Today is my last day as a book publicist.
I look at that sentence and I don’t know what comes after it.
When asked tentatively, because people are concerned (or envious), I say, “travel,” and then the next question is where.
“My plan is to make a plan,” I say and this causes more concern, and that concern makes me want to reach across to the other and shout, “Don’t you know I’ll figure it out?!”
When I told my mother I was quitting she cried, “I told you that you weren’t allowed to quit your job until you had another!”
“I don’t think you understand, “I responded. “I. DON’T. WANT. TO. WORK.”
Two months after I graduated college I took an internship at Edelman Public Relations. I decided public relations was a good field for me because I liked people, and I liked to talk, though to say that this decision was made blindly would be a gross understatement. My ignorance of public relations was so vast that I had to buy a book before my first interview, Public Relations for Dummies, and I was a dummy. Who chooses a career based on so little knowledge?
Actually the majority of society, which explains why most people are miserable on levels beyond their conscious understanding, and yet this misery doesn’t inspire most to quit.
I am guilty of this. For the next six years I cobbled together a career, taking on both impressive and unimpressive jobs, ranging from running the Midwest Media Relations of Starbucks to Shopgirl. I was laid off, belittled, and once my approved worked was yellowed with errors and then sent to the whole team.
For years after, the yellow haunted me, reminding me that I was wrong and that the person I was being was a complete farce.
Still, like many, I kept going because I knew I had to. Who else was going to pay my student loans, my cellphone bills and rent? What else was I going to do with my life? Being a writer wasn’t financially viable, and I became attached to the response others gave me when I said what I did for a living (except for that brief period working in a clothing store).
At 23 “Manager of Media Relations,” or at 26, “Publicist,” caused people’s eyes to narrow in on me as someone worth talking to. Despite my setbacks, and zig-zags, I had landed somewhere where others could be either vaguely impressed or proud of me.
This validation was what I had hungered for, and even though I knew the business world did not align with what I had studied, or was innately good at, I felt that it was vital for me to learn this world to survive in it—because on some level, everything is business.
Also, I love books beyond reason, and so publishing seemed perfect. I had first knocked at the publishing’s world door in 2006 and it said, “No way.” So again and again I tried. By 2010, I had enough experience for that door to open, but the e-book had landed, and what was behind that door had changed.
I entered a frightened and confused industry that was gripping onto the past in a city of innovation. This long admired institution, this paragon of culture was being disrupted, and the ruptures were causing the very binding of the book to explode.
For an ambitious 20-something, it wasn’t the best place to land, or was it? I saw opportunity, the ability to remake what was once considered unchangeable, and it wasn’t only the book industry, but public relations as well.
I had unknowingly stumbled into two professions, “the book,” and “the Publicist,” or, “literature” and “communication,” during an era of foundation breaking. Yes, the binding of the book had exploded, but also the telephone was disintegrating.
“Don’t call me,” journalists were screaming, “I only answer via email,” and they were screaming scared because their jobs were also disappearing.
I often say people my age (or 28–32) are the bridge between one world and the next; we are forever divided between the analog and the digital. The world that had been promised to us didn’t exist by the time we had entered it. Careers were moments in time, the paper resume was becoming laughable and relationships were conducted via text message.
Our time was the Clinton era: a time of optimism and economic growth. Unlike those a few years younger, the ones who grew up in the Bush era, we were told time and time again that “the U.S. is number one and we are lucky to live in the land of opportunity,” and we believed what we had been told.
Personally, I believe the U.S., or at least the Bay area, is still the land of opportunity, but it is a different type of opportunity than the type that we had been taught: intangible, coded and disruptive. It asks the question, “How do we do what we’ve always done, but better?”
For publishing, this meant the e-book: cheaper and weightless, yielding lower production costs and potentially more accessibility to those who could afford e-readers.
However, how does one tell a dinosaur that it soon won’t exist? It just doesn’t understand because it doesn’t speak the language.
Being a millennial means that I know how to talk to the dinosaurs and that I could help walk them across the bridge into this next (or current) era; this was my opportunity.
Yet, I could not conjure up the energy to do so. I was too busy trying to understand what a publicist’s value-add is in an age of disintegrating journalism. Where buzzwords like, ‘direct to consumer,’ really are saying people aren’t looking for experts to curate their content and tell their stories. One only has to glance at Facebook to intuitively understand that we are more obsessed with ourselves, with our own telling of stories, and of course our friends.
Though, this is all really a lie. I’m saying what I see, but not how I really felt. I’m commenting on my job and industry. The absolute truth of it all was I just didn’t care anymore.
I felt like I was impersonating a version of myself I thought I should be. This person had a respectable job, if not respect. This person was “concerned” about the success of her products and campaigns, but in my heart I felt that publicity itself was one of the sad ways people trick others into thinking they need more things to be happy.
Others know when you don’t believe in what you’re doing. It is translated through the subconscious. The language that you use or the way that you carry yourself is a revealing message in itself.
My team started to notice, my boss started to notice, and that big yellow line that went straight through my heart started to glow.
Even in an industry where I was promoting books, a product I believed in more than all others, I couldn’t trick myself into believing in what I was doing.
I thought about what I wanted for myself, and I came upon the question, as so beautifully put by Mary Oliver, “’Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I don’t have the answer, but I think it’s a great beginning to another chapter of the story that is my Self.
The publishing industry will survive as it will and publicity will always be there waiting for me to pick it back up if I so choose, but if I do it will be an answer to a question—not a blind should.
It is obvious to all that I will write, and in writing, and in the world out there where all souls live, I will continue to make choices based on the knowledge of who I am and the desire to do something with my one wild, precious and conscious life.
I know I will reach for too much, and I know that I am forever in gratitude for all the opportunities, stumbling, chaos and tears that have taken me to this very point in time where I have attained the freedom of choice because that is free in and of it self, as long as we all shall live.
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Ed: B. Bemel
hot on elephant
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