Who are you? What do you do?
Oh, I'm just a little girl from Little Rock, as they say. Today on Broad Street, while I was out for a walk, a woman asked me if I was from here, and I thought, as I always do, "No, I'm from somewhere else." But the truth is, I've lived in Manhattan all my adult life and she just wanted directions to the Wall Street Bull (which, is, in fact, on Broadway, just North of Bowling Green–– can't miss it, and keep an eye out for a Peregrine Falcon, soaring or perhaps perched somewhere above the original Colonial-era fence).
I'm a publicist. As I was once introduced at a literary festival, "the very independent publicist." I work on my own with a wide variety of writers, organizations, and others on mostly cultural projects, largely books. Once when I was about 24, I was disconsolate about the fact that I was more or less unemployable, and a friend who was about a decade older brightly said, "If only someone would pay you to be yourself!" I thought her unspeakably cruel at the time, but a decade later, that's more or less the case. I'm very selective about what I take on and who I represent, and think a great deal about integrity in all shapes and forms and how talented citizens can bring about a more just society, or at the very least, how we all might practice being civilized together.
On a micro level, I make useful connections that others may not have yet seen, and help editors, booksellers, event producers and readers find what they are looking for most in the form of my clients. My job is not to bombard the landscape, but rather to make the one meaningful spark where there was none.
I am told that people sometimes call it "the Lauren Cerand effect," although I've never heard that firsthand. Or they might jokingly call me "the Oracle." I find it mildly endearing, but not in any way affecting. I'm too experienced to think that anyone hires me for anything other than to find them a solution to a challenge. I'm also thinking about other things, like whether or not to go on an extended meditation retreat for six months, or to decamp entirely to a farm in Virginia horse country. Work is what I do for money, and how I've survived. It's not at all who I am.
I do a lot of strategic consulting, and have strengthened many companies using media outreach as a lens, because as time has passed, its become evident that publicity, as I learned how to do it, has a much deeper and more critical role at the heart of the story that's being told than its superficial representation in industry and culture; if the plot is muddled, no one cares about the credits. But I call myself a publicist because that's the easiest description of what I am paid to do, and I like to keep a very low profile when I'm not in-demand. While I've thought about going to business school, I studied basic economics, and that's enough, considering those are fairly simplistic models of what we think happens. I'm also deeply opposed to accruing personal debt if at all possible. When I want to change my focus, I shift my projects over time.
A typical morning
Mornings, I take it easy because, unlike many jobs, mine ramps up and up and up as the hours pass, and most of my work takes place in the form of professional socializing in the evenings. It's nice in the moment, and can be grueling in the aggregate. Most of my nights are blocked out and committed anywhere between one and six months in advance, so if someone is available for breakfast, I'll happily schedule that, but it's infrequent. I answer email that's come in overnight from clients in London and other time zones first, because they have a shorter window in which we're both at our desks. I write out the key tasks I'd like to accomplish before I read a single line of text so that I can remain focused on what matters. By eleven or so, I've looked at my schedule, and I'll go out to lunch to discuss a work project or with a client, and often won't return home before midnight. I like to lunch at India House if possible so I can leave five minutes before I need to be there and pop over here if I've forgotten anything. It's also quiet enough to think. A sense of calm is very, very important to me, as is the flexibility to ordain my hours.
When you're on your own time...
Sleep, lying quietly in a dark room, resting my eyes. Those are all real states that I fantasize about often. My work is intellectually vigorous, so the fact that I have little time for other pursuits doesn't bother me too much, other than the first three. Every now and then during a slow time of year, I'll take a class like pottery or dance, just to slip into that space of not thinking about anything. Years of meditation mean it's like riding a bike; I can fall back into it anytime. Last summer I learned how to kayak in Lake Cayuga, a shared pastime that all of the lives of the summer house's various inhabitants soon revolved around. I would love to swim any time of day, but that's not really possible in New York. There's an apartment building up the street with an indoor pool that I've been thinking about lately. I once read an article about an Italian fashion editor who swam for hours in the morning and no one was allowed to disturb her, for any reason. That's my vision of grace, and one I haven't attained in my own life yet.
Weekday breakfasts and the jetlag cure.
I used to think biscuits, poached eggs and extra-crispy bacon was heaven. I felt terrible all the time, though, so I bought a FitBit, which tracks footsteps, and kept track of the calories I consumed. The first thing I learned was I ate an extra 1000 calories, mostly drunk, starting at around cocktail hour every night. I cut back on drinking at work significantly, and stopped eating big breakfasts, and I've lost 10 or 15 pounds. I step on the scale once a week and try to treat myself as well as possible in the interim. I used to drink in excess because I was bored, and it certainly makes the time go by. These days, I'll go home early. Now I'm one of those people who eats the same thing every day: oatmeal with a spoonful of coconut oil, and a double espresso. Best coffee and way of drinking it, in my opinion, is standing at the corner at Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè in Rome. I also love those little Italian croissants that are about the third of the size of ours; cornetti. Perfection.
When I'm on a flight that arrives in the morning, I take a taxi to the grand hotel in town, no matter where I'm staying for the duration, eat whatever I want, and walk it off in the sun. It's as close to a jetlag cure as I've ever found. Especially nice: Hotel de Russie in Rome, Balmoral in Edinburgh. My ideal breakfast is room service, most recently at the Fairmont in San Francisco. Best: Hotel Havana in San Antonio (lazily, under the fan, or the sense memory of one, in one of the tower rooms with tall dark shutters and windows on three sides). I once spent several days eating pate from a jar with a spoon and drinking very good champagne purchased at the supermarket near the apartment I rent in Paris.
I read for work constantly. Mostly manuscripts for novels that I've requested from prospective clients. Usually, if I ask for that, I know I'll work on it and the rest is just details. But you still have to read the book. Sometimes, as in the case of Anne Landsman's The Rowing Lesson, I know by the period at the end of the first sentence that this is a story with the power to change the world.
I spend so much of my time in places that are characterized by a great cacophony that I usually prefer complete silence when I am on my own. The most perfect silence I can ever recall would have to be at a Zen practice center, where the alarm was a tiny wooden mallet several hundred yards away. It's dull peal was enough to summon one down the moonlit path to the temple, and I often recall the breadth of that silent peace in deep, all-encompassing night, and try to return to it as a space to hold for contemplation, a starting point for presence and the possibility of transformation. All a shorthand, effective way to practice accepting the reality of change, constant and close. A friend from Twitter, Christine Cody, sent me a card recently with a quote from Sally Kempton, "Just as the space between the in-breath and the out-breath is an open doorway to the center of consciousness, these spaces [of transition] are like cracks between the worlds." I cut it out and carry it around with me now, as a reference point for stillness when I need it.
I like to hear the kinetic sound of the world, and entertainment if it's live. I would love to go to jazz shows during the week, but most nights are filled up. I went to New Orleans for my birthday last year, and mostly, I walked around the French Quarter, listening to everything and everyone, happy, grateful and present. The best thing I heard was the fountain in the courtyard of the hotel where my parents were married.
A pause at the end...
Weekends are profoundly sacred in my household. I like to cook, and spend time with family and friends, so sometimes my sister's boyfriend will be over (she currently lives with me), and we'll make breakfast together and read the paper, which he thoughtfully bought us a subscription for on the weekends. I make a conscious effort not to look at my phone or email until at least midday.
Ideally, I wake up in time for the 11am service at John Street Church, the oldest Methodist congregation in America, which is a major New York landmark and also happens to be full of really lovely, frequently Southern people. My mother is a Methodist, going several generations back, and from Louisiana, and it's very comforting to be there. It is also, as my sister notes, very inconveniently just after Saturday night, and so I don't go as often as I'd like. But big holidays and in the lull of the quiet times in the cultural calendar, that's where you'll find me.
We usually make breakfast, and neighbors and friends might stop in. Emma, a journalist and a good friend, often comes over as she lives around the corner. I enjoy having houseguests, and very much wish I had a guest bedroom that was always free for that purpose.
The weekend usually involves eggs, style dependent on whim and how hungover the cooks are, and some of the gorgeous vegetables we receive in our weekly Rustic Roots CSA. Every week they deliver a heaving cooler of some new majesty, and we put it right to work. There's always a pot of coffee brewing on the weekend and we go through a couple, depending on who stops in and what's going on in the household. It would probably be my nature to have brunch parties, since it's a habit to organize gatherings and I have several friends in the neighborhood whom I really like and I like the economy and serendipity of groups, but I tend to think of hosting as a weekday work thing and on Sundays I mostly want to sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and decompress. If we go out, it's almost always to Made Fresh Daily or the Sea-Horse in the Seaport. We're only a block from the waterfront and there are tons of ferries to incredible places–– Rockaway Beach, Martha's Vineyard, West Point, you name it, plus the indispensable East River Ferry and the IKEA ferry over to Red Hook.
Purely for pleasure
I read the New York Times in print. On the weekend I am more likely to read purely for pleasure. Right now I'm reading memoirs by scions of America's aristocratic families who all saw it go tremendously wrong, because that relates to a book I'm publicizing this spring, Peter von Ziegesar's The Looking Glass Brother. There are actually enough of them that it's almost its own genre, and, in sum, say something profound about how we craft our identity as Americans.
I'd like to go to the movies, but nothing's really moved me since they stopped showing Breakfast at Tiffany's every Sunday morning at the old Screening Room. I used to come down from my first apartment in Hell's Kitchen for that.
I can do most things during the week if I need to, such as squeeze in a trip to FIT to see the exhibition on dressing during the 1930s ("Elegance in an Age of Crisis") before it closes, as I just noted in my diary (I write in pencil on paper, since this is a confessional exercise). If I am totally free, I might go up to Ithaca. It's almost kayak season. In June, I'll be in Austin for a work event and to visit my brother, and may well drive out to West Texas for the weekend. Later this summer, I hope to put on the third Mazama Festival of Books in Washington State's Methow Valley, four hours north and east from Seattle and straight up into the mountains the whole time.
In London, I have a routine, in that I walk from the club I stay at on Pall Mall up to Bond Street, where I look at jewelry in the windows of the shops, especially the fat Deco diamonds, and buy fresh flowers, ideally lilacs or hyacinths, from the same stall every time. After that, I spend the afternoon reading and blissfully nodding off in the library, including a tray of cucumber sandwiches and tea by the coal fire if it's chilly, until its time to meet friends for drinks at the Ritz.
When in New York, more often than not, I might go up to the Met. A perfect afternoon would be Cafe Sabarsky before and dinner at Demarchelier afterward. I like to look at the Flemish paintings. It's been a while since I've been to Antwerp. Wonderful town. There's also a particular painting that has a quality that I'm looking for in marriage, by Jean Louis David. I've gone to see that one a few times in that last year. I also like pictures of cruel noblemen of the Renaissance, but that's my old type.
The Hispanic Society of America is my favorite new discovery of 2014 so far, and is an absolute destination in every sense of the word.
Ideally, how does the weekend end?
Sunday dinner with my sister and whoever else drops in. As slowly as it can.