It was late afternoon when my publicist, Nina, called, and I was scrambling to get ready for a party I was hosting that evening. I was thinking flatware, not book promotion. Plus, I’ve barely gotten used to the idea that I have a publicist.
“So this reporter from the New York Times just phoned,” Nina said. “He wants to interview you.”
“WHAT!?” I would have shrieked, but I was so stunned, I’d left my body.
“Tomorrow morning, 9:30. Isn’t it awesome?”
“But—but—what do I say?” I blurted.
Nina laughed. We strategized. I scribbled down notes, my hand shaking.
I’ve been interviewed a number of times recently following the publication of my novel, The Measure of His Grief, and while I’ve been thrilled with the exposure, I’m always a little rattled by the process. First of all, with subject matter as squirmy, emotionally charged, and complex as the circumcision controversy, it’s easy to misspeak or be misinterpreted. There’s a lot of nuance to convey, and once I get started, I tend to want to elaborate—a good way to get tripped up in an interview.
Between the challenging topic and the obvious pressure of the Times name brand, how was I going to sound calm and articulate the next day?
It’s always been hard for me to speak my mind about something and then stop talking. Especially in situations where I don’t get an immediate, readable response, I want to fill the empty space. It’s as if the silence is an invitation to self-doubt, something to be countered.
Even if I’ve just expressed my opinion that tomatoes don’t belong in a green salad, a blank look will set me rolling. Because tomatoes make it too soggy, don’t you think? And another thing—what’s with butter lettuce and arugula? I mean, where’s the appeal in salad greens that aren’t crunchy?
I’d have to be different the next morning. I’d have to trust my talking points, speak them, and then stop.
Think of the silences as time for meditation, I told myself.
Did someone say medication? I retorted.
I woke up early and spent several hours refining pithy statements that reflected my perspective, and when the reporter called, I was ready. It went smoothly, and he even indicated that I was educating him on several points.
Not that it was easy. I would say something, stop, and hear him wheezing or clicking his throat as he typed. These wordless moments were long and loud the way a pundit’s pores are huge and distracting on HDTV.
I kept fighting the urge to add something spontaneous. “My novel is really about a family in crisis,” I wanted to explain. “It’s not just about the issue; it’s about the characters.” But he was writing an article about the issue. I stuck to the plan. Breathe.
“You nailed it,” my husband, Mark, said afterward. But a few days later, when the article appeared—I wasn’t even mentioned in it.
This time, I found myself fully able to shriek, “WHAT!?”
And a few other words of similar length.
Published in The Piedmont Post, December 15, 2010