Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I'll Meet the Duck

When I was nineteen years old, I spent a week touring the eastern part of North Carolina with other future educators. We visited turkey farms and paper mills and ate barbeque. The athiests among us refused to bow their heads for the invocation, and my roommate, predictably, snored. We were a caravan of buses; I was in the chicken pox bus, though of course, I didn't know it at the time. Across the aisle from me sat a dark-haired boy sporting the soulfully lost look I found so appealing in those days. He managed to look the way I wanted to feel: the happy loner, so engrossed in his own thoughts he could care less what was happening on the bus and whether or not anyone was talking to him. He was reading a book, whose title I finally, after dozens of nonchallant glances his way, managed to read: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

Margaret Atwood has said that wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate. I get it; I know the author is not the work, just like the actor is not the part and the artist is not the painting. Her comment further seems to suggest that it is somehow almost cannibalistic, maybe rashly vulgar to admire the duck that gives his very essence--his soul--for our enjoyment. It's unseemly, perhaps. Or maybe only this: it is simply asking too much. The pate-lover is bound to be disappointed with the ordinariness of the duck. The adoring reader will not find genius glimmering from the real-life author, or at least, not the same kind of genius that glitters up from the page. When we read it, it feels spontaneous, that we are uncovering the grace and tilt of the story as we go, but in truth, it most likely took that human-ish author months, years, maybe decades to set it up, put all the pieces in place so they fall and rise and crash and clange beautifully when we come along and set them off.

I know all that, but still, I really like meeting the duck. Writers are rock stars to me; I am the blithering fan. Once, I drove two and a half hours to shake Charles Baxter's hand. A few months ago, I sat one person away from Liz Strout at a reading, and I glanced over and thought, those are the hands that typed Olive Kitteridge. When I met Phillip Gerrard, I told him one of his essays saved my life.

Maybe it's partly because I no longer swoon over the loner on the bus. I suppose I'm too old for that kind of thing, too married, too practical, too over it. My last artist-love happened in college. He was a photography major who rode his bike around campus with a tin cup tied to his backpack. From him, and from myself when I was with him, I learned the old standby "just be yourself," is practically an impossibility. We act, we talk, we choose people to be with for that end--to figure out who we are. It's shifting constantly, adjusting, holding back, stepping forward. It's not something we can somehow surmise, then project. Being yourself is too much in the making.

Soulfully Lost became my pen-pal for the rest of the summer, me returning to live with my parents, picking up my own copy of Owen Meany--appropriately enough, at a Salvation Army thrift store--and suffering through a terrible bout of chicken pox--I'd never had it before. I lost that boy's address well before the summer ended, but I kept up with Irving. And while I've never actually met the man, I did manage to attend AWP the year he gave the keynote address. I skipped dinner that night to be first in line. I found a great seat. He did the Owen Meany voice, and I closed my eyes. Yes. I'd waited fourteen years to hear that voice.


Kathy said...

"Being yourself is too much in the making." I'd never thought of it like that. Are the selves Margaret Atwood and John Irving still in the making too?

I don't want to meet Clyde Edgerton. I'd blither. I just want to sit on a front porch with him and listen. I'm convinced he could tell some great stories.

Jessie Carty said...

I still like to meet author's too! Can't help myself!

were you a teaching fellows?

Susan Woodring said...

Kathy, oh, I'm so with you on the Clyde Edgerton thing. I'm sure he would tell the best stories...

I ALWAYS blither. It's my thing. But, it's sincere blithering, so that's something, right??

Susan Woodring said...

Jessie, Yes, I was a teaching fellow at Western Carolina University. I'd planned on teaching forever, but after I finished my four years, I quit to focus on this writing thing. That was about ten years and two children ago...

Were you a TF? If it weren't for the fact that you're at least a full decade younger than I am, we could have been on that horrible bus trip together. Wouldn't that be something?? I don't know if they still do it, was an odd form of torture...

Jessie Carty said...

Susan - I think we might be closer in age than you think :) I'm 35. I was a TF at UNCG. I only stayed in the program for 2.5 years!

Fangyaya said...

michael kors outlet
nike uk
tiffany outlet
jordan retro
true religion
adidas trainers
michael kors outlet
adidas shoes
louis vuitton outlet
cheap nfl jerseys
coach factory outlet
jordan 11s
coach outlet
cheap oakley sunglasses
ralph lauren clearance outlet
louis vuitton handbags
michael kors handbags
celine outlet
kate spade
michael kors purses
juicy couture
ray ban sunglasses
ed hardy clothing
oakley sunglasses
nike nfl jerseys
christian louboutin
oakley vault
michael kors outlet clearance
coach outlet
coach factory outlet
coach factory outlet
louis vuitton outlet
coach factory outlet
replica watches for sale
toms shoes
michael kors handbags
oakley outlet
jordan 8
coach outlet store online clearances
asics shoes

林东 said...

true religion outlet
ray ban outlet
ghd hair straighteners
oakley sunglasses
yeezy boost 350 balck
reebok shoes
instyler max
michael kors outlet clearance
discount ray ban sunglasses
rolex replica watches
hermes belt
dior sunglasses
ugg outlet
michael kors bags
ray ban sunglasses
ray ban sunglasses discount
louis vuitton bags
ralph lauren outlet
ray bans
louis vuitton handbags
ralph lauren outlet online
louis vuitton outlet
toms outlet
michael kors handbags
polo ralph lauren outlet
new balance outlet
babyliss pro
louis vuitton borse
kate spade outlet
pandora jewelry
designer bags
yeezy boost 350
prada sunglasses
dolce and gabbana outlet

John said...

prada outlet
nike trainers
hollister kids
christian louboutin uk
coach outlet online
bottega veneta
coach factory outlet
canada goose jackets outlet
fitflops sale clearance
jordan pas cher
micahel kors
nike free 5.0
louis vuitton outlet
christian louboutin shoes
the north face outlet
tiffany jewelry
coach factory outlet online
adidas gazelle
cheap jordan shoes
michael kors outlet
ugg outlet
ugg for kids
prada sunglasses
ralph lauren pas cher
true religion outlet
uggs outlet
michael kors handbags
ugg boots outlet
kate spade outlet
valentino outlet
cheap jordans
tommy hilfiger outlet online
cheap jerseys
coach outlet online
mont blanc pens for sale