My writing career has slowly begun to take flight. It’s been a lot — a lot! — of uphill trudging, poring over sentences, fine-tuning images, sweating the choice between balmy and humid or paunchy and beefy, and obsessing over whether to use the formal colon or the informal dash.
Well, the drudgery has paid off and I’m finding myself taking meetings with producers and directors, managers and agents. This, of course, is a welcome advance in my career, but now there’s a whole new laundry list of items to worry about. How do I dress for these meetings? I’m not a suit (i.e., a businessman), so can I wear my Johnny Cash t-shirt with jeans and Chucks? Once in the room, should I accept the obligatory bottle of water? Is it rude if I don’t? Where do I sit in the room? The couch? The chair? Do I cross my legs? If so, how so? The more relaxed leg over the knee — or is that a sign of weakness? Perhaps the ankle rested on the knee — or is that too casual? Who do I look at? Is eye contact okay? Or is that a sign of aggression?
I realize the above paragraph conveys a man who is paranoid and maybe a little neurotic (if not fanatic), but bear in mind that I’ve been working to get into these meetings for over ten years, so I’m desperate for things to go well. Recently, I found myself walking into the office of a pretty renowned actor/director/producer — the kind who has a one-foot tall gold statuette of a naked man standing atop a five-spoked reel of film. Yes, that statuette. Something about the presence of such an award makes for an intimidating experience (that is, if you’re in the movie business — I don’t imagine that tax attorneys or pig farmers or day laborers give a damn about an Oscar).
Nevertheless, I was cool. My professionalism and experience crystallized in the room, and I was pitching ideas and turning story beats. You’d never know that just hours earlier I was warming a bottle, changing a diaper, and threatening to tickle my kids with all the enthusiasm of third grader who’d lost his prescription for Ritalin.
Before I could launch into my next pitch, the man (let’s call him Ernie) stopped me and asked if I wanted to continue the meeting over lunch. “Sounds great, Ernie,” I said. “But before we go I just need to use the potty.”
Oh. Holy. God.
Those two syllables came out of my mouth in slow motion, as if they had originated from a tape recorder with nearly-dead batteries: “…pawwww-teeeee…” I had always felt that getting married and having kids was one of the things that helped me to mature as a storyteller, to ripen and to flourish. And now, here I was in a make-or-break scenario, and my son’s bladder was rearing its ugly head, indirectly demanding my attention from a full county away.
Ernie cocked his head to the side. “Did you say you have to go potty?” he asked. I didn’t respond. I just sat there, looking, I imagine, pretty friggin’ mortified. “Do you need help in the potty?” he added. Before I could explain, he smiled and said, “I got kids myself. Teenagers. Don’t look so embarrassed. There’s more to come, trust me.”
He was right, of course. I wouldn’t need a prophet to tell me that there’s a lot more humiliation coming my way at the hands of my children. There’s nothing like a public and professional faux pas to remind you that nothing’s really all that sacred. Like the book says, “Everybody poops.” If you can make peace with that, it’s a lot easier to smile and just enjoy the ride.