Luxury Is Refusal: Learning to Say No

It’s taken me 40 years to do that math, but I finally understand that every invitation I turn down buys a chunk of time that’s mine — all mine.

By Elinor Lipman
When I invited someone to a recent reading of mine, 100 yards from her door, she answered with the same recycled excuse: "I have tickets for a play that night." I e-mailed back, "...but you’d have loved to come and meet me after all these years of doing business by phone?" Rude or hypocritical — or both? It’s just that I expect a little effort, a gushing, convincing so-sorry-but-no along with the offer of future social intercourse. This way, one can then infer from the turndown that it is merely the result of a regrettable and unavoidable scheduling conflict, and not a divorce.Another thing I’ve learned is that almost everyone accepts no with grace, as if it’s what he or she expected to be the answer all along. The committee that recruits talent for the conference moves down the list to the next author’s name. The parents of the bride cheer when my turndown arrives, reducing their bottom line by one hugely expensive rack of lamb and my share of fashion-forward canapes.Off the hook, I send a gift, regrets reiterated on the card. Later I hear about the deeply disappointed dentist couple slated for my table; they’ve been keen to meet me because their daughter is a talented writer in need of advice.I am tempted to say, "Whew. That was close. Nothing worse than a stage mother with a writing sample in her purse." But I don’t. A fiction writer’s job, after all, is to spin tales and sound convincing. "Greatly looking forward to next time," I reply.Originally published in MORE magazine, November 2006.

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