For some reason (because I am a big fag, perhaps) and with only the most oblique applicability to what I have to say here, Addison De Witt's line in All About Eve springs to mind: "As always with women who want to find out things, she told more than she learned." This is a review and, like all reviews, more of the critic's cards will be tipped than those of the criticized. Particularly so here, since the performance in question is a reading I gave at Seattle's University Bookstore on the 23rd of April.
For obvious reasons, I will try to keep the extreme reflexive narcissism at a reasonable pitch and do my level best for this not to descend to one of those interminable "Writers on Writing" essays that appears in the New York Times, those deadly serious occasionals of windbaggery (which, incidentally, I parodied in Salon, only to have my piss-take met with absolute credulity).
Let me say up front that there's something so admirably eggheady and benevolent in the act of attending a reading. As a writer, one feels nothing but gratitude to the people who come. Or rather, gratitude and shame. Like a hostess with only one dish in my arsenal, I recognize the polite but exhausted looks on the faces of my guests as I read from the paperback of the book I've been flogging for the better part of a year. My general state is one of acute embarrassment. Not, obviously, too embarrassed to stay home, however; I am no match for the tremendous force that is the simultaneous desire for approval and the wish to disappear entirely.
I'm stalling because I don't have a lot to say about my Seattle audience. I can't even say how many people there were. They all seemed very nice and receptive, except perhaps for one older fellow with silver hair and a sleek beard, who appeared to sit stone-faced throughout. "He hates me," I thought, which immediately led me to further think, "I love him." There is nothing like an open expression of contempt to blow right up my skirt. I spent the rest of the reading directing every look to him, desperate to win him over. With each glance, I semaphored, "I might be reading from this book, but in my heart I have cut off all my hair and I am knitting it into a sweater for you." By reading's end, I thought I saw him chuckle, and my infatuation dissipated immediately, burning off like morning dew. As for the rest of the crowd, as I said, kind and exceedingly generous just for showing up, albeit a tad too polite.
There was, for example, no Q&A, my very favorite part of any reading. I like Q&A because it lets me use my brain--if you've been reading aloud from a book for a year, you certainly use your brain, but you can also drift off and contemplate other things, like why that Inuit fellow on the tails of Alaska Airlines planes looks so very much like Bob Marley. More importantly, Q&A allows me to more closely scan the crowd for someone to make out with. I hasten to add that I have never once made out with anyone at a reading, or even come close. But this is the febrile dream of me and every writer alive--those who deny it are, plainly stated, liars.
The dream is this: that, during Q&A, one will cast one's eyes about the room and settle upon that one individual and somehow have it silently understood that the two of you would be meeting in the men's room in five minutes. This has never once happened to me, of course. Once, though, at a reading in Minnesota, a man handed me a list of questions that he had prepared. The final one being, "Are you currently in a relationship? If yes, then why do you write? If no, would you like to see a movie?" Sadly, he had left the bookstore long before I could answer. Indeed, aside from the fact that I still have the very tangible piece of paper on which it is written, I cannot say with anything approaching certainty that this actually happened. It's not so much the scenario's wish fulfillment as the astute recognition of the entire point to writing: a bald-faced, flagrant trolling for love.
So. A lovely crowd whom I failed to ignite with a thirst for further details. Perhaps I'm getting it all wrong. Perhaps there was a Q&A, a silent one. Afterward, I had very good fish tacos, which sounds like a dirty punch line but once again, is not.