Readers who send me email often get two replies. The first is a short acknowledgement that I read the email, but that it is late in the day and I will answer in the morning when I am caffeinated and brainy. Giving advice about someone else's life is a very serious thing to do and very rarely do I have automatic insights. I have to sleep on it.
So at the national book fair in Kraków last week, I had the difficult experience of hearing a question and giving the wrong answer. Of course, it was probably not as difficult for me as it was for the woman who had come to see me, and enjoyed my book, and hoped that I could correctly answer her very heartfelt question.
The question was, in short, "How can I meet men?" And my very pathetic answer, for which I beat myself up for the rest of the afternoon, was "Well, as I do not live in Poland, I do not really know. What about work?"
But her field is dominated by women and gay men, and she has embarked on promising friendships with single men through work, only to discover that they are gay.
And then I drew a blank. My M.Div. training says that when you draw a blank, you refer. So I referred my reader to a local support group for Catholic (mostly) Single women, although stupidly I did not have the contact information at my fingertips, and there was a bit of a public fuss bilingual as the sales team hunted for it. Such are the pitfalls of combining business with vacation.
So I officially apologize to my Polish reader for being so unprepared. And, typically, it was only after I had slept on it that I got the answer to her question.
The answer is that in order to meet other people, you have to think first about how you come across to other people. You may want to meet other people, but what is it about you that would make people want to meet you? You cannot control or change other people, but you can certainly control or change yourself.
Are you a happy, funny person? Do you have interesting ideas? Are you a whizz with the cocktail shaker? Are you cosmopolitan--travelling from country to country and making acquaintances among the natives while remaining intriguingly foreign? Are you a good listener? Do you sparkle when you are eating a great meal? (I know a woman who positively glows with light when she eats a great meal.) Do you notice when someone does something good or wears something beautiful and remark upon it? Can you sweet-talk your way into a restaurant for a coffee when the server says it isn't open yet? Do you think of servers as robots or as people with mysterious double-lives, servers by day, possible cellists by night?
Do you live in public? By this I mean, do you make your voice heard? Not enough people write letters to newspapers: it seems always to be the same people. But writing letters to newspapers gets you noticed. So does following up letters with the offer of an op. ed. to a newspaper. Not enough women write opinion pieces--conscientious newspapers are on the lookout for opinion pieces by women. Academic and literary magazines love unpaid book reviews; people are more likely to read book reviews than books.
Can you write well in another language? Would an Italian newspaper pay for a column called "Notes from Nebraska"? Would a Chicago or Philadelphia newspaper be interested in a column called "The New Lwów" or "Warsaw Today"?
Do you have a blog? And if you blog, how do you present yourself? What tone do you use, and what kind of person is most likely to be in sympathy with your ideas? Would this change if you changed your tone from sardonic to cheery, or from bland to over-the-top insane?
Do you enjoy pursuits popular among both men and women? My Polish reader told me that men don't go to book clubs. This does not surprise me as it is well known in the industry that women buy most of the books. But when men do buy books, they buy thrillers and crime fiction. If Ian Rankin is making an appearance at your local bookshop, men will be there. Men go to writing groups, too, to say nothing of Spoken Word events. (I have been hit on more by poets than by any other kind of men, including philosophers.)
Are you terrifically fond of your national or ethnic culture? Have you thought of travelling to places where immigrants and the children of immigrants celebrate your culture? From what I gather from British television, a young single New York or Polish Jew would be welcomed by London Jews with open arms and lists of other singles. (If I am wrong, blame "Jewish Mum of the Year".)
What have you got and what are you that other people admire? And how do you present this? If your habitual expression is an unhappy scowl and you pay less attention to your appearance than an habitless nun (nuns in habits, e.g. in Poland, look beautiful), then you are not presenting yourself well.
The objection to all this, of course, is "Why should I change? Why can't can't everybody else change so that they can appreciate me without my having to do the work?" And the answer is "Because you are outnumbered." And, anyway, it's not you changing yourself, it is about you presenting your gifts in a public-positive fashion. Some fashion-plate or other is on record as saying, "I owe it to the world to look fabulous. They have to look at me."
When I am in Poland on business, I am in the business of selling Anielskie Single. And selling Anielskie Single gives me an excuse to do what I really like, which is chat with all of you, either here or live in person (like on the May women's retreat, which was awesome). And as we all know, appearances sell books.
Before I make an appearance, I always go the hairdresser to be ironed first. (We can debate curly vs straight later.) I pack nice outfits, I wear bright red lipstick and in Poland I greet people in Polish in my startlingly non-Polish accent. I may not be a raving beauty, but at least I look and sound interesting: certainly more interesting than in Toronto where I am just another Canadian lady speaking English with the flat local accent.
And what is the result? The result is that of the 500 authors who appeared at the book fair in Krakow, my big-haired, red-lipped, gypsy-dressed, foreign-lady photo appeared among the fifteen author photos on the website of a fashionable Krakow magazine. In short, I got noticed and, as that made my very nice and hardworking marketing director happy, I'm happy. Sales mission accomplished, and I hope this post makes up for the chat mission I failed.