Posted by: MC | August 3, 2010

Smarter Than We Think We Are

Way smarter than most media and elected officials give us credit.  Way!

I’ve been spending the past weeks looking hard for ways to get the attention of professionals engaged in the publishing industry in our country.  It is, for sure, a culture all its own.  As with any culture, there are conventions.  There is jargon and there are protocols for what represents communication worth attending to.  All of these, at least in my experience, must be carefully studied and then attempted with little to no coaching and, as it turns out, very high odds of no response.

I remember living in Mexico the summer I turned 16.  I lived with the family of Dr. Melchor Diaz – the home he and his wife and endearing assistant/friend, Che had lived for many years to raise the Diaz daughters, Anna Luz and Anna Paz – light and peace.  I remember watching and listening to know how to fit with a language and with social ways different from those I’d known until then.  I remember how whole, fresh milk tasted awful, so I learned how to drink coffee.  Tongue and fish eggs were pretty icky, too (didn’t get that fish eggs were caviar — still, they were icky).   I remember only wearing dresses and never going anywhere with agemates, especially boys, without a chaperone.  I remember volunteering at the hospital for indigent people that Dr. Diaz directed in Morelia, Michoacan; Sanatorio La Luz.  It was right across the street.  I folded gauze pads and made cotton balls from bales the size of turkeys.

I was young, so myself endearing I guess.  The Diazs, their friends and neighbors, the nurses, and Che were only kind and encouraging.  Still, I paid really close and constant attention to learn and respect the ways of the people and their culture.  [P.S., I saw a baby born on my birthday – quite the amazement for a 16 year old girl – the side benefit, a remarkable motivator for birth control!]

Compared to crossing publishing’s border, Mexico was easy.  Mexico was open and friendly.  It’s not that publishing folk aren’t, they just don’t have time or interest in anything but what they deem astonishingly promising.  I get that.  I’m also a grown up now and advocating for the publication of the voices of EX:Change.  I’m playing with the big boys and girls — bridging into economic and political worlds that were way less immediate for a teenager visiting Mexico.

In the past weeks I’ve heard from two agents who indicated the book described in my terse query letter and equally requisite extensive proposal were not for them.  One said “Too rote.  Would make a good sociology text.”  Another said the book length was too much and the tie to Obama too close.  I can streamline and punch up the narrative and adjust the length, but the last criticism represents my failure to communicate what EX:Change is and was really about.  As is most often the case, after the initial pout, both of these responses have been more of a help than anything.  I’ve had to be much clearer.

Here’s what came to me.  EX:Change is not a chronicle admiring a political figure or ideology.  There are plenty of those out there (e.g., only in every news medium you dare to indulge).  It is also not a “look at me” story.  As near overwhelmingly popular as personal narratives have been lately (cf. “Eat, Pray, Love,”  “The Happiness Project,” “Einstein’s Brain”) EX:Change is not that kind of story.  Instead, it’s a “look at us” story.

Like I said at the start, we are way smarter than we think.  In fact, based on what I heard from the 100 voices of EX:Change, we’re a natural national resource.  Here’s the other thing – we live in a nation that names itself a democracy.  The idea of a democracy is that our voices matter.  So here they are, ready to be given back to the citizens and our communities – rich sources of ideas for how to address the issues crashing in on our lives and the life of our country.

We’ll see if I can get this across in a way that is catchy, relevant and even urgent in the perception of the publishing world.  We’ll see if I can make our ‘smartness’ obvious and impossible to resist within that culture (one of media’s children…).   I’m not giving up because here where I sit — right next to this powerful EX:Change of insight and creativity among everyday folk, I know I’m seeing the lifeblood of our country in ways that — like with real everyday, functioning, vessel-contained blood — we usually ignore.

There’s an often quoted Chinese proverb:  Only fish don’t know water.  With all the drama, fanfare and manic vying for power inside the beltway, on network and cable ‘news,’ in all 50 statehouses — with all the wars and oil and natural disasters and the urgent realities of a struggling economy — it is easy to forget the source of a democracy, the people.  We aren’t victims, here.  We’re part of the forgetting.  EX:Change is one way of revealing the American people for the vast and essentially untapped resource we are.


  1. Hello Mary!

    I love your new book focus. We all really know more than we give ourselves credit for. I think it is a favorite past time of the media and pop culture to make fun of the masses. It keeps us feeling seperate from each other and more dependent on their jargon. I love that you went out and asked! The knowledge is there and I hope you keep keepin on to get your work heard. I believe you will find the way. Yay for you and 100 voices! The wisdom is all around us. : )

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