It’s Nella From France

I was upset when I read the title of Steve’s Writing Wednesday column the week before last: “Opportunities Are Bullshit.”

My thought process ran this route:

Really, Steve? There have been tons of great opportunities.

What about that interview with Mark McGuinness that just went up?

Wasn’t it an opportunity?

Or not?

When you have an interview with someone you’ve gotten to know as a friend, is it less an opportunity and more a chill session with friends, something above commercialism?

No. Not it.

Hanging with friends is an opportunity. I rarely get to chill with mine. Hanging with Mark McGuinness is a solid opportunity.

What’s the definition of opportunity?

Look it up.

Grab the kid’s dictionary – that’s the easiest, least amount of bullshit.


It’s the wrong question.

What’s bullshit? That’s the question.

Bullshit–it’s that stuff that gets in the way. That stuff that takes away from opportunities, makes them one-sided, about one person.

It’s Nella from France.

And it clicked. I got it. I stopped overthinking it. Opportunities aren’t bullshit. Bullshit masquerading as opportunities are what’s bullshit.

* * *

Take a walk down early 1990’s Newbury St. in Boston and you’ll find me in a second floor salon, working on my BFA between booking appointments and cashing out customers.

Remember the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?

Kindergarten was an eye opener, but my version is titled All I Really Need to Know I Learned from the Hair Salon. There was the heiress who stole bobby pins from CVS because “it’s silly to buy them”; the naturalist who would sit for hours in the winter waiting for her hair to air dry, because blow dryers use too much energy and aren’t natural (though she was able to hurdle the unnatural bit every time she had her hair highlighted); the mousy conservative who knitted penis-warmers (yes, folks, penis warmers) and gave them as winter gifts to friends, and a long line of others who opened me up to the many types of people and behaviors this world offers–and then there was Nella from France.

I was closing out for the evening when she called.

This is Callie, how can I help you?

This is Nella and I need T’s phone number.

I’m sorry, I can’t give out his home number.

But it’s Nella—Nella from France. I just flew in on a helicopter. I need to see him.


A helicopter from France? I still haven’t figured that one out.

Back to the story.

I’m sorry. He’s gone for the evening.


Next day, T comes in.

Did you give my number to Nella?


She called, wanting to get together.

How’d she get it?

Don’t know. M answered.

Background: M is T’s  boyfriend and is more outspoken than Joan Rivers critiquing red-carpet looks at an awards show.

(For the following run between M and Nella, Nella’s voice will be played by the teacher’s voice in the old Charlie Brown cartoons.)


Whant whant whaaa.

He’s not here.

Whant whant whaaa.

Oh, from Paris?

Whant whant whaaa.

You want to get together? Great, where are you taking us for dinner, Honey?

Whant whant whaaa.

You want him to cut your hair?

Whant whant whaaa.

Unless you’re calling to take us to dinner, I don’t care what helicopter you flew in on. He’s not working.

From that point on, “Nella from France” became another way to say bullshit.

Can you believe what just happened? That’s soooo Nella from France.

Nella didn’t have T on retainer. He wasn’t under any contract. He did her hair when she was in town with an appointment. Yes, they’d talked for hours on end over the years, but they weren’t friends. She didn’t know anything about his personal life, about his other commitments, about who he was, what he did in his free time. It was all about her. She never stopped to think about what she was asking: Help make me better. Do this for me.

T was known for what he did. Customers didn’t walk down the stairs when they left after an appointment with him. They floated down, one ego-boosting cloud after another. They stood a little taller, chin up a little higher.

He made them feel good. That’s what he did. Why wouldn’t he want to make them feel good whenever they called? Wasn’t that his purpose?

No. Not at all. He had a family and friends and a beach house in P-town that he escaped to every chance he had. He had hobbies. He had a life outside of his work. His work was a major priority, but it wasn’t everything.

That brings me back to Steve – and opportunities.

My son’s dictionary gives this definition of opportunity:

A favorable time or occasion for doing something: I hope to have the opportunity to go to camp.

Going with the camping sentence the dictionary provided as an example, I’m thinking that if Steve took time away from his work and the rest of his life for camp, it would have to be a camp that he created or researched and chose on his own. If he created it, he’d invite other campers who were of a like mind. If he went to one run by someone else, it would have to be a camp at which he’d enjoy himself and the others there – on his own terms.

Instead of comparing future e-mails with Nella from France, to determine whether there’s an opportunity, I might start asking whether I’d want to go to that camp myself in the future.

Let’s try this camp, as presented via a mix of a few recent e-mails:

Stephen Pressman,

I’d like a copy of your book to review.

Your immediate attention is requested.

Would Steve want to go to this camp? I don’t want to speak for Steve, so I’ll take this. Would I want to go to this camp?

1) He misspelled Steve’s first and last name.

2) He assumed Steve’s the author of one book, which means he’s not taken any time to learn about Steve first.

3) There was no please or thank you. No nice request. I’m big on please and thank you. Gotta’ have them.

Would I go?

I wouldn’t.

That’s definitely NOT a Mark McGuinness camp. I’m thinking it’s run by Nella from France.

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  1. Stacy on January 18, 2013 at 4:14 am

    “Bullshit masquerading as opportunities are what’s bullshit.”

    Yep. Right on.

  2. Basilis on January 18, 2013 at 4:23 am

    Well, yes and no…

    The title of the article was indeed a bit strange, but I believe that you actually agree with what Steven wrote.

    (New) Writers usually hear the word “Opportunity” by people that they want to exploit something…
    Or writers themselves want so bad an Opportunity that take a bullshit as one!

    Steve’s title hits the writers nerve that something is wrong here. And when you read it you see that actually the opportunity might be a big bullshit in disguise, (perhaps as big as a helicopter!)

    But, if you are doing something that you like doing, then I don’t think that there is a problem.

    This might be the best criteria how to judge if an “opportunity” is not an opportunity, or just a lousy Apache helicopter fully armed and waiting for you to say “Yes!” to something meaningless.

    (Stephen Pressman? Ha! A good one! I would propose the: Stephen Golf-field since he wrote the Legend of Bagger)

    • Callie Oettinger on January 18, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Yes, I agree with what Steve wrote, but want to be clear that opportunities exist and that they are a good thing. I don’t agree that opportunities are bullshit – its the ones approaching as if there’s a win-win for both sides that are bullshit, like Nella from France. In the end, I circled back around to where Steve was – but it took some time.

  3. Liza on January 18, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Who the hell is Callie Oettinger? Please, Steven, you don’t need to clutter up your blog with poorly written pieces like this! Let your brilliant piece stand as it is.

    • Joel D Canfield on January 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      I suspect yer not from around these parts . . .

    • Basilis on January 19, 2013 at 12:09 am

      Why not Liza? There is a point to what Callie is saying.

  4. Paul C on January 18, 2013 at 8:16 am

    I agree with you, Callie. After reading Steve’s post, I thought of his talk at Fort Bragg that was shown on C-Span. Most writers, probably even Harlan Ellison, would be thrilled to have that kind of opportunity.

    • Callie Oettinger on January 18, 2013 at 8:43 am


      The event at Fort Bragg was a great one – and it went on for much longer than the section C-SPAN ran. The segment didn’t share all of the questions from the audience or the back and forth with Steve and those in attendance.

      It came about after Steve finished writing THE PROFESSION and THE WARRIOR ETHOS. He was heading to Fort Bragg, and individuals who respected his work contacted him, which follows what Steve said in his “Opportunities Are Bullshit” post: “Looking back over a long career in a number of fields of writing, if I ask myself, ‘Steve, when did your work get its most efficient exposure?,’ it was when I did absolutely nothing and the work spoke for itself.” The work spoke for itself, and those at Bragg reached out. But, we reached out first, letting people know Steve was visiting, which they responded to with an invite to do this event. From there, I contacted C-SPAN, and the one event, in a closed room at Bragg became something that individuals around the country could view.

      So there’s a little back and forth, and often, it does require action – more than letting the work stand on its own.

      In the end, I agree with what Steve wrote in his post, but I don’t agree with the title. Karen Lee just left this comment on Steve’s Facebook page: “bottom line is, use the brains that we were given to decipher things…” She nailed it. Writers need to decide what makes the most sense for them – and those presenting their “opportunities” need to rethink what they’re asking and how they’re asking it.


  5. Amy Duncan on January 18, 2013 at 8:17 am

    I’m with Liza…I couldn’t make head nor tail of this.

  6. Tricia on January 18, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Wasn’t there somewhere where SP wrote: a pro always recognizes another pro? And certainly the interview with Mark M bears witness to that. (I found it highly inspiring.)

    So, I would only to what Callie thoughtfully wrote above: a pro can spot/smell a Nella a mile away!

    • Stacy Chambers on January 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      Right on, Tricia. Nellas often give themselves away.

  7. Jeff on January 18, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Amazing! Loved every moment of reading this. Thanks, Callie.

  8. Jerry Ellis on January 18, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Good work, Callie!

  9. Pamela Seley on January 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I get it, and there are Nella’s from France in every business. Love that story. I also get the title “Opportunities are Bullshit” because when someone is a pro like Steven Pressfield the Nella’s of the world want special treatment — they will think nothing of encroaching on a pro’s time or boundaries. Those who aren’t pro yet take the “opportunity,” because they think it will open the door to become pro; but if you listen to the interview with Mark McGuinness, “opportunities” are not what makes a pro.

  10. David Y.B. Kaufmann on January 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Well, I get it Callie. (I did once misspell Steven’s name, which I shouldn’t do since there are a lot of Stevens in my life and very few Stephens. Worse than Armstronging or imaginary girlfriends?)

    Maybe put “opportunities” in quotes: When your work is an opportunity for someone else, that’s the bs. When the opportunity is for your work, that’s not.

    In other words, who’s the real audience, and why.

    So, thanks, Callie.

  11. S. J. Crown on January 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks Callie.

    You’ve written, with much more eloquence, what I was trying to say in my comment on “Opportunities are Bullshit.” Although, in narcissistic moments, I do sort of like my Expose Yourself bit.

  12. Greg Maples on January 23, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Perhaps this is about perspective. Opportunities that you create for yourself tend to be just that – opportunities.

    Opportunities that others create for you tend to be bullsh!t simply because they are giving you something and they will typically want something in return. That, or perhaps they are trying to create an opportunity for themselves by taking advantage of you and calling it an “opportunity” for you.

  13. Erik Dolson on February 7, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Nella was not even masquerading as an opportunity. Maybe a different brand of bullshit but true to herself. It worked for her before, somewhere.

    It’s the seductive ones that turn me from being true to myself while I fulfill their desires, that use my dreams to fulfill their needs, where the “opportunities are bullshit” mantra helps me the most.

    I have to remember it’s partly my bullshit, that I have some responsibility if it gets me, that I often want contradictory things and indulge in magical thinking pretending I don’t see what’s real because my hope is so strong.

    “That’s bullshit” lets me see more clearly, a reminder that there are boundaries for a damn good reason, that they are my boundaries. Another Nella lesson.

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