Monday, April 30, 2007
Cloudy and warm
Derby article went out yesterday morning. Short, sweet, and to the point. It will be up on Femmefan either Tuesday or Wednesday, so look for it. It’s called “Kentucky Derby 2007: The Horse.” I think this year’s field is much less wide open than the past few years.
I took the train in around 10 AM yesterday. A woman accompanied by three boys under the age of ten was on the train. One was her son, who was in a wheelchair; the other two were in her care for some reason, the smallest barely beyond toddler. I helped her get them on the train. We all sat together in facing seats and I made up a story to keep them entertained, giving each of them a magical power. I included the tattooed guy sitting beside us because he was so obviously listening. I may well use it as the basis for one of the train stories.
I wasn’t pleased with having to stand in line for 40 minutes outside the NYPL, and then having to walk the length of the library on a broken foot and down several flights of stairs to the PEN event.
One Neil Gaiman wanna-be (but without the intelligence, the humor, or the gentleness), in full black regalia asked me why I wasn’t in black (I was one of the few in line who was actually wearing a color). My response was, “I’m secure enough in my intellect not to need the uniform.”
However the even itself, “Voyage & Voyeur: Travel and Travel Writing” was magnificent. Moderated by Paul Holdengraber (there should be an umlaut over the “a”, but I can’t get the key code to work), the panel consisted of Alain de Botton, Ma Jian, and Illija Trojanow. The discussion (sometimes a debate) was what travel writing really IS – which is not, necessarily, a list of good deals and sightseeing. Inner and outer landscapes, getting to the depths of a place and the self, etc., etc. I agreed with much of it, disagreed with some of it, was fascinated by all of it. De Botton made a point about many people who are disappointed with travel experience because one always brings oneself. I agree, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I rather enjoy bringing myself along when I travel. The exterior cacophony is quieted, being out of my – well, I don’t exactly have a routine as a freelancer, but the usual daily chaos – and I can hear the inner voices. I can recharge the well.
Of course, the trip tomorrow is flat-out running away from the stresses of the past months – I want to pretend they don’t exist for a few days. It’s simply escape. Plus research for a Sean/Elle story and probably a backdrop for a novel, sometime in the future.
There was a lot of pushing and shoving at the book table, but I managed to purchase Ma Jian’s The Noodle Maker and de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy. I didn’t get to the stack of Trojanow’s books, and will have to hunt them down later. De Botton was kind enough to sign the book for me, and then I limped out. By now, it was far too late to cross over to the east side and up to the seminar I wanted to attend on Exile – but I was still to full of this seminar to be able to concentrate properly anyway. There were so many points to think about – far too many for a blog entry – that I decided to take the afternoon to enjoy them.
I meandered down Fifth Avenue, from the library on 42nd Street to Union Square, down on 14th Street. For some reason, standing on the broken foot hurts, but if I walk carefully, I’m okay. Good to know, since I’ll be doing some hiking on Thursday.
Once at Union Square, there was some sort of performance chaos going on within the park, and I needed some solitude, so I ducked into the B&N (not the best choice). It was packed and noisy. I found another book of de Botton’s, The Art of Travel, which I picked up (the one relevant to the seminar). I also picked up Bernard-Henri Lévy’s book American Vertigo, which I’ve wanted since it was first published, and Jeremy Mercer’s memoir of his time at Paris’s Shakespeare & Co., Time Was Soft There.
Laden down with far too many books (now THERE’s a surprise), I continued wandering down to Cloisters on E. 9th St. and had a café au lait and cappuccino cheesecake in the garden.
I set part of Tapestry in that restaurant, and it was nice to re-visit it. It’s where Nina is first introduced to Tom.
I started reading The Art of Travel, and I will forever associate it with the scent of dill wafting over from various brunch dishes. It’s an excellent book, and I found myself having a conversation with it – agreeing with parts of it, disagreeing with others. I think I travel differently than most people – which is probably why I’m not being hired by the slick travel mags! I’m not that interested in the spa at the Hilton – I’m interested in what’s available at the market and how people use it.
Wandered back to the B&N on Astor Place – big mistake. Packed, a pick-up joint, and people shouting at each other across the floors like we were in some sort of carnival. Ick. Kept wandering westward to Washington Square Park, where jazz played and magnolia blossoms wafted on the wind.
I sat and read there for awhile, until it got too cold. I’d hoped to stop in to Posman’s books, but it’s no longer just off Washington Square. Kept on going to 8th Street, headed east again. Stopped at Cosi for a coffee, and then it was time to pick up my tickets and get in line over at Cooper Union.
I left B’s ticket at the box office, got in line with my ticket, and continued reading, which was a much pleasanter way to wait. I got a good seat and saved one for B. She arrived soon after, having jumped a cab after getting out of work on the show. We settled in, and listened to the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, which was given by David Grossman, who was then joined by Nadine Gordimer in conversation.
Again, it was astonishingly inspiring. He talks how the stress of daily trauma affects the life and the work, and how the desire is to someday return to something “normal.” Gordimer strongly believes that, no matter what, the social/political/daily traumas must infect and affect the characters. And Grossman spoke of the responsibility of the writer to show people that there IS another way, that there ARE other choices.
Again, the emphasis is on craft and content and responsibility to humanity, not on marketing. Salman Rushdie came on stage towards the end, to close the festival, and the emphasize that there’s room for all kinds and genres of writing, and there’s NEED for all kinds and genres of writing, but how important it is to keep these international connections and discussions going beyond the festival. And he’s absolutely right.
I was reminded again of working with the Core Freedoms/Freedom To Write program just before the holidays, writing cards to imprisoned writers all over the world. I remember the shock I felt writing an address to a labor camp in Vietnam. I’m grateful that I’m not in that situation, but I’m also aware of how spoiled I am in this life, and my responsibility to try to make the world a better place through my writing. That doesn’t mean everything has to be serious and with a Greater Purpose. But it means emphasis on content rather than market.
During the “Voyage and Voyeur” discussion, the point was made, several times, how it’s easier to tell truth in the context of fiction, which is something I’ve believed for years. People connect when it’s part of a story and part of a character about which they care.
These past days gave me a lot to think about as far as how I want to shape my work, my career, and my literary life.
B. and I wandered over to a favorite haunt of ours, Telephone Bar and Grill, on 2nd Avenue and 10th Street, to get something to eat and discuss all the ideas.
I managed to catch the 10:40 out of Grand Central. However, it was well after midnight when I got home. God forbid Metro North actually run a train. First, the excuse was that the bridge was up and we couldn’t get off Manhattan, so we sat for 15 minutes or so at 125th St. Once we got over the bridge, we stopped in the middle of nowhere for who-knows-how long. I called the Customer Service line to complain and got, “Oh, there’s a train broken down ahead of you. We don’t know how long you’ll be there.” I told them I was sick of something going wrong EVERY day, and this was the fourth time in six months something like this happened. It’s not acceptable. .
The train began to move.
Then, at two of the stops, they had bridge plates up, couldn’t line up the car to the plates, only opened one door – AND NEVER TOLD THE PASSENGERS. So we had to wait for 15 minutes at each stop while passengers scrambled to find the single open door.
The level of incompetence grows exponentially week to week. I’m sick of it. Why should we pay them? They should pay us to ride the damn train. It should not take 2 ½ hours to go 25 miles!
Today, I’m finishing my packing, doing last minute errands, getting the report off for CJ #1, and getting set for the rest of the week.
I think I’ll blog early tomorrow morning before I leave, but we’ll see.
Hope this is a great start to a great week!