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Selling Fierce Dancing
I was there to sell my book to the salesmen and women whose job it was to sell my book to the retailers, whose job it would be to sell my book to the public.
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It's like that isn't it? Maybe one minute you're King of the World, Emperor of all that you survey and the next... Well the next you're not. The next minute you're nothing but an accidental scrap of matter crashing randomly around in a meaningless Universe.
I'm talking about Ego, that fragile little thing. I'm talking about that propensity we have as human beings to talk ourselves into an exaggerated state of self-importance and then - by the same mechanism - to talk ourselves down into an equally exaggerated state of dejection.
It was my first Big Speech. I mean, I'd addressed small audiences before: a few friends in some small familiar setting. But never like this. These were all strangers. And there were 200 of them. And the venue was a large conference room in a large hotel off Oxford Street in London, the capital city of the literary world.
I'd spent the morning being nervous. My stomach was a knot of anxiety, and the mere thought of food made me retch. So by the time I pushed my way through those huge glass doors and into the plush carpeted interior of that upmarket hotel, I was a nervous wreck, and gasping for a drink. It was a publishers sales conference, and I was there to sell my book to the salesmen and women whose job it was to sell my book to the retailers, whose job it would be to sell my book to the public. So I was there to sell myself initially, as said author of said book. And I wasn't all that sure that there was all that much to sell.
Ranged around the walls of the conference room there were all these blow-up pictures of all the front covers of all the books by all the famous authors that the publishers published. Famous authors, note. Real authors. Proper writers, whose books sold by the million throughout the world and which were deemed worthy of translation into God-knows how many tongues, or academic works by famous professors, whose brilliant scholarly tones broached no quibble by the likes of me. What was I even doing there?
So my nervousness increased as I gulped down my second whiskey. I was early. So I had to sit there. I had to sit there and listen to these famous authors who'd had the good sense to send their addresses on video, and who didn't therefore have to deal with the vicissitudes of a live audience. I had to sit there while acknowledged genius' with renowned masterpieces to their credit pontificated weightily on the meaning of their work. I had to sit there...
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- Fierce Dancing Prologue: New Year
The last thing I remember was the whiskey. I remember the soft, golden glow in the glass as I raised it to my lips like a warm promise. It twinkled at me merrily, reflecting the multi-coloured Christmas-lights stretched across the bar. And that's it.
And then it was my turn. My name was called. The audience clapped, and I had to make my way from the back of the room to the front, as each pair of eyes bore down on me, ready to see through my fraud, By then I already knew what I had to say. I burst through that audience like a heat-seeking missile launched at the enemy, I roared up to the podium and said, what I actually felt:
"I feel like a fraud."
And that was it. I had them. By admitting how I felt, I had them. From the beginning of the speech to the end, I had that audience in the palm of my hand. I knew it. I could sense it. I could feel the waves of approval emanating from them, as all those eyes fixed upon me, no longer as some fearful opponent, but as appreciative listeners. I made a joke, and everyone laughed. I made some telling political point, and everyone agreed. I could see them nodding with agreement. I was the star. For those few minutes I was the star of the show. The women liked me, and the men admired me. There was nothing I could do wrong.
I finished off my speech with my characteristic thumbs-up, and went down the bar for another drink. Ten minutes later the conference broke up for tea-break, and my editor and a few of the others came down to the bar to join me. I was as high as a kite by now, and their approval was blowing me even higher. Everyone wanted to talk to me. Everyone had a question for me. I was basking in their admiration, wallowing in the accolades. I was the King of the World for the moment. After that they went back to their conference, and I set out for home.
It was raining outside. A cold, wet Oxford Street afternoon. I had a hole in my shoe and my socks were getting wet. And of all those pallid, blank faces rushing towards me in that Oxford St crowd, not one person knew me, not one person recognised me, not one person had heard of my triumph a few moments before. Back in the real world. As high as I'd been in the bar, that's how far I had to fall. I wanted to stop some stranger on the street and say: "don't you know me? Don't you know who I am? I may look like a nobody with a hole in his shoe, but I'm not. I'm the man who took the sales conference by storm." The very fact I had such a thought only emphasised my dejection. What would the stranger have said? "Excuse me, but you happen to be getting in my way."
Ah, the Ego. Such a fragile little thing. And so difficult to control.
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