Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Waiting For Anne
I’ve been sick for what feels like a week when it’s only been for a few days so I haven’t been writing like I usually do. I did spend most of Sunday in the yard and gardens. It was so immensely satisfying to clean up my lovely plants so the new growth was revealed. A few things didn’t make: a couple of relatively hardy things which really surprises me when meanwhile my Pinks wintered over and a couple of delicate hard to grow perennials are thriving. The fruit trees have started to bloom and Wally even noticed how beautiful they were on his run this afternoon. We are leaving for Texas on Thursday and when we return it will be just the right time to clear mulch and prepare soil for the expanded veg bed. I’ve ordered golden beets and English cucumber from Burbee along with the usual suspects: Cosmos, Zinnias and Hollyhocks. My friend, Charlie, has a small green house and has started our heirloom tomato plants. Sometimes, I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve such generous friends. I will gift him and his wife a large tin of my special herbs d’Provence blend and a couple bottles of tarragon and rosemary oil. I’m already looking forward to playing with the herbs. I swear, the weeds are worse this year and I spent two hours pulling stupid little weeds out of the rocks and out of the garden. It seemed like they would sprout up behind me as I walked away. If I were really talented I would do a CAD piece a la where I’m walking away as dandelions sprout up behind me. The dogs (Buddy was visiting Sunday while his mama went on a ski date) enjoyed each other’s company while I worked. Those two yard apes crack us up. They charge the fence whenever a dog walks by (frequently on a warm weekend afternoon) and act like they are going to kick some dog ass any minute. After they have finished “taking names” they run around one another in a sort of victory dance. If they were people, I swear those two would be trash talking at the fence and then doing airborne chest bumps like a couple of fraternity brothers on a bender. I must say, spending the day in the yard was a two-edged sword. The sun was good for me but the pollen, not so much.
I actually called in sick to work not one but two days. I never call in. My paid time off is too precious and is really just for vacations, right? Screw using it for actual sick leave! Had there been someone to replace me on Thursday I would have stayed home sick that day, too. I slept most of the two days I was supposed to be working. On Friday I resurrected myself from bed just in time to pick up Beav from school and managed to pull it together and go to Annie LeMott’s reading at the our big and famous indie bookstore. A couple of times I just wanted to slide off my chair and curl up on the floor for a little nap. Not feeling well saved me from spending any money. I sat on the floor in a corner waiting for my number and wrote in my journal. Writing in public makes me feel extremely pretentious and a little fake. Complete projection on my part because I think most people who sit and write in public are completely fake and pretentious. Writing is a private act and in order for it to be work worth reading it must be preformed in quiet isolation. So no one can see--at times--my desperation.
The reading was at the downtown version of our well known indie bookstore for the reading Friday night, plopped on the floor with my notebook out and head buried deep in my own thoughts and almost oblivious to the people around me. I felt like a “wadded up piece of paper” and really didn’t want to engage with the other LaMott fans. Besides, this bookstore intimated the Hell out of me what with the uber librarian type clerks. It’s not like they treat those of us from the suburbs like a hick at the Saks jewelry counter they are nice and helpful folks. The customers are mostly well-heeled “downtown types” equally intimidating to me. My assumption is all the customers and all the clerks hold a couple of MS degrees and a PhD or two so I feel like I can’t intellectually keep up with them and I just duck my head and go to the back of the line and sit on the floor with my moleskine and scribble madly hoping I don’t look as goofy as I feel. The other night as I was scribbling, I realized when Anne LaMott wrote Bird by Bird she didn’t have a degree. I’m not sure if she does now, either. This cheered me because there isn’t anything that makes me more discouraged than the back flap of a book lauding the author’s work at University Of Iowa, Princeton or Brown. So I it gave me hope that a college drop out was READING at this fancy bookstore and I was going to hear her read. Finally after six years of admiring her from afar.
I found LaMott late, I didn’t read her blog at Salon nor did I read Operating Instructions Wally is just a year younger than her son, Sam, and I didn’t read books about babies when Beav came along. But a few years later, I did read Bird by Bird and it changed my feelings about my own writing and made me realize, just like nursing, I am called to write. And all you have to do is read the archives of this blog to see how I feel about LaMott’s Christianity and her idea of Grace. I was very nervous about even speaking to her if I had the chance. My biggest fear is I would have some sort of fan girl melt down resembling a ten year old girl at a Jason Bieber concert. The notebook was my shield against getting all worked up with the people around me. Because the people around me, were complete fan girls and it was a little embarrassing.
As I waited for the reading, I started reminiscing about the other signings I had attended. The first one was Rita Mae Brown and I was mesmerized by her. Of course, the book was forgettable but it was still a big experience for me to hear her soft accent intoning the details of her fictive universe. Next up was William Least Heat Moon. I was so crazy about Blue Highways I carried a copy of it around with me for a few months and talked Ward into taking a small dirt road off a highway near Missoula Montana because a placed named “Rivulet” was at the end of the road. I wanted to see a town called Rivulet and it felt like something Moon would have done. Rivulet was a ghost down with a few shacks but the road through the deep forest was worth it. Besides, Rivulet is one of my favorite words. A few years later, Velkram Seth read from his book which followed a A Suitable Boy and it was a delightfully personal experience. There were very few people there and he had conversations with each one of us. He was completely charmed by my story of cutting his 1400 page novel into two pieces because the hardcover edition I had was just too heavy. His disappointment I didn’t bring it to be signed was endearing. My least satisfying experience at a signing was Joyce Carol Oates. Such a strange little woman who seemed to work at appearing affected and otherworldly. Oh if you are so utterly precious and ethereal spare us your drama by staying at home.
I do like to watch the people at these things; despite not wanting to engage with them. My fears of being an overwrought fan girl were in vain because the very idea of carrying on like a couple of the women who had been there since lunch time (it was six-ish) to be the first in line made me want to reach for a vodka martini with a Xanax garnish. The woman sitting next to me was in her seventies and terribly elegant: tall, willowy with her lovely white hair pulled into a chignon. She moved and looked like a dancer. She was sweet and did try to talk to me a couple of times but I wasn’t forthcoming. Mostly because at that moment a wave of malaise had swept over me and I wanted to lie down on the floor in the fetal position and sleep. I imagined this ballerina beside had once been Balanchine’s mistress; never fully recovering from the brief but passionate affair. When the affair ended, devastated, she left dance and moved to Marrakesh where she organized the first micro loan group. Sure, we would exchange phone numbers and after one coffee date she would realize I was too ordinary and offered nothing to her life and would then find it necessary to spend a few months avoiding me while I continued to try and set things up with her, blind to her disinterest in a friendship with me. Behind me were the quintessential 30-something housewives, over earnest and over thinking. These women make me wistful that I didn’t enjoy my children when they were little; they make me wishful for my youth. These women were way more self-confident than I was at they age, too. Not one single hand wringing comment over preschool. The last woman to enter the room had the most self-assured and thoroughly together continence I’ve ever witnessed. She was like Harrison’s character Dalva in the flesh. Her hair was wildly curly and swept back in a simple pony tail and she had on the hottest red Frye cowboy boots I’ve ever seen in my life. Had I not been sick I think I would have tackled her and stolen her boots; forget the reading.
Surrounding this crowd of adoring women and the few men who were good sports were pictures of the writers who had read at the bookstore before. The first picture my eyes landed on was of David Sedaris. Of course. Because I want to be the lesbian version of Sedaris. Regrettably, I’m almost the lesbian version of his mother sans cigarettes and alcohol. I do have terrible fantasies about just letting myself go, drinking gin out of a white coffee cup and locking my kids out of the house in the snow so I can be alone. I’m not sure I’m qualified to be the lesbian version of Sedaris because my childhood wasn’t messed up enough either. Nor did anything funny like the Miss Coppertone contests happen. There was not a photo of Raymond Carver, one writer I regret discovering shortly after he died. Carver is the reason why attending readings by favorite authors is important to me. The tenuous quality of life is one of the lessons I’m learning this year. It is becoming important to me to seize opportunities when I can do and see those things which matter to me. Seeing LaMott read is one of those things.
I am happy to see I didn’t cry or squeal or say something asinine or stalker-ish which has resulted in a restraining order against me in Marin County when she approached me (as she did many people) and asked if she could sign my book. She looked me straight in the eye and fully engaged with me for about thirty seconds with a presence that seemed natural without pretense or force. I could feel her pray a silent prayer for me. She was probably begging God to please not let me breath on her.