Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fun Facts

This past week I attended a free webinar on how to create a press kit. Now, it wasn't exactly free. As Robert A. Heinlein said, "TANSTAAFL!" (There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.) What these "free" webinars want to do is sell you something, but one of the ways they do that is to give you enough information so your reaction is "This guy really knows his stuff! I need to get the whole thing!" The whole thing being the latest book, online course, or whatever else it is they're promoting.

In the case of this one, there really was good information, but it was purposefully given at a speed impossible to take notes at, and there was no ability to get the presentation slides or examples as a download. So it was no surprise when the last ten or fifteen minutes was devoted to selling the full-blown version of how to create a press kit. Plus videos. Plus templates. But wait, there's more! Okay, they didn't use that exact phrase, but I definitely heard Billy Mays in my head.


One of the things they said you should include was Five Fun Facts about yourself. This is for interviewers who want to spice up the conversation about your book, which they probably haven't read anyway.

I've often thought that I'd make a terrible contestant on Jeopardy, not only because of the amount of stuff I don't know, or even because I'd probably freeze up in front of an audience, but because I'd be a total failure at that little interview they do with each contestant at the first break. My life has been pretty normal. Boring, actually. I haven't climbed Mount Everest or hitchhiked through the Australian Outback, or played Romeo in a high school play. Yes, I said Romeo, because playing Juliet wouldn't be interesting enough without something else happening, like Romeo stepping on the skirt of your costume and leaving you in dishabille in front of all your teachers.

No, I don't have any cute or embarrassing stories. Not that I'd want to share.

But there are some things that most of the people I know now don't know about me. For instance, I took nine years of clarinet lessons and played in the school band. One year in junior high (it wasn't middle school then), I was even solo clarinet. That means I was the best in the band and played all the clarinet solos. I'd gotten to take private music lessons and practiced very hard. I liked playing the clarinet and felt a big sense of accomplishment when I learned Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. I liked it so much, I told my clarinet teacher that I was thinking of becoming a professional musician.

His response? It's too hard, especially for a girl.

The exact same teacher encouraged my brother, who did become a professional musician. I quit playing clarinet before graduation from high school.

That wasn't the first time I'd been told I couldn't do something because I was a girl. It certainly wasn't the last time. I clearly remember one summer evening when my brother was heading off to the ball field at the nearby elementary school. I wanted to go, too, if not to play, then to watch. When I asked my father if I could go (we ALWAYS asked permission for things like that back then), he said NO. When I asked my father why my brother--who is three years younger than I am--could go, and I couldn't, his response was, "He's a boy."

I got a similar response in college. Now, I'm smart. I was always a brain in high school, got pretty much straight As, was put into special advanced classes, and was attending college on a National Merit Scholarship. I'm not bragging, I just think you need to know that to understand what comes next. I had no idea what I wanted to be after college. I took a bunch of classes in different fields, but I had to declare a major eventually. Having a talent for science and math, at one point I wondered if I should major in chemistry, so I made an appointment with an advisor in the chemistry department to talk about it. What I wanted was for him to sell me on majoring in chemistry. (Yeah, I didn't get the whole academic thing then.) At the least, I was looking for an enthusiasm about the field that would inspire me to explore that option further. When I explained that to the professor after getting a very unenthusiastic discussion, he said, "Well, you can always get married."

I suppose you can guess that was the end of that conversation. And any idea of majoring in chemistry.

I sometimes wonder how my life might have been different if someone had encouraged me to follow one of my off-the-wall career choices. Off-the-wall because they weren't things like teacher or secretary or nurse. Back then, roles and occupations were very much determined by your sex. Things have changed a lot, but not quite enough. While discrimination based on gender is now illegal, it still happens. They just use another reason as to why you didn't get the job or the promotion or the interview or whatever else it was they gave to some man. (Or someone younger, as you learn once you get past a certain age.)

So I guess that playing the clarinet didn't turn out to be such a Fun Fact after all, did it?

I'd better think some more on what I can put on that list.
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