The other day I agreed to meet with a woman I don’t know, a woman who wants to be a writer and needed advice on how to get the things she has written published in books. She seemed to be very nice in our flurry of emails, and since I am still a little bit in Summer Procrastination Mode, I agreed to take a morning off from writing and tell her what I knew about getting published even though the truth is that nothing anyone tells you about getting published really helps. So much of it tends to be unpredictable luck combined with a lot of hard work.

But I went to the bookstore cafe, as she requested, so I could say these things in person to her. I wanted to be very encouraging. I would listen to how badly she wants to see her words in a book, and I would tell her how it had happened for me and let her know it could happen for her as well.

She was late, which didn’t bother me in the least because it gave me a chance to look at the pages of the book I am supposed to be writing (and will start writing the minute I finish writing this blog entry). Sitting there, looking at those pages gave me a pleasant illusion of progress. And since I keep giving away time that I need to spend with the book, I need the illusion of progress. Soon it must turn into real progress. But not just yet.

So there I was, sipping tea and reading and feeling pleased about things, and then she arrived. I knew she was the one because she was looking all around trying to figure out which one of the three people currently in the cafe might be me. The choices were slim: a man and woman deep in conversation, or me–a woman sitting alone looking at a stack of papers.

I motioned her over, just to give her a hint.

“But…are you Sandi?” she said.

“Yes,” I said, smiling. “I am.” I put my papers away to show I was ready to talk publication.

She stared at me. “You are? Oh, my goodness! But you’re not so old after all! You’re not nearly as old as everyone says you are!”

Now I have told this story to five people, and when I get to this part in the story, they start laughing very hard.

“Did you kill her?” one friend wanted to know. “Tell me you at least started screaming. Or did you just get up and walk out? I hope you just got up and walked out!”

The truth is, I can’t remember what happened next. I may have had a little touch of anaphylactic shock. I can remember trying to make a joke about being old and feeble but luckily still able to hobble to the computer to write. Also, I remember thinking that she hadn’t said anything mean, exactly. She was just reporting on what the rest of the world is apparently saying. Which was somehow worse.
The woman, meanwhile, kept talking. She wasn’t so young herself that she didn’t know what a strange moment we were having–not like the time the twenty-ish guy in the newsroom looked up from a story he was writing and called out to the room at large: “Hey, everybody, would twenty-seven be considered middle aged?” (People from all over the newsroom shouted: “NO!” in a show of amazing accord.)

She clearly knew that things had taken a bad turn. Perhaps it was the fact that I was starting to slip into a little coma. I may have been mumbling a pep talk composed of advertising slogans to myself: You’re not getting older, you’re getting better. Don’t lie about your age, just flaunt it.

After a moment, she said, “What people have said is just that you’re too old to write your column anymore for the paper. But, you know, you really do look good.”

Things weren’t getting much better. I stopped and bought some eye and neck cream on my way home.