If you follow the bestseller lists, you know that memoirs are the hottest genre going. Seems Americans of every ilk are writing about their experiences. Well, readers, I've just received an advance copy of one memoir that is going to rock your world: Don't Let's Quarter the Danish Tonight: A Meeting Planner's Journey to Recovery.
The author is identified only by the initials “C.M.P.” on the cover, and as “Connie” throughout the telling of this gripping tale about the terrible toll that this profession can take on those who are devoted to it.
The setting is a plush recovery center for meeting planners 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. The facility was built with a huge donation from a major hotel company, which the author declines to identify. Suffice it to say that the beds are heavenly, the service incredible, and the amenities bound to knock the socks off any meeting planner. (Jaded readers may suspect something other than an altruistic motive for the hotel company's generosity — but who can know?)
The memoir's edgy characters include Madge, a funny, fierce, longtime convention director for a major trade association who wakes up on her 50th birthday unable to shake the conviction that no one outside the world of conventions believes that meeting planning is really a profession. Sinking into a serious funk, she decides to seek help. There's Connie, whose family checked her in after she could no longer control her compulsive behavior. (She routinely insisted that family members register for meals and that guests wear name badges.) There's Roger, an éminence grise of the industry who can't bring himself to retire, though he's well past the time to do so. He wears black turtlenecks and writes cryptic haikus as he comes to accept that he is never going to be inducted into the CIC's Hall of Leaders.
There's even a creased, eccentric trade journalist who checks into the center undercover to write an exposé, but ends up seeking therapy for her own affliction. (She secretly suffers from repetition compulsion — she is unable to write more than 200 words without inserting “net square feet.”) She finds genius in the haikus of the reluctant retiree and is able to move toward recovery.
They are all in the care of the young Dr. Phil, who tries to break their compulsive behaviors (obsessive chatting with one another, for example) with a number of creative therapies. Planners begin the day in the meditation garden, where they silently contemplate the gigantic spoon sculpture for 30 minutes before a no-talking breakfast. One of the interesting tensions in the book is that the reader never really knows if Dr. Phil is truly there to help patients, or if he is he mainly milking the experience for a lucrative book.
I won't give away the ending. Let's just say Don't Let's Quarter the Danish Tonight should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the hidden hazards in the world of meeting planners.