She said that my image is in desperate need of an overhaul. Apparently, the sex kitten market is over-saturated, and the wild child-turned-responsible mom angle is played out. I watched forlornly as Milda, my publicist of 12 years, unveiled graph after chart after table, showing what I’d already known: that my audience is scarce and scattered.
“Remember back in ’99, when you made a big splash on the slam poetry scene? You rode that wave up until ’02, when you made it to the NYC Slam Finals and met Kanye. Remember?”
“Well, honeybuns, I dunno if you’re any good at math, but that’s only three years. And you’re 25. Don’t you think that’s a little young to have peaked?”
I slumped into the overly-upholstered high-back chair. My eyes strained to hold back tears. I knew Milda was right. She was always right. She knew when and how and where to go and act and be. She was single-handedly responsible for my incarnations as the lead singer of a band, the author of a novel, and the lucrative time I spent as a poet and performer.
It was Milda who knew how to make me crowd-pleasing and acclaim-worthy. It was Milda who knew what I should wear and which facet of my personality to show off. But now, she wanted me to blend all of my bits and be bland. It just didn’t sound right.
“I’m trying to keep it real,” I explained. “I’m trying to show that it’s natural and right for a woman to be multi-faceted and complicated. I’m being more me than I’ve ever been.” I heard my voice reaching the straining pangs of a whine, but I couldn’t help it. Before I knew what I was saying, I blurted out, “I’ve done and seen so much, I’m a goldmine of material!”
“Look, sweetie,” Milda said, a deep dissatisfaction tautening her features as she rose from her seat. “That’s exactly what you don’t need.” She leaned her back on the mahogany conference table and cinched her cream-colored suit jacket closer to her voluptuous torso. I could smell her flowery perfume and tic-tac breath hovering right in front of me. She forced a smile and her voice was a song. “There’s a lot to you, I know. But what you need is to streamline your image. Pick one thing out of your bag of tricks and stick to it. That’s what people understand. That’s what’ll get you a bigger audience.”
I thought of the popularity of sex blogs, the ubiquity of mommy blogs, and the perennial appeal of the bitingly sarcastic and wickedly witty blogs that I love. I remembered the blogs that focus on craft, and the ones dedicated to deep thoughts about life and all it’s cracked up (not) to be. I considered my hobbies, habits, and areas of interest and expertise: writing; parenthood; sex; psychology; exercise; higher education; sex work; beauty and health; sex; fashion; activism; Asian-American studies; sex; cooking; politics; money; sociology; feminism; sex; journalism; women’s studies; sex; history; anthropology; philosophy; sex.
Which topic is broad enough to encompass everything that I’m about? Which addresses all of the issues that I hold in high regard? These questions swirled around my brain until I damn near passed out. I mean, as much as I do things for myself, I have to admit, I’m kind of addicted to attention. I’m used to being liked and being lauded. I’m an overachiever, dammit. I get straight A’s while I’m stoned and sex-crazed, for crying out loud.
I could feel an anxiety attack coming on, the kind that blindsides me and makes me feel wonky. I wanted so badly to defend myself and my position, to make Milda and everyone else realize that, figuratively-speaking, I’m a cheerleader in a middle-aged man’s body. It’s not my fault that I act like a celebutante and expect praise for my questionable behavior. It’s not my fault!
At that moment, Milda’s assistant, Meredith, appeared next to us. She presented me with a glass of sparkling mineral water and fanned away my fluster with a handcrafted Chinese silk flabellum.
With my eyes closed, I hurriedly gulped down the water. Milda and Meredith stepped back so I could have some room.
When I opened my eyes, what I saw took me by surprise: there, all around me, were the awards and accolades I’ve received for my writing, and my singing, and my academic prowess; for my piano playing and my directing and my producing, and my acting; and for the work I’ve done in my various fields of work. I realized then that I have received more pats on the back than any person should ever garner. I’ve been lucky to have been recognized. I’ve been blessed with a wealth of reality, and it’s this reality that I wish to secure within my writing. And that act? Well, being able to do it is reward enough.
So I did what any wanna-be culturally-relevant, critically-acclaimed, and kind-of-reclusive artist would do: I fired my publicist.
No worries. I’m looking for an editor, and Milda and Meredith are always on my side. I think they’re willing to change careers.
* Ya know all that cool stuff, i.e., meeting Kanye, writing a novel, etc.? That stuff’s for real.