a story i’ve been meaning to tell

Posted by on September 23, 2009

“And all that we have, and all that we see / I tie and I knot, and I lay at your feet / and I have not forgot / how the silence crept over me” Joanna Newsom

I took this photo at on July 10, 2004. I think it was among my first attempts at anything artistic with a camera in my adult life. It was taken at a consignment store– a rack of vintage clothing in front of a framed picture for sale.

There is a story I’ve been meaning to tell about that time in my life. It has taken me so long to really know myself, and I knew myself even less at that time. I was working full time at the seminary where Jeff was a full-time graduate student. The cost of living was high– it was “Westchester County,” and I’ll say no more. Also, at that time, we were just not very frugal and perhaps a little irresponsible with money. For example, all trips to Barnes and Noble, which were frequent, meant a new book, which I now believe to be absolute absurdity. And there were many other such absurdities and unnecessary bills. The point is that I felt at the time as if we needed more money than I was making, which I now know was a delusional belief. But I was very convinced of this at the time.

A friend–actually the mother of a friend, or both really–told me about this pyramid business she and her husband did from their home. I knew her and her husband to be incredibly nice people, and apparently prosperous, so I took an interest. To be fair, she told me that it was not technically a pyramid scheme, and I still believe her on this point, but since I’m not naming any names, I’m just going to call it a pyramid scheme here for brevity, because everyone knows what that is: it’s a business that sells things but doesn’t use advertising. Instead it uses person to person marketing and inspirational sales meetings and so on, and people who are new sign up underneath someone else and the person above gets some of their sales commission and the more people you sign up and sales everyone makes the higher you go, blah blah blah. To my limited understanding, that’s what it was.

Now, I really have no idea what I was thinking when I decided that I was interested in doing this on top of my full-time job, which had a perfectly decent salary. It seems as absurd to me now as our spending habits were at the time. Nevertheless, I told myself that it would be a great way to bring in some extra money.

I don’t think I really understood what it all entailed, because a large part of my attraction to this was the fact that I sincerely liked the person who introduced me to it. I think I always tend to be blinded by the relational aspect of everything. Anyway, she gave me a time and location of a meeting which I could attend where I could learn more about it. It was near enough to our apartment. It was at a hotel, in a conference room. I remember driving there and parking outside. I didn’t want to turn off the car because I was in the middle of listening to Joanna Newsom’s “Sadie,” a very long, serpentine, wild, layered, complex, creative song. Sitting there with the car running I just started weeping, partly moved by the song, and partly by something I couldn’t name. Finally I crept over the plush carpet of the hotel lobby and found the double doors where the meeting was taking place. A table set up outside the door was being manned by polished young business women. I wanted to sneak in and be a fly on the wall but they somehow wanted my name or something– I don’t remember the details, but only feeling embarrassed and out of place. The meeting was large–very large–and was not really even a meeting, in the strict sense. To my mind it was more like a big tent revival. There was an audience listening to an onstage speaker, who was clearly of the dynamic persuasion. I remember feeling circumspect and bewildered and never entering further than the outermost periphery of this large conference room, never taking a seat. I stayed for a discrete amount of time, then fled in anonymity. I went home and told Jeff this thing was not “me,” but I could not even articulate why.

I can’t remember the precise ending to this story. Stupidly, I did end up going one step further into this venture and signed up, substantial fee and all, talking myself into it, lord knows why. It fizzled out shortly thereafter. It was money down the drain. It was a loss of face too. I marvel at how shallow my sense of self was then– that I could so miscalculate my ability to stomach certain things or enact a role so unlike myself.

I am not sure why I need to tell this story now, except that, although I do not generally have a very good memory, or a very visual one, I do vividly remember and even see myself sitting behind the steering wheel, listening to the words of that song and being so moved by it, and realizing that the spirit of that meeting clashed terribly with such a song, and that the two were at enmity, and that the energy which rolled in the heavens of each was of a different nature. In the hotel conference room, it was generated in words such as “marketing,” and “branding,” and “networking.” I knew that I hated those words; I wanted to go away from those words. But I also feared that the hating of them might perhaps be a lesser happiness, an alienation, or a handicap of sorts.

I am still this way, but now more consciously and firmly so, more happily so. I will forever skirt around the periphery of that conference room, never giving my name.

I want to go where the walls of the words I write down are white.

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  1. Jenny
    September 27, 2009

    Julia,

    This is a fantastic telling of something very few people articulate. Pyramid schemes also make me queasy. Your writing was so clear, so powerful. It was like I was with you. Thank you for the gift of this post. I wish we could talk it over in person, digest it together. Beautiful last, line, too. Iconic.

  2. Jenny
    November 13, 2009

    Julia,

    This is a fantastic telling of something very few people articulate. Pyramid schemes also make me queasy. Your writing was so clear, so powerful. It was like I was with you. Thank you for the gift of this post. I wish we could talk it over in person, digest it together. Beautiful last, line, too. Iconic.