance, and what I determined was that most writers are putting themselves into an impossibly uncomfortable position.

I remember when I was a young man and I would go to a party or, heaven help me, a club. If I was single, I always felt a kind of disorienting insecurity. I never fully understood this feeling until this weekend. In those situations, I had decided that it was my job to make every woman at the party or club desire me. I wanted to be desirable, you see, and a desirable person, I thought, was desired by everyone.

I always hated my insecurity in these moments. If I just weren’t so insecure I would achieve a desirability that always seemed to elude me. But I had it all backwards. My insecurity was information. My insecurity was telling me I had asked myself to do something impossible. I might as well have required myself to walk on water. What I should have thought was, “Let me see if there is someone here who interests and excites me. Let me see if I can make a friend.”

And so the same is true of writers. There are times at writers conferences where I feel as if I am at a club again. Everyone is in flirt mode; everyone is trying to be desirable. It’s exhausting. Yes, to publish a book you probably need an agent; yes, there are agents at the conference. But as I have said before, you are not looking for any agent, you are looking for the right agent. Often, when you find the right agent, you have found a friend, because you are bound by a shared love—the love of a story you discovered and decided to tell. Your job is not to be desired by everyone. Your job is to remember what you love, and find those people who love it too.

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