One day in June I caused a nationally syndicated advice columnist to run from me after I mentioned I enjoyed her column when really I had only looked her up a few days before because I was told the freelance photography job I had been assigned would include her. She wasn’t even the subject of the photos or the story; her husband was.
I think the columnist, who for the sake of this post I will call “Betty”, imagined I was some fan-girl, wannabe writer and was going to gush over her writing and beg her for advice right there in the houses her husband had built. I, however, had no intention or interest in gleaning information from her about how to become a successful writer. I don’t really have aspirations to be a successful writer, which is something a writer isn’t supposed to say, er, write. It isn’t that I wouldn’t enjoy getting paid for writing and having more than only my family appreciate it, but the idea of accepting all that comes from being well known doesn’t appeal to me.
Honestly, I couldn’t figure out why “Betty” was even present at the interview, which was being conducted by someone else and hasn’t been published yet, since the story wasn’t about her. It was about her architect husband and the tiny house community he had built along one of the picturesque Finger Lakes near us. I’m guessing her “nationally known” status was the reason for her presence, though I didn’t know her. After being told her name by the editor of the magazine I was shooting for, I looked her up where anyone else looks people up these days – Google. The couple had their engagement and wedding featured in the New York Times and her column showed up on a who’s-who list of national newspapers. It turns out she’s also a New York Times best selling author. (Disclaimer: this post was not sponsored by the New York Times, unfortunately.)
On this day “Betty” had no clear connection to the story, other than she was the wife of the subject, and I could tell even she was a bit baffled by her presence. Her confusion over the need for her to be at the interview may be why she ultimately excused herself, but I did notice that move came immediately after I said, “I enjoy your column.”
Actually, I also said, “I’m a blogger. No one reads it, so I just do it for fun.” I can see how that sounded like I was about to follow that comment up with: “What can I do to get people to read my blog?” But I wasn’t going to. Because I wasn’t there for Betty. I was there for her husband. I was actually only trying to be polite and recognize her work as well as his.
I don’t even know why I said anything because I’d only read one of her columns.
Two days before I met her.
However, I really did enjoy it and also enjoyed listening to her talk about how creative, smart and amazing her husband was. She was a delightful person who reminded me of myself in some ways, except she’s older and has five daughters in her blended family., and, based on her column, has a great deal more talent at writing.
Shortly after, or actually immediately after, my awkward comments she leaned toward her husband and said, “If I’m no longer needed, I’m going to slip away.”
And she did, though the interviewer suggested I grab a photo of the couple before she left. I did and it was sweet how the pair, who found love for each other late in their lives, smiled and giggled at each other like young newlyweds. Still, I couldn’t figure out why a photo of her was needed because, I reiterate, the story had nothing to do with her.
It’s a shame I frightened her away because I probably could have actually learned quite a bit from her, if not about writing, then a little bit about life itself. I guess I can read her column more often if I want to learn about her view on life. I’ll probably find we don’t agree at all on a number of things but there may be others we do.
What I do have to learn is how to be more tactful when I try to compliment others on their talents.
Maybe I’ll submit a question to her advice column about all of this.
“Dear Nationally Syndicated Columnist:
I inadvertently freaked out a nationally syndicated columnist who may or may not have thought I was trying to ask her for writing advice during an interview about her husband. I was not trying to ask her advice. How can I explain to her I’m not some weirdo freak, but really was just trying to be polite?”
Weirdo Blogger in Pennsylvania.