I Heard Those Three Magic Words (No, Not Those Three)

jeans fly

Sometime in my forties, I began to appreciate the great prank that American fashion has been playing on middle-aged women in the form of fly-closure denim jeans.

You stand in front of the full-length mirror hanging on your bathroom door, suck in your stomach, button your jeans, and admire your concave abdomen. (Hopefully you have not been too diligent about dusting said mirror.) As you turn away and let your stomach relax, you may actually let yourself believe you look cool. It’s a little confidence-boosting trick you’ve been playing on yourself since you began to get hips.

Somewhere between the bathroom mirror and the drawer or hanger holding your choice of tops, you begin to realize that you feel uncomfortable in your jeans. In fact, you feel like you’re being sawn in half.

Do you change into your coolest yoga pants? Or do you find a loose top and endure, perhaps pretending to be a magician’s beautiful and talented assistant?

I can’t remember the last time I actually wore my jeans. I’m always trying them on. Almost wearing them. Then I begin to miss breathing normally, and I swap the fly-closure for something with an elastic waist.

Middle-aged ruminations like this might have made me feel extra-vulnerable last weekend, when I attended the Slice Literary Magazine conference. I wore one of my favorite outfits–a thrift store Donna Karan denim skirt (it allows me to pretend I’m wearing jeans, you see) and a t-shirt with appliquéd flowers around the collar.

The Slice conference takes place in Brooklyn. You know how that can be for a suburbanite–you may never feel quite good enough for Brooklyn. Little did I know that by the end of the morning, I would hear three little words I never thought I’d hear.

She was dark-haired, professional, polished, charming. She rose to greet me and said, Tell me about yourself. I want to hear more.

And granted, she didn’t say these three exact words. But I knew what she meant. And she knew I knew what she meant. She does this all the time.

(Aaaannnd here’s where I lose the non-writers.)

She was an agent building her list. A little hungry, but not desperate. Never desperate. Not like me.

Those three little words: SEND FULL MANUSCRIPT.

I definitely made too big of a deal about it. How totally misleading those three little words can be! Just like teenagers crushing on the wrong person, how many writers have thrown themselves at agents, editors, publishers because of those three little words? Like ingénues prematurely envisioning themselves brides, how many writers have begun calling themselves “authors?” How many manuscripts have been cruelly used and cast aside? How many dreams dashed?

If you’re a fairly avid reader, peruse your bookshelves. They’re pretty well curated, right? You don’t keep the stinkers. There are too many good books to bother with the stinkers. Unless you read a lot of self-published books, every one of those books on your shelves (and all of the stinkers, too) began with three words: SEND FULL MANUSCRIPT. Every book began with a writer going over the moon. They want me! I was over the moon and back.

But I have a lot of writer friends. I have an idea of how many “SEND FULL MANUSCRIPT” requests ultimately result in an agent declining representation. I came out of orbit pretty effing fast.

Among those books on your shelves, you came across a few you’d forgotten about, didn’t you? A few by authors you don’t remember? But that book was published only 8 years ago! you marvel. Yep. Those three little words aren’t even the beginning. Representation, sale, publication, are all just the foothills of a loooonnnng climb that, if you think about it a little, only ends in death. Hopefully in a place with a great view.

For all the great books and terrific writers out there, for all the dozens of names that we recognize, there are dozens more that were recognizable a handful of years ago, but who have been forgotten, along with their books. They all began with the euphoria of hearing those three little words: SEND FULL MANUSCRIPT.

I was glad, in my denim skirt that sort of resembles fly-closure jeans, that my wobbly knees were hidden. Here I was, a middle-aged woman, going goofy as a teenager. I was thrilled, I was so pleased, I offered half a dozen breathless versions of thank you so much.

And began waiting. Since that day, I check email obsessively. I keep feeling cellphone ghost-buzzes against my thigh–I pull the damned thing out, sure I felt something for real this time, but there’s never anyone there.

Was she real?

Still, I got there. I typed “THE END” on a novel-length manuscript, so that when I had the chance, I could go to Brooklyn and respond to those three words, and shamelessly throw that manuscript on the table. So what if I was just going back to the suburbs, and first thing, swapping the thrift-store denim skirt for some yoga pants? (Buy them on sale, a size up from your “normal” size–it’s like a $20 instant spa day.)

So what?

I will always have Brooklyn.