Sunday, January 25, 2009
Why I Did Not Go to the Party -- and instead am reading Villette
There is a party tonight at Richard Hugo House, here in Seattle. For those not in the know, Richard Hugo House is that most precious and unlikely of public institutions, a place dedicated to poetry and to the community of writers. I confess, I've never been. The fault is all my own. I live in dread of gassing away to some kind soul and being asked after, just what it is I do. I am proud to be a bookseller, but that is what I am, and unless the conversation concerns sales and cover-art, Christmas and displays, I am far less qualified to opine than I am inclined to do, specially under the influence of drink. But I may go yet. Many wonderful writers appear at Richard Hugo House regularly. Many interesting discussions take place there. Poetry is read aloud. Students study. There's a bar. At least there is a bar tonight. The party, to which I was invited for the first (and possibly the last) time tonight, is called "Get Lit," and it sounds a wonderful thing; writers and readers and librarians, poets and publishers, critics and newspaper reporters, all gathered and mixed with liquor, and chatting and buzzing and making connections and merry. I was, frankly, flattered to be asked. I had never been before. I wondered why, and how anyone would have thought to do so. I have no title in the company for which I work. I wrote, before this, all but anonymously, on a bookstore's blog, and that for less than a full year. My last and only publication was twenty years ago, and in zines assembled secretly at night, on corporate copiers, with what felt like daring but was only balls. I am not now, was never and am likely never to be "known" in even the most local and liberal sense of the word. Why, on earth, include me in?
Anonymity is my usual state, and to the few that know me well at all, I am obliged when they invite me out of it and then kindly allow for my retreat. It was not always intended that my life should be as it is. I had dreams, as a child, of becoming an actor. I went to a minor school, having been rejected by a major, to pursue just that goal, though I left after a year to become a scholar, and then left that not long after, when a man proposed we live together and I found contentment with him. I wrote, for awhile, every day and produced unproducible plays, unfinished essays, and once, after many months' labor, an unreadable novel of considerable length and no value at all. I have, on occasion, and by invitation only, introduced many actual writers in the bookstores in which I've worked. I've read the words of genius aloud, in readings meant to celebrate, however humbly and for audiences however intimate, the achievements of my betters, my friends from the bookcases all around me.
But is that enough to make me familiar to the local literati? I do not believe it is. So for me to be included on a guest list for such as I am missing even as I write, there must, I believe, have been some friendly intervention. Some coworker, with a kind heart, better connected and with a more public role, like S., I would guess, has slipped my name into an email list. Perhaps P., the host of this recurring event, remembered me from our very brief encounter while recommending books in a booth for the Christmas trade. I can't imagine why he would, but he might have done. That anyone has read what I wrote before on the blog at my job still constitutes something like a secret thrill to me, but it hardly rates an invitation to hobnob in the actual, as opposed to the virtual company of artists and enthusiasts I imagine gathered now.
The simple truth is, I am more comfortable at home. I am a coward. I am better left imagining the clever things being said and the clever people saying them tonight. For such a loud and chatty man, I am too shy of putting a foot wrong and misrepresenting the only place that would give me a platform from which to speak, the bookstore. Earlier this year, I was asked to join a committee to review books for a prize. I was flattered and agreed. I am glad I did. I read many books I would not otherwise have even seen or having seen, looked at twice. But the saving grace for me was that my service was, with the exception of one meeting, and a dinner yet to come, done at some distance. After the initial meeting, we met only in email, and then in one final conference-call. And even after only that, I believe I managed to make some reputation for myself as an irascible sort of reviewer, a hater of children's books and talking dogs, a mouthy kind of meddler in the opinions of others, a snob; in short, "a character." I shudder now to think that I am to be, for at least the two more years I've agreed to serve, now and hereafter labeled thus, no matter how much I might monitor myself, acquiesce, listen or bow to the will of the majority. "A character" is now my designation on the committee. And so, I suppose I am. But I would rather not be thought so elsewhere, when I can avoid it.
And so, though flattered and much puffed up at having been asked, I did not go tonight. Instead, I will have supper with my husband. We will watch, when I am done here, 60 Minutes on the TV, and then some recurring drama on HBO, and then, while I'm having the last brownie from the pan he made to make me feel better when I came home unhappy from my yesterday, he will doze over the paper, and I will read on in Villette -- a Bronte I'd never tried and which, so far, I seem likely to finish. I never have finished a Bronte novel, by any of those brilliant sisters. Mrs. Gaskell's biography, which I did read, for the biographer's sake, could not even make me love Jane Eyre. But you see? I live in expectation.
And if I should be invited again, perhaps I will go. Perhaps I will bore them all with why I find the Brontes unsympathetic. Perhaps I will refer them to my blog! I can't imagine anything so embarrassing, but then I haven't had a good Lemon Drop cocktail in a very long time, and maybe if I do, and if I have after that first a second, I may yet corner dear Nancy Pearl, say, and ask her to defend poor Charlotte and Emily and what was the name of the third one?
And perhaps I'll stay home and read Trollope.