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Zen Peacekeeper.







Book update: In which I have lunch with my agent in New York.

Friday, September 24, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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I’ve been saying it for months now.

“I’m going to New York to have lunch with my agent.”

It was possibly the most glamorous thing I’d ever been able to say about my life. Not necessarily the most impressive – “I’m going to Afghanistan to work for the United Nations peacekeeping mission” takes that prize. Nor even the most exciting – “I’m going to the Gaza Strip to document human rights violations” might take that one.

But it was the most glamorous, and perhaps the most anticipated.

Long before I first dreamed of being a human rights defender with the UN (at age 12), I dreamed of writing a book. This meeting had been a long time coming.

I was very excited and very nervous.

I hoped against hope that my agent would tell me that the latest draft of the manuscript was fantastic, that I’d done a great job of addressing the problems she had identified with the last version and, oh please God let it be so, that it was ready – or very nearly ready – to be submitted to publishers.

That’s not quite how the meeting went.

Instead, she said that we were “not quite there yet”. The beginning wasn’t quite working yet, she explained, amongst other things. And then she asked me what I thought.

But I wasn’t thinking. Not yet. Before I could get to thinking, I had to deal with what I was feeling.

And I was feeling deflated. Defeated. Exhausted.

I was also feeling tears pressing against the back of my eyes.

Oh no! I thought. I cannot cry in a meeting with my agent. This is Manhattan. People don’t cry here. People who cry here get eaten for lunch. They get walked all over by people wearing Jimmy Choo heels. You don’t cry in a business meeting in Manhattan.

But it was too late. I was crying.

Now crying is not a particularly surprising thing for me to be doing. For a while I was threatening to call my memoir War is for Sissies: A Cry-Baby’s Guide to Life in a War-Zone.

I’m used to crying in public. Put me under enough pressure and I’ll cry almost anywhere. Crying is my release valve, it’s what I do when other people would get mad.

But this was Manhattan! And it bothered me more to be crying at a business lunch in New York than it had ever bothered me to be crying in a security meeting in Afghanistan.

As I scrambled to apologise for my tears, I suddenly saw the irony.

I was there to discuss a book, my book, that argues that there is nothing wrong with being thin-skinned, even in a world that places enormous value on thick-skin. A book that argues that there are different kinds of strength and different kinds of courage, and that they did not all require ‘thick-skin’. Yet here I was, apologising for my thin-skin.

If I learned anything about myself in Afghanistan, it was that being thin-skinned did not equate to being weak. What mattered more than having a thick-skin was having an open heart, and perhaps most of all, having the willingness to keep feeling even when it is frightening to do so.

Resilience, not tough detachment, was the kind of strength I cultivated in Afghanistan.

And that resilience means that I’ll sit down next week and start rewriting the first 100 pages of my book. But not before I let myself have a wee cry. And a cup of tea. And perhaps a little chocolate.

My boyfriend was at the lunch with me, at my request, so that he could be the voice of objective reason when, as I knew I would, I started to tell myself that my agent hated the book. That the meeting had been a disaster. His take on my wee melt-down?

“I thought to myself,” he said, “that I should have brought a thermos of tea and a bar of dark chocolate. If we had been able to plonk them down in front of you, you probably would have been ready to start revisions on the spot!”.

Which is one of the many reasons I love him. He understands that my kind of resilience it it’s own kind of courage. And that it is fueled by encouragement, tea and chocolate.


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35 Responses to "Book update: In which I have lunch with my agent in New York."

  1. Ah. What a wonderful agent. What a terrible lunch. It’s an invisible line, this farther out place where the book disappears and we write ourselves.

  2. R. says:

    I am a strong, compassionate person. I am thin skinned. I allow myself to feel. My boss told me yesterday I should become thick skinned. After reading this post, I can comfortably say no, its not who I am. Thank-you.

  3. What a wonderful boyfriend! Provisions of tea and dark chocolate! LOVE IT! Just keep going. It’s what we all do, huh?

  4. Boys can be so amazing and practical can’t they.

    I cry all over the place. It’s how I release too. I cried whilst teaching once. Nobody seemed to care so I’ve stopped caring. I’ve never had a business meeting in Manhatten though so I’m not sure what I’d feel in that situation 😀

    (I have cried in a conference call finalising a £15million commerical property deal when I worked in corporate law. I think they were tears of relief that it was finally over. My boss took the piss for weeks!)

  5. kerin rose says:

    I am so much like you Marianne…and have decided that tears are a sign of strength…I’ve decided it means we are BRAVE enough to display the true emotion we are feeling…dry ourselves up, and then spring right back into action…instead of just parking it somewheres…

    I say, just make sure your mascara is waterproof! 🙂

  6. Perhaps one of the most lovely and romantic posts I’ve ever read. Like a delicate flower.

  7. Swirly says:

    Oh my friend ~ I so appreciate you sharing this story. This is exactly the kind of encouragement I need (you always provide that for me.) And right there at the end of your entry, when I thought I was doing well not getting too weepy, I read what Lucas said, and then there was no holding that weepiness back.

  8. I cry easily too, when I’m stressed or upset or mad. And I love the idea that thin-skinned doesn’t equal weak, and that there are different kinds of resilience and courage.

    I hope you’ve returned home refreshed, ready to start more revisions – with plenty of tea and dark chocolate, of course!

  9. Lori says:

    Very sweet post- I started following you on twitter and I am glad that I did. I like your honesty. I relate to this post so much, thank you for sharing your heart.

  10. Clare Mulvany says:

    Wonderful post Marianne- open, brave, honest and oh so lovely. Good luck with writing round II. I’ve been there, and momentum will build again, just trust it!

  11. Lanham True says:

    Cultivating resilience — what a brilliantly concise way to encapsulate something so large. Thank you.

  12. M,

    You are most wonderful and I love you.


  13. Jodi Sagorin says:

    I absolutely love this. I admire your courage and resilience. I have a combo thick/thin skin. In public, I’m so strong it’s ridiculous, but the second I’m alone I always let myself have a good cry and you use my secret weapon as well: tea and chocolate. I literally carry tea bags of Five Roses (south african tea from my childhood) and Cadbury.
    You continue to be an incredible inspiration to me. I’ve been dreaming of working for the UN since I was in 6th grade, too 🙂

  14. Gemma says:

    The feedback loop is a big one, eh. I’ve been responsible for starting a few meetings with “not quite there yet”, forgetting the importance of beginning with “This is what’s working well so far…”. (It’s kinda like going straight for the choppy-choppy bit of the massage without the softly-softly warm-up. Ouch!)
    From experience, I reckon if you start a meeting that way then you have to be prepared for what comes next! Tears, anger, defensiveness, “you don’t know what you’re talking about”. The real test is how you both deal with the rest of the meeting once you’ve invited that kind of reaction, and it sounds like you’ve got yourself a great agent. And a great boyfriend. (Say hi to him from me!)

  15. Brigitte says:

    I am very much looking forward to your book — now more than ever.

  16. Andi says:

    I’m sending you big hugs!!! I can’t imagine what was running through your head leading up to this huge event in your life. I’m sure most people would have cried. Your book is your baby! I know you will just rewrite it in an even more profound way. 🙂

  17. B says:

    I love this post. I too have tears as a default setting when I am stressed, angry, sad, upset, sometimes even when I’m happy! I really love the idea of creating resilience not detachment.

  18. Roxanne says:

    Hello from a fellow conflict management professional who lives and works in conflict and post-conflict zones… Your candidness, sensitivity, boldness and delicacy are an inspiration. Keep writing for all of us!

    • Marianne Elliott says:

      Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments! It seems I’m in good company with my thin-skin and easy tears. I really appreciate your support and will carry it with me as I head back into yet another round of revisions.

      With gratitude,


  19. Amanda says:

    timely (for me)! and true. resilience, persistence has always been a great strength of yours Marianne. xx

  20. I love this post, Marianne. I love how real and human and honest you are in it.

  21. asiyah says:

    Hi five to the boyfriend. 🙂

    And a big fat hug to you. I am sure your book will be beautiful.

  22. sas says:

    the book is going to be an absolute fire-cracker!

    you are beautiful and amazing.

  23. Lisa says:

    Great post!

    Thanks for sharing this experience.

    I’m that kind of crier, too 🙂

    Take good care of yourself as you magically craft those re-writes.

  24. Jody says:

    I’m with you all the way. Having just been the first with a flood of tears on Day 3 of yoga teacher training. I hope I don’t cry at every class but if I do at least it tells me I’m feeling it. Not sure who it is that always comes up with these shoulds in life, like better to be thick skinned, but I don’t buy it.

    Tea and chocolate sounds like a great step forward.

  25. Alys says:

    ahh your punamu is being polished. big massive love to you sis. There’s a spicey-soy-hot-chocolate here with your name on if you want a chat, let me know how if I can help 🙂 xx

  26. Akhila says:

    Marianne, what a wonderful and moving post. It is amazing to see all that you have accomplished in life — and to see the process of getting a book deal. You’ve done so much to be proud of. And yet, there are things like this that shake the best of us, no? Just remember it helps you keep growing and learning, and the process is important. I can’t wait to see the end result!

  27. […] little taste of my latest experience in the long, slow journey of revisions, you might like to read this recent post in which I show how to get through revisions if you are a thin-skinned […]

  28. speechless at your total and absolute soft-hearted, big-brained, total integrity genius.

    sending love.

  29. Rachael King says:

    It’s just a small hump on the way to fabulousness, and when the book is out to great acclaim you will look back on this lunch with great fondness. And you were right to be excited – ‘lunch with my NY agent’ is a fabulous concept equalled (or surpassed) only by ‘lunch with my NY publisher’ which I just know is on the horizon for you. xxx

  30. Margaret says:

    Lovely post, Marianne. Sometimes I think that my oldest daughter and I are the only ones who cry easily when we’re moved, angry, happy, sad- or experiencing any other strong emotion. Thank you for your honesty and wonderful writing.

  31. Alexis Grant says:

    Hey lady! Just back from a remote writer’s colony and getting caught up on my favorite blogs. I love how you can tie the story arc or theme of your book into your life now… That shows you’re really *in* your book — Know what I mean? It’s a good thing.

    If you want some support during rewrites or just want to talk out some ideas, you know where to find me!

  32. Bobbi French says:

    Hi Marianne,
    just wanted to connect as I am linking this post in my blog tomorrow called “Cry Me A River”, hope that’s okay. Also I’ll be joining Gypsy Girls Guide as a guest tomorrow which will give you an idea who I am and what I’m doing, nothing as exciting as you I’m afriad. Congrats on all you great work

    Love from your fellow crier,

  33. […] blog and yet again a story about crying and whether this means one is ‘thin skinned’ ( Now this woman has been a peace keeper in Afghanistan, I think she can cry whenever she bloody […]

  34. […] Crying seems to be emerging as a theme in this revision process. Which is interesting since it is one of the more problematic themes in the book itself. […]

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