Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rejection: The New Yorker (not as bad as I thought)

March 6: I sent "F & M," a short story I'd written at MacDowell, to The New Yorker. I knew it was a long and ambitious shot. Wasn't holding my breath for a bite, although I did entertain several fantasies, on days the TNY landed in my mailbox (I'm a subscriber), that before my August birthday I would see "F & M" in print.
Thursday: A rejection email came. (We regret that we are unable to use the enclosed material. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider it. Sincerely, The Editors)
Friday: I spent the day glued to CNN watching the Boston Marathon bombing manhunt. Forgot about my New Yorker rejection.
Today: While Suspect No. 2 is hospitalized and the city of Boston returns to the streets (and beats the Kansas City Royals out at Fenway), I slogged up to my writing room, where I sit now, at my desk, processing my rejection. Here's what I feel, truthfully: Big Effing Deal. Three people died watching a race on a bright sunny Monday, other spectators lost limbs and loved ones. People in West, Texas, died when a fertilizer plant exploded. Hundreds injured. Homes and lives destroyed.
It would be inhumane and pitiful, really, to mourn the loss of a story that won't see print in a magazine that has far more important pieces to publish these days.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Meeting Anne Lamott and a black-blazered man

I have loved Anne Lamott's writing since I first pored through Bird by Bird, which was probably about twenty years ago. Currently, I cannot find my copy. Probably gave it away, a gift to someone who I thought needed it. That's how I operate with the books in my life that change me from the inside out: To Kill A Mockingbird, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Girls from Ames, God's Psychiatry. I buy multiple copies and hand them out, unsolicited. I like to think I am being helpful, but knowing how people disappoint each other, I might be wrong.
Meeting Anne Lamott has been on my bucket list for a good decade. My chance came Thursday night, April 4, at the Community Christian Church near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. One of the last independent bookstores in the nation, Rainy Day Books, of Fairway, Kansas, sponsored the event. (Ohmigod, I am writing like a reporter. Five W's and an H.)
As I am a big fat weenie and afraid to drive after dark into the "dangerous part of the city" (not really; my fear is imagined), my husband took me, dropped me off at the door, and then came back three hours later, our cocker Millie in the front seat to greet me. (I swear, if only the people in my life were as enthusiastic to see me, what daily joy would there be!)
In between my drop-off and pick-up, I spent three hours in a writer's fantasy land. Unfortunately, as I had gone by myself (why do the people in my life who love Lamott as rabidly as I live out of state?), I had no one to talk to, which about drove me insane. Generally, I strike up conversation with anyone who's breathing, but the seating arrangement inside the church didn't contribute to that happening. Granted, there was a woman about my age three seats away, but she was there with her daughter, and the two of them giggled and poked each other in a fun way and chit-chatted and I didn't sense a way in. Ditto for the gals in front of me, my mother's age (66), the three of them awaiting Anne's presence on stage with an exciting fervor that matched mine, only they had each other and seemed completely unaware of my enthusiasm and desire to share. I was jealous.
Demographically speaking, there were about 500 people in attendance, and 490 were women, ranging in age from about fifty-five to seventy-five. Fewer than a dozen men attended, and with the exception of one in particular (*), the men were there with women, who appeared to be wives or girlfriends. I saw not a single person of color, which disappointed me tremendously, given that Anne Lamott loves everybody, wears her hair in dreadlocks, and preaches from the altar of extreme liberalism.
*This man sat two rows behind me, and although I am not psychic per se, I sensed that he was interested in me. (Stop laughing.) Know how sometimes you feel like a person is staring at you, and you quick-look to see if you're right? Well, that's what happened with the two of us. I would ever-so-subtly turn around to see if he was looking at me, and, well, yes, he was, although this might have been because I was too-often turning and he was growing annoyed with me.
Except that's not how I felt about the situation. I felt that he and I would have enjoyed great camaraderie, the two of us singletons sitting there, feeling alone and unloved and so ... so ... single.
He was about my age, wore a dark blazer, had two copies of Anne's newest book, a tattered copy of Bird by Bird, and a copy of Traveling Mercies. This I was able to ascertain when I returned from a faux bathroom trip; also, he was not in the beginning stages of balding. (My next husband will have a full head of hair. Also, he will talk. And he will read Anne Lamott and go with me next time she comes to Kansas City.).
As I, too, had brought along Traveling Mercies, I felt that was a sign that this mystery man and I needed to talk. While I waited for Lamott to take her stage, I entertained how my life would change, had I the courage to get up out of my lonely seat and head two rows back. I would introduce myself in some quirky-cute way and then sit beside him for the rest of the evening. I imagined that our knees would touch in that adolescent our-parents-dropped-us-off-at-the- movie kind of way and I would feel bolts of electricity and the next day I would announce to my (silent and balding) husband that I was leaving him for a man in a dark blazer who not only read Anne Lamott and went to see her but highlighted certain passages that he found endearing or life changing. This man and I would then spend the next month hanging out at bookstores and coffee houses; we would marry in a small ceremony in his arts and crafts style house in midtown; we would invite Anne to the matrimonial gig, and of course she wouldn't come, but we would share the story of how it was Anne Lamott who'd brought us together, and all of our friends would sigh in unison and coo, Awwwwwwww.
Alas, I have the courage of an anti-social ant, and my fantasy fizzled.
I ended up sitting alone, silently, throughout the event. Anne came on stage wearing an extremely casual outfit (mismatched, if you ask me, but, hey, that's Anne Lamott). Her trademark dreds were evident, only shorter than I had imagined. And her voice was deeper that I had thought. Did she smoke? (This thought gave way to my next fantasy, that Anne and I would hit up a barbecue joint ~ Kansas City, duh ~ after the speaking and signing, and she and I would have a Big Life Talk while we smoked American Spirits and drank cold beer).
Needless to say, that fantasy failed to ripen, and so I clung to every word my favorite writer spoke, and I took notes, and I loved her even when she misspoke and referred to Anne Frank as the girl at the well who finally understood "water" (later, she got it right), and felt sad that the clock was tickingtickingticking and it wouldn't be long before the night was over and my husband would be picking me up, only to whisk me off to our boring home in the suburbs where neither Anne Lamott nor the man in the black blazer lived.
My signing number was 401. I watched hundreds of women approach Anne at her signing desk, lean in, say something, hug, or pose for a picture because they had someone with them to snap the damn thing. Again, jealousy.
Occasionally the event coordinator, a kind, professorial type named Bob, would announce that ticket holders numbered blank to blank could line up (fans were approaching the signing desk in a line of 50). It made me happy to note that Black Blazer Guy stayed seated, even as the 300 to 350 call went out. Finally, the 400s were approaching. And then Mystery Man and I stood up, and my pulse raced at the thought of standing in line with him for ten to twelve minutes when all of a sudden another man, this one not nearly as mysterious nor attractive, got in line between me and the object of my affection. Shit.
Talkative, this guy was, and in the space of three minutes I learned that his first wife had died of breast cancer, that they'd been unable to have children on account of her illness, that Anne's writing had helped him wade through grief, that his current wife was the lead soprano in the evening's performance at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, that he and his wife were in town from Massachusetts, and that he'd heard about Anne's signing on NPR that very day.
In fact, Mr. Talksalot distracted me to the point of losing what I was going to say to Anne once I got to the table. So much so that here's what I remember saying: "Thank you for coming to Kansas City. Thank you for your writing. Your words have brought so much joy into my life." And before she could even get her you're welcome out completely, I asked if she'd ever gone to The MacDowell Colony, and she said, Why no, no I haven't. And it was then that I noticed that her sweet face looked old, way older than what you see on the book jacket, and although I am quite sure I did not announce to her how old I thought she looked, I have no fucking idea what I said next, although my mouth was moving and she was nodding her head and a few seconds later I was walking off the stage, my face feeling flushed and hot.
Once again, my crazy-ass neuroses effed-up what was to have been a perfectly wonderful evening meeting my all-time favorite author (after Anne Tyler) and, let's not forget, my future perfect husband.