Part Of The Gamble

By Mary Lou Sanelli

Recently I was going through a file of old articles and I found a cover story I wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, illustrated by a drawing of a woman holding a stem that is reaching for the sidewalk. Clearly, I was desperately trying to find my place in a new city and all that showed in the artist’s sketch.

Rereading the article reminded me of how bewildered I can feel in uncomfortable situations. To this day, I fear this level of bewilderment when it strikes, and it struck hard this past weekend.

I was invited to Eugene, Oregon. A woman had heard me speak at a conference in Seattle and was “determined to create an event with you as our speaker!” There were 80 women present at her tea. I am lucky for the invitations I receive.

But luck is luck. And it can change.

Before I left for the Mainland, I received an email. Would I pay a visit to a book club in the area?

Bookclubs are tricky. Once the wine starts to flow, and it generally does, in vast amounts, I feel less and less a part of the club-ness.

The hostess picked me up and we drove into the hills. When a gate swung open, I started to feel anxious. When I spotted a bear rug tacked up by double front doors, I took my sunglasses off and said, “wow,” because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

But what I saw next made me think, Help! A collection of heads hung over the fireplace: Wildebeest, Zebra, Rhinoceros, Cheetah. The sight of them — horned, hairy, magnificent — broke my heart. She told me they were from Africa, because she seemed to think I would be impressed that her husband was a trophy hunter.

I thought: How far apart this woman and I am. Yet, after reading my book, she said she felt she knew me. My God, why? Trophy hunting is an example of such brutal, individual entitlement I will never understand.

An outsider is a dangerous thing to be without true professionalism. From that moment on, I tried to project confidence. I read a page from my book, talked some. And, of course, the Q&A.

“Where do you get your inspiration?” The dreaded question. Because I don’t wait for inspiration. I go to work every day whether I’m inspired to or not. Most days I don’t want to. I said — and I knew I was setting myself up — “Hillary Clinton inspires me.”

The room was silent for a while.

The hostess, embarrassed now, brought up Hillary’s “lie.” And I thought: Benghazi? Again? There is terror and war on so many fronts I can’t keep up and this is what you fixate on?

Maybe it was the beady eyes of the Jackal that allowed me to speak with such honesty. “What is wrong with you people? How much harder does a woman have to work at something to prove she’s capable of the job?”

There were 15 women present. I sold two books.

And that’s how it goes. Failure, like fear, is just part of the gamble.

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