“Constantly risking absurdity and death whenever he performs above the heads of his audience, the poet, like an acrobat, climbs on rhyme to a high wire of his own making.”
Part five already? Apparently having fun is no hard and fast prerequisite to time flying. It’ll go on a wing, a prayer, and the twisted misrememberings of a backwater blogger. I was sure of one objective in this mission. I had about 300 business cards to hand out, and I planned on going through all of them…I didn’t; but the plan was sound. There are, as they say, many a slip between cup and lip. The business cards were designed by my brother, Ryan, who also designed the header of this blog (they are the same design, the cards and the header). He designed it in about 33.57 seconds, and the logo makes me smile every time I think about it. From there, my friend Mike—who I would call brother were it not for the fact that he is older than me—and I have always been the oldest, and taking second chair at this point in my life is something by which I cannot abide. Oh pride, stand aside. Mike is my brother, both in Christ, and in suffering; we’ve done a lot of it together. He printed me these beautiful black cards with white text and they looked cooler than anything anyone else was handing out, so if nothing else—my cards were memorable. It was a special joy to watch the faces of those who received my cards and pondered what it all meant…what, indeed.
It was a hard thing to do, waking up Friday morning to make it to the classes. Thursday night was the first time I had slept in a day and a half or so, and I knew what awaited me was not a murder of foamy mouthed sycophants waiting with baited breath to hang on my every word. No, just a bunch of people who eagerly awaited their chance to be heard; kind of like me, but better prepared. I realized how prepared people were for this thing…and it scared me to death (now where did I put my bright red t-shirt with the word “FRAUD” spelled out across the front in 30pt font). I don’t have such a shirt…but on some days, all of my t-shirts are of that design. The first order of business was to head down to the lobby and get a cup of coffee from Café Ferlinghetti, a literary joke that I did not get at first (which is funny because I’m way into the Beats). The coffee was no joke. There was nothing jovial or jocular about spending two bucks on 8oz of shitty coffee, I’m a serious coffee drinker and I don’t appreciate my sacrament of consciousness being trifled with by a bunch of book nerds…but really that was more my tension headache speaking…please, pay it no mind.
The classes were great, for the most part. On any given hour there were four or five classes, lectures, or Q&A panels, all of which were staffed by experts in their professional fields. Along with this were three keynote speakers all of whom were worth the price of admission alone, they were: Lisa See, Alan Rinzler (my personal favorite), and Lolly Winston (one of the most heartbreakingly funny people whom I’ve ever the pleasure to listen). There was no wont for qualified, sober-minded, yeoman literati to whom you could go for advice, should you possess the moxie to walk up to one of them and ask a question. I spoke to a few, but like I alluded to before, my book pitches were not getting the response I expected. Most of the reactions went thusly: “That seems interesting to a certain group of people, I am not one of them, as this is not my field of interest. Perhaps you should broaden the subject matter in order to net a lot more people.” Well intentioned advice, and supportive in its own voice, but not at all useful to me. So that was disappointing, and yes—Anya—I did cry a couple of times, but not in a bathroom; I cried on the phone to my wife Kristy, who was very supportive and loving, and made it all go away. She told me not to worry and just to have fun and—for once—I listened…I decided to have fun—to ignore the pressure I’d put on myself, and to just do my best. The next few days were pretty much the same, there were a couple of long stretches when I was supposed to be in class, but I went out exploring the city—but I’ll get to those in the next post. The last of the “Fog City” posts.
Before I end this one though, there was a special thing that happened to me alone in my hotel room. It was Saturday night, and I was invited to an open mic poetry slam; a first for me. I had written some pedestrian poems in the past, but when Brad, the guy who was running it, heard that I’d played in bands and was a singer-songwriter, he insisted that I would have a good time if I’d just come. I told him that I’d think about it. That night, after being encouraged by my friend Chris, I was preparing some lyrics that I’d written, to read as poetry at the open mic. I decided to put on a record to which I’d not listened in a long time. The record was “White Knuckle Ride” by a band called Straight Eight. There are four songs on it, and I wrote most of the lyrics on three of them. As I sat there alone in my room listening to this record on a loop, it occurred to me, that I had had a lot of fun working on that band, on those songs, playing guitar, singing, performing live, but the most fun that I had had was writing songs by myself, or with my friends Andy, Mike, Chris, and Johnny-O…I was satisfied during the times that I could turn a phrase, regardless of whether they came easily or had to be forced out like a breeched turd. I realized—maybe for the first time—that, really, I am a writer. I’ve been one for a long time, and I have no reason to be ashamed…and that some of my work didn’t suck…and maybe that was the whole purpose for my trip. That night I read two poems, and they were received well, and I had no reason to second guess the good taste of those in attendance; they seemed to genuinely like my poems, and that—I decided—was good enough for me.