City Winery: About 15 Minutes After The Events In My Last Post
As the crowd thinned out, Dan the tour manager came to collect the Chosen for the meet and greet. Kevin took my coat and purse and went to kill some time in the fireplace lounge area outside the concert hall. Believe it or not we’re both actually pretty damn cheap frugal in most areas–He likes Nez’s music a great deal (and probably quotes his funnier lines more often than I do), but he’s not quite at the “$100 for 2-3 minutes of small talk” level of fandom either. So I and my three items were now on our own as I climbed the stairs with the rest of the crowd.
First, I brought The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora. As mentioned a year ago (?!!) in my Cleveland review, a web search the day after I bumped into Justus in late ’96 brought me to the online rough drafts of this book. At that young age (19), I had convinced myself that I couldn’t “really” write well because I don’t generate fully polished copy on my first draft. I was a perfectionist who struggled to allow myself to revise, and had a distinct aversion to “killing my darlings”. In addition, I was in shock over a new academic system and seemingly bizarre expectations that threw my National Merit Scholar smugness right out the window. In other words, the student was ready, and the unexpected (and certainly unintentional) teacher appeared.
As Nez added chapters and deleted stuff and revised what he’d posted and generally let us all see his creative process over the course of that school year, I was entranced. When I finally saw the finished book a year or so later I was even more impressed. Not so much by the story (though if you haven’t read it, it’s a damn good work of magical realism, chock-full of lavishly described mind-movies to boot) as by HOW a gifted writer takes a rough draft and shapes and polishes it until it catches the light just so. Now, I’d been in creative writing for two years in high school, and am lucky enough to have a mom who’s a better writer than I will ever hope to be, but seeing Nez drafting fearlessly and editing ruthlessly over a prolonged stretch of time helped me truly understand that even “creative geniuses” revise. Therefore I realized it was OK to do the same with my own work, and that my crappy first drafts weren’t a sign that I wasn’t “good enough” to write and share what I wrote. It was something that would have been impossible to witness even two or three years prior (internet FTW), but I was lucky enough to see it and learn from it. While I have a very different writing style, my process isn’t all that different from what I witnessed at Videoranch as a sophomore. In addition to the book, I flipped a coin between Tropical Campfires and Live at the Britt and opted for the latter. These are my two favorite solo CDs but I think I’m glad of how it came out. You never forget your first, after all.
Then I pondered what Monkees item I should bring, and decided on…nothing. First, this is silly, but I was going to a Nez Show, not a Monkees show, and it just felt weird for some nebulous reason. That said, I would have ignored the weirdness if I’d had an opportunity to complete a “grand slam”—or if I’d had a chance to pull off something like what my friend Jennifer did at her show with her EPIC VINTAGE PRINCESS GWEN PHOTO. I didn’t have any three-signature swag (and unfortunately never will at this point…*sigh*) so that decided that.
Finally, I brought a gift for Nez. My level of musical knowledge may be downright sophomoric (if you can’t tell by my reviews my aesthetics are little more than instinctual), I may not be able to draw anything more advanced than a stick figure, and I may have lacked time to knit up some ornate keepsake (and the talent to do anything remotely as fancy as my friend Janet’s embroidered hankies), but I AM a Librarian. If I can’t select a good book for a guy I have respected from afar since the age of 9, I need to run over to OU and get a refund on my MLIS.
I’d caught an interview of Nez on NPR a few months back. Among other topics he doesn’t usually cover, he talked a bit about his lifelong love affair with words and language. When I decided to bring a gift I recalled that interview and promptly started looking for a good popular nonfiction book on etymology or the history of language. After a little poking through Worldcat and Amazon, I stumbled across Holy Sh*t, a pithy and intellectual exploration of the history and etymology of swearing (both oaths and “dirty” words).
It’s hard to understand the sheer joy a librarian gets from hunting down a good book for someone, it’s like a scavenger hunt and Christmas morning rolled into one. In any case, the skies parted, Choirs sang, etc. I bought a copy on kindle immediately to read end-to-end before buying a hardcover version, and I found it both educational and hilarious. More importantly, my gut told me Nez might like it too.
As the crowd gathered upstairs, I once again reviewed my plan of attack. I had responses to likely questions I’d get about the book and the 2 items I’d picked to bring. I had a couple of questions for him if the moment was right and we had enough time—What’s your writing routine like? How did you learn to “kill your darlings” while revising? Did you know that the word “Fuck” is NOT an acronym of “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”? You know, typical small talk. 😉
About that time a minion (who I think was from the venue?) came up to set up the table and remind us of all the rules. While he was reminding everyone to behave like mature adults, I took a quick look around the space to get a rough headcount. A few stragglers were still filtering upstairs, but it was way more than 20 people—probably closer to 40. I was lucky enough to be about where I’d hoped–near but not at the front, person #10 or so. Nez was in for a long evening. I decided then and there to keep it short, sweet, light, and to follow his conversational cues. No long-winded anecdotes, definitely no deep unburdening (not that I even wanted to do that with a stranger anyway). I’d rather be pleasantly forgettable than draining. At the end of the day I’d never even expected to have the opportunity to say “thank you” in person. As long as I got to say those words at some point (not even the reasons why I was grateful), the rest was gravy.
After the minion finished (with a slightly over-the-top warning that anyone who presented Nez with a second Monkees item was subject to ejection), Boh and Paul emerged to start working the line, followed a few minutes later by Nez himself. After watching the first conversation to get a vague idea of how much time I would have (estimated it at about 2-3 minutes tops), I basically stopped gawking at the poor man like he was in a fishbowl and waited to see if I’d get a chance to enthuse to Boh about his playing (and maybe even drop my brother Daniel Walker’s name 😉 ). No luck there, but I did get to shake hands with Paul Leim.
Right off the bat, I complimented Paul on his epic drum solo during Listen to the Band. He laughed out loud, then asked me and the surrounding folks if we’ve seen Spinal Tap. Unsurprisingly, the herd of hard-core Nezheads nodded as one. Paul then told us he’s miked up during the show so he can talk to the others on their earpieces as needed. Apparently they were cracking jokes through that whole wild performance of Listen to the Band, especially after Chris’s Nigel-esque equipment malfunction. Apparently when the FUBAR hit Paul asked if he was rigged to blow up when he started into his solo…As we all died laughing, I remembered why I quit band after 10th grade in favor of creative writing—I lacked the speed of both wrist and wit to be a really top-shelf drummer. 😉
And then a few minutes later, I was at the front of the line. I centered myself in the moment, subtly rubbed my owl necklace for good luck (had to make sure Anissa attended the reception in some form…), handed the camera lady my phone, walked over, and for the first time in my life made direct eye contact (not mediated by a stage) with Michael Nesmith.
(Disclaimer: all the Nez quotes are to the best of my memory and are likely off by a word or two here and there. however, I will say that the meaning as I perceived it is all there. I’d also like to thank Camera Lady–didn’t get her name–for the lovely pics, and apologize to everyone for having my back to the camera for most of the proceedings. )
I held out my hand, he shook it firmly (he has a very good handshake by the way, neither bone-crusher nor noodle-wrist), and I said the words that for 26 years I had assumed I would never get to say. “Hi, I’m Sarah Clark. It’s wonderful to finally meet you!”
Nez replied, “It’s great to meet you too!” And then he smiled with eyes AND mouth, somehow making me feel welcome and at home and not at all like the perfect stranger I was. Instantly, it was like a switch flipped. It was almost like I really had known him for decades—like I was just casually catching up with a kind and moderately eccentric uncle or older family friend who visits once every five or ten years. The already surprisingly low level of anxiety I’d felt evaporated, along with the rest of the room. I immediately thanked him for a great show (leaving the rest of those 26 years as an exercise for the reader), then started putting my stuff on the table for signing.
I mentioned that Britt and TLSHONZ were for him to sign, and then passed over the “Holy Shit” book, saying “and that’s yours to have.”
Nez looked at the cover, didn’t even bat an eye. He said “Thanks”, then asked me to tell him about the book. In that moment I realized that I just accidentally made the most genius librarian move in the history of genius librarian moves. Like a good librarian I did about a 10 second booktalk (essentially what I said above), and explained that I thought it might be right up his alley, especially since he’s a word nerd. I GOT A NEZ SMILE AT “WORD NERD”. I have photographic proof.
Nez replied, “Thanks, that sounds really cool! I’ll read it on the bus.” Now I have no doubt it’s actually about three boxes down in his stack of gifts, but who knows? He just might decide to rummage through his goodies in a week or two and give it a read. If so he’ll learn that “Huffle” is a Victorian euphemism for…well… let’s just say I’m never gonna read Harry Potter the same way again. 😉
At that point he set that book aside and we moved on to the other stuff to sign. He didn’t personalize either item, but he didn’t offer and I honestly forgot to ask him to (Not needed though—if I live to 100 I’ll remember those were signed for me in my presence). When he got to Neftoon Zamora I said, “I really was fascinated watching how it evolved from the online drafts to final version.”
I quipped right back, “I’m pretty sure there were about 3 of us,” and then I’m not sure, but I think my right eyelid through no conscious choice winked. I THINK I WINKED AT NEZ. In any case, the photos indicate I got a THIRD smile in return.
At that point he finished signing TLSHONZ and I knew it was time to transition into the last item on the list, my question about his writing routine. As I formed it up in my mind, Nez said, “Would you like to get a picture?”
I blinked, and it was like a spell connecting the two of us gently ended. Nez had seemed to be so focused on me (and I was so intently connected in return) that I’d almost forgotten that there had been a photographer and 30-something onlookers the whole time. We took a quick snapshot, and then I took one last look in those eyes. Once more for the record, I grinned and said, “Thank You.” He said “Thank you too, I’m looking forward to reading the book.” That was it. He turned to greet the next person as I grabbed my goodies and my camera and floated out the door to the back stairwell.
When the door to the stairwell closed, I was all alone. I looked down, and my hands started trembling as the adrenaline I did NOT feel during our conversation suddenly hit me in a rush. I stood there, took some deep breaths (no more than five or ten seconds, I’m sure). Then I looked toward the ceiling and thanked Anissa for helping me to keep my wits about me. And then I went downstairs to find Kevin.
The two of us chatted lightly about the show and my conversation as we strolled past Oprah’s TV studio and around the corner, then fell quiet as we neared the hotel. I have to admit that my mind wasn’t totally on the bitter cold or even watching for muggers. Instead, my thoughts drifted back in time a bit. Don’t worry, not three years again—just 5 days. 😉
My home office, November 18, 2013
My Qualifying exam, due at 5:00, was done. The editing and proofreading was finished, and the content was as solid as I could make it. I skimmed it over once more, then stopped and looked hard at the brief discussion of epistemology. I had invoked the first night of research methods and Saxe’s poem of the Elephant’s parts as a handy metaphor to tie together that section. It was an excellent metaphor of course, and would probably give the two exam readers who had co-taught that introductory course a chuckle. But…did I dare?
Of course, nobody reading the exam but me would know my additional meaning that I brought to that paragraph. In an ironic proof of the theory that knowledge is ultimately a subjective construction, my professors would assume the only “truth” of my example was a nostalgic callback to that early night of research methods, and that I was simply using a handy story to illuminate the difference between the three main epistemological schools as required by the exam. Of course I knew the additional layer of subjective meaning that wound from a childhood bedroom to a record store in Dundee to a evening playing a Director’s commentary for my gobsmacked fiancé to a stifled gasp in a PhD classroom ten years later to holding my sister Mich while she cried in a cemetery a year and a half after that to a joyfully raucous club in Ferndale last spring to, in a few short days, Chicago. I glanced up at the ceiling for a moment, then at the stack of confirmation emails printed on my desk.
Forget educational theory and research methods–the biggest lesson I learned in my PhD coursework was that knowledge was fuller when you looked at life through multiple lenses—some your own, but many borrowed from a book, a work of art, or (perhaps best of all) a friend. Maybe you can’t try and walk down two different roads…but life’s paths aren’t parallel. Our strange loops merge and split in surprising ways, bringing pains, joys, and new fellow travelers. After 36 years of struggling I finally had realized my purpose in life was not to repay my debt by being “perfect” or even “accomplished”, but rather to grow the quality and reach of my life incrementally in directions where my talents met others’ needs, and in turn hopefully influence the lives of others for the better. And thanks to the past year and a half, I would be armed for that mission with the courage to be vulnerable and compassionate, as well as a magically silly recipe for making lemonade from one of the nastiest lemons life has to offer.
I looked at the screen again. This was a good essay. If I couldn’t include an invisible nod to that side of myself, then this was not a test I wanted to pass anymore. In any case, I realized that I would be best equipped to serve others by merging the intellectual lessons of my PhD coursework with the emotional ones from The Year of Our WTF. By linking head and heart, “Sarah” and “Camille”, I could help other college librarians looking to find new and better ways to teach information literacy by attempting to show them students’ cognitive and affective perspectives from the other side of the elephant. I may never keynote the ACRL conference (that sort of thing doesn’t matter so much anymore), but if I ever do, you’d better believe I’ll dig out my owl necklace and see if I can find some sparkly pumps on clearance at the Jimmy Choo outlet.
I smiled, took a deep breath, and hit submit. And then I opened Holy Sh*t, and inscribed a brief note to Nez. I will tell you “thank you” was definitely involved.
Next up? Who knows? It will involve a change of subject. See you after Thanksgiving, at a minimum.