The word “agency” brings up for me those elusive people known as literary agents. But In his “New York Times” column of November 14th, David Brooks supplied a different meaning. He began by writing about George Elliot, the marvelous author of “Middlemarch.” (If you haven’t read the book, hie thee to the nearest bookstore or library.) According to Brooks, Eliot was an emotionally needy woman who had numerous disastrous affairs. Then one day she gathered courage to write to the man she loved, asserting her own worth and demanding his devotion. Her letter was unsuccessful, but Brooks claims that in being able to speak up for herself she had found her ”agency moment.”
This sent me running to Webster. Reading down a paragraph of definitions I discovered that “agency” also means ”the state of being in action and exerting power.”
What Brooks doesn’t credit enough is that Eliot’s power lay more in moving past her vast insecurity as a writer to produce one classic book after another.
To perform beyond our insecurities, surely this is power. And it’s needed day after day – when rejection letters account for most of our mail, or a critic’s sour dismissal of our latest book jeopardizes years of effort. I once received a form letter from a magazine I won’t name that mockingly listed the reasons a story might be turned down, with an editor’s checkmark in the one that presumably applied. The last box was, “What makes you think you can write?” Fortunately for my fragile ego that one wasn’t checked off.
“Agency” is surely needed when a friend betrays us or a child becomes estranged or an employer coldly cuts us off, not to mention all the other ways this chaotic world threatens to come down upon our vulnerable heads.
How do we claim our power, our strength, and become deafened to the “not good enough” voices from childhood on? Does our sense of self crumble before another dismissive voice or do we “listen to our own criteria” as Brooks so aptly says?
That’s what enables us to put our unwanted manuscript into another envelope or attach it to an E-mail again — and again — and….! To paraphrase Brooks, “iron begins to enter our soul.”
BOOKS: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomrrow”- Xlibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” – Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com. Also Amazon Kindle.
Share YOUR “Agency Moment” in this space.