Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bora Bora. And I Don't Mean Tahiti.

As I continue to settle into my new(ish) role as a married person and Sabine's mama, I somehow remember story after story from the time when it was just me in the world of magazines. While in that world, my family and my oldest friends were impressed with my bylines, my office space, how I presented myself, and the fact that I traveled constantly. I was impressed, too. Until it got really old and I realized I was piecing together people's perceptions of me to create a sense of self instead of knowing and just being me.

I quit my job at Allure magazine in New York for one at Architectural Digest in Los Angeles, where I grew up. Allure and AD are both Conde Nast publications so I was switching magazines but working for the same company. Within my first two weeks at AD, the ever so notorious editor-in-chief Paige Rense called me into her office. Now, mind you, practically no one was called into this woman's office but for maybe three people who worked just under her and had been at the magazine for decades.

When I entered Rense's office she asked me to review a stack of manuscripts with editors' marks. She wanted to know what I thought of the corrections since I'd worked in New York. In her mind, since I'd learned on the mothership (most Conde Nast magazines and editors, including Rense, were based in Manhattan), I was well seasoned and could help her measure what worked vs. what needed fixing. Naturally, I was completely flattered and soon began walking down the halls with confidence instead of like the new kid.

A few days later, an editor who'd been at the magazine for awhile and who was also in Rense's good graces told me to be careful because Rense was known for loathing someone just as quickly as she'd decided she loved them. That was in June. Before I knew it, it was December and time for the annual holiday luncheon at a Beverly Hills hotel. It was an intimate affair for only the small editorial staff. When I arrived, I discovered my name card was placed at the head table with Rense and the other top-level editors. Again, I was somewhat impressed with myself. I laughed and drank champagne and talked shop, feeling very fancy and important.

Rense's gift to her employees every year was a donation to an animal shelter in each of their names. She would essentially pay to have a certain number of dogs rescued and a picture of one of those dogs was part of each employee's place setting at the luncheon. The dog Rense saved in my name was called Cowboy. He was a particularly adorable little mutt with only three legs. After we'd finished eating, we were sharing dog photos and smiling about all the little doggie lives we'd saved when the editor sitting directly next to me picked up Cowboy's picture and said, "Paige, look at Laura's dog. Isn't he just the cutest one?". Paige, who was about seventy two years old at the time and who hadn't spoken directly to me during the meal--or since my proud visit to her practically royal office, replied (remember, my name is Laura), "What? BORA? WHO'S BORA?".

There's nothing like being called "Bora" in front of your co-workers, who you were feeling very tall around, to slap the fancy pants right off of you. It was suddenly crystal clear that I wasn't the experienced editor from New York anymore; that Rense didn't remember my name; and that there had been an empty spot to fill at the boss's table. I was unbelievably relieved when chairs began to move and editors headed toward the exit. I took my picture of Cowboy, my tattered fancy pants and headed for the valet, where I waited for my Honda in a sea of Mercedes and Land Rovers.

These days, for me, being married and a mother means I don't see myself through other people's eyes anymore. I get to be only exactly who I am and not who anyone wants me to be. The best part about that? The more I'm me, the more Sabine and Kadin are beautifully, authentically, simply themselves.

Image via Elite Choice


Leslie said...

I sometimes have the same experience, being just a little bit Chinese. A fly on the wall is a good description of that. I will often tell people I'm part Chinese, when they are stereotyping Asians. I think it's eye opening for the other person, as you can just never tell who you are talking to.

Madeleine Kerr said...

I love this story! And, I'd just like to add, um, who is the idiot who thought Bora is actually a name:)


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