The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Ya Dig?: The Best Psychological Thriller Ever!

I have been eyeing the mince pies all night. Not because I especially want one, although they aren’t as bad as I thought they would be. But no, I am eyeing the mince pies because I am surrounded by a subsection of the thriving populous that is London’s writers and actors, and I feel very out of place. I am here as an intern, already a very awkward position. The event I was here to help run is over and people are mingling. Business cards are exchanged as easily as handshakes and expensive beers are purchased and left half-finished. These people call themselves artists, but they sure aren’t starving.

Finally a guy not much older than I am walks up to me, introducing himself as James. He seems a bit too friendly, immediately asking my name and if I am from Canada. “No … I’m from the United States,” I reply, warming up to him since at least he did not immediately peg me as American. I ask him what he is doing at this literary event and he tells me that he has submitted to the organization before, and didn’t get accepted. “But I thought I’d come check it out!” James goes on, obviously unfazed by a rejection. Okay, I think to myself, he has confidence, never a bad thing! I ask him if he is working on anything else. “I’m working on a novel,” he tells me with pride. I can’t resist and indulge him by asking what kind. He tells me it is a psychological thriller. He continues by informing me that his novel is going to be “the best thriller to come out in years.” I really couldn’t take this conversation seriously from the beginning, but now it is just getting ridiculous. After saying this, James smiles with a hint of facetiousness. Yet the smile quickly fades and he looks at me earnestly. This guy truly believes that his (most likely 10-page so far) novel is going to be the best. I bet he has a website, with a “forthcoming works section.” Ah, the writer waiting to be discovered. I can’t even make fun of him, though, because I am so shocked, so I just mutter something like “good luck.” He doesn’t sense my judgment, and enthusiastically shakes my hand. “Hey, if you’re ever in L.A. maybe I’ll see you. I’m traveling there soon to submit my movie script.”

His movie script, of course. Before I can say anything else he is gone, circling the room like a jungle cat stalking its prey. It was time to move on to people with things to offer him besides an ego boost. Besides, his business cards are burning a hole in his pocket and he has to hand out all of them before he leaves. As for me, I leave 10 minutes later, shocked by the bright lights and crowds of people of Oxford Street. I walk home without my usual city swagger I have come to acquire in London. I move slower and don’t swerve out of the way at the right time, bumping into late-night shoppers. I am distracted by a question I can’t figure out. Why was I so confused by how those people were behaving? And why did it make me so sad?

I realize that it was not the fact that James thought his novel was really, really good. That is fine—I am super proud of some things I do, too. I think we all are, especially with things like writing it is necessary to have a little pride or else it is just too hard to put yourself out there again and again. But James wasn’t just confident, he was directly comparing himself to oh, just all other authors of thrillers recently published. And it was more than that, it was the way he went about it, not searching for genuine connection or actually curious about me at all. He was just looking for someone to let him speak out loud about how great he was, to be impressed by him. I actually laughed out loud then, because I realized James, and in fact all of those people, were exactly what I don’t usually run into at Grinnell. People here invest themselves in projects, in writing and research and art, but for the most part they don’t let those things take over their ego. Blatant and ruthless competition, bragging—these are all things that are not part of Grinnell culture. I laughed because I realized that in the real world there are many occasions where this type of more humble and community-focused culture is not the norm. I am so glad I am not at a college where everyone is trying to beat each other to be the best. I am so grateful that comparing test scores to feel good about yourself is not normal here, that people don’t make writing into a competition. I don’t see why this would change, but remember, don’t be a James while you’re here! Save that for a literary event in London.

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