By Mary Lou Sanelli
I don’t know what to make of some of the things I hear my audiences say. Heaven knows, it’s enlightening to be a literary speaker. Working on the Mainland last week, I talked about why I wrote Among Friends. In a nutshell: Relationships are a tricky business. And it does a woman good to talk about it.
On Tuesday, I addressed women who work in Silicon Valley. On Saturday, 70 women gathered in a grange hall north of Spokane, Wash. To see over the podium, I had to climb up on an overturned cardboard box full of giggling wineglasses. Above me, the microphone dangled a foot above my head. What struck me immediately was how relaxed the second group was with each other. They touched one another’s arms easily and often.
I enjoy the Q & A. Someone always asks about “process.” “Words are like seeds,” I’ll say. “It’s one row at a time.” After watching their reaction, I add how people are turning to their phones for everything these days. “But the instant gratification is the opposite of the slow process of writing. There is no app for producing the kind of writing that takes years to complete.”
It takes guts to say such a thing in Silicon Valley. In general, I can say that I see a few heads nodding. I can say that I see a few heads shaking in disbelief. But I cannot say that anyone disagrees with me.
A woman in Silicon Valley fears her ideas are not valued. She talked about the unreceptive man heading up her “team.”
“A Mad Man,” I said, “but in a hoodie.” We laughed. As a result, she feels less creative. The corporate world isn’t quite cutting it for her. “But I don’t know what else to do.” She said this like she was removing a shard of glass from an open wound.
Another said she “went a little nuts” before she quit coding. “I went on a bit of a rampage,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. A silence fell over the room. As if no one wanted to say what it was she’d done. But everyone knew. Except me.
A Spokane woman shared how she’d overheard a younger co-worker refer to her as a “geezer.” She was devastated for weeks. When younger women poke fun of age as if it diminishes worth like driving a car off the lot, it spurs the fiercest feelings in me. I felt for her.
Before I got into my car, I strolled through the gardens around the grange hall. Suddenly, I heard a voice that rose above the other voices. What I heard next made me flinch: “Well, I’ll never get that hour of my life back.” What? Are you kidding me? It was the geezer! Luckily, the woman beside her understood the point of the evening: We need to support each other.
“She knows what she’s doing,” she said. My next move may have happened only because she said that. I marched right up to, ahem, the geezer and said in a surprisingly calm voice, “I so enjoyed meeting you!”
Sometimes, all it takes is a simple compliment to turn a naysayer into someone floating on air, her Wellies rising a little farther from earth. Once I hit I-90 headed toward the airport, I laughed myself silly.
Mary Lou Sanelli’s new book, A Woman Writing, is due out this fall. marylousanelli.com
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