Friday, October 8, 2010

Random ruminations on being an unknown

I was recently asked by Lateral Learning Speakers Agency to present a masterclass for the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year Award finalists, and as part of that experience was invited, with the finalists, to tour the archives of the Mitchell Library with the Exhibition Curator, Paul Brunton. The special highights Paul selected included a lock of James Cook's hair in a casket that Cook's crew hand-carved from the timber of Resolution; the hand-written manuscripts for Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark and Kate Grenville's The Secret River, and, most significantly for me, the hat, pen and death mask of one of my literary heroes, Henry Lawson. They also had the copy edit of his short story collection While the Billy Boils, complete with his red editing marks.

But that's not really what I sat down to write about here. No, my major rumination has to do with a thought I had the following day, when I sat down for the lunch in the Dixson Room of the State Library of NSW. The man sitting beside me, who works for Fairfax, introduced himself, and I told him my name. 'What do you do?' he asked, and I told him that I'm a writer. 'I'm very sorry, but I'm not familiar with your work,' he replied.

We writers get that a lot. We don't feel hurt - it's just how it is. But at the same time, it's easy to wonder how far one is from being a 'known', rather than an 'unknown'. And to feel a bit despondent.

But then I spun it. I thought, if I'd been seated next to someone I knew, and who knew me, that would offer me very little in terms of improving profile, forming connections, networking, whatever you want to call it. And to be completely mercenary, that's why we go to these things, right? But here I was next to someone who didn't know me or my work (I wasn't familiar with his either, by the way) and I was suddenly in a position to create a new and possibly very useful connection. And from a networking point of view, isn't it more useful to shake hands with a stranger, have a long conversation and exchange cards at the end than yack about the same old stuff with someone we've known for years?

(Photo by Sara Fishwick)

1 comment:

Katrina said...

Well that's a nice positive spin and I think I agree with you. 'Networking' is a horrible word but finding new people to make connections with is always fun.