Meeting the Authors in Three Acts

Published authors are magical people to me. I am so in awe of people who gather their thoughts, write them down, solicit a publisher, go through the process of drafts, edits, and then, finally, publishing. This year I’ve been incredibly fortunate to meet three authors in person, of three books that I love.

Act I
In May I was visiting a friend from college who I hadn’t seen in more than a decade. I was on a business trip to Seattle; she lives not far from there so I spent the weekend with her. I glanced on her coffee table and saw a book called, “The Happiness Project.” I had heard of the book, and it was on my list of “to read.” I picked it up and asked her how it was. “I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. You should take it.” I did. And loved it. Loved the idea of making small, sustainable changes in your life to increase your overall happiness. Who knew that making my bed every day would bring me so much joy?

In September I attended the Mighty Summit, a weekend gathering organized by Maggie Mason and Laura Mayes, which was simply amazing. Maggie and Laura gave the gift of a relaxing weekend in Guerneville to 22 women. We ate delicious meals together, bonded over stories shared, and supported each other in our life list goals. The first evening, many women were relaxing in the hot tub and I decided to join them. As I eased down into the steaming water, I introduced myself to the woman next to me. She introduced herself. Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen Rubin? How many Gretchen Rubin’s could there be? The author of The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin? As has happened previously when around people I admire and respect, I became completely tongue tied. We made small talk for a few minutes before I blurted out, “I really liked your book.” My inner voice immediately spoke up. “Really? You meet an author you respect in a somewhat intimate setting, and that’s what you come up with? You sound like you’re in second grade.” Gretchen, however, was incredibly gracious. For the rest of the weekend, the conversation flowed smoothly. We talked about finding the perfect apartment in big cities, children’s antics, and the value of keeping a fully stocked costume box (replete with wigs). I left the weekend not only feeling like I knew the author, but had connected with an incredibly witty and charming woman.

Act II
In November, a dear friend gave me tickets to hear Joan Didion speak in San Francisco. I discovered Joan Didion’s work about 5 years ago, and have devoured it since. I love her straightforward, no-nonsense style. How she weaves together words in unusual ways. How she writes, describing a scene so vividly, that I’m transported there, forgetting where and when I’m really living.

We listened, rapt, throughout the discussion. Afterwards Emily suggested we wait in line to get our books signed. The line moved quickly and before we knew it, we were standing in front of Ms. Didion. Once again, I stammered, completely tongue-tied in front of a woman who I admire more than any other author.

The day before I left to return to North Carolina for the holidays, my dad sent me an email. “I met this woman. She’s been to 67 countries. She wants to meet you. Download her book and that can be part of your Christmas present.”

I downloaded the book, An Unreasonable Woman, In Search of Meaning Around the Globe. I started reading it before bed on my first night in North Carolina. And couldn’t put it down. My eyes were droopy, but I wanted to read just one more chapter. And then another one. And another. Until I looked at the clock and realized it was 3 am. Oh, goodness.

I was beyond enthralled. Here was a woman who had perfect pitch, was an accomplished accordion player, and had decided to travel the world on her own in the 1950s, earning money as she traveled. What chutzpah!

Dad arranged for her to come to lunch one afternoon. Oh, goodness. Another opportunity to meet an author that I admired. I envisioned sitting there in silence, tongue-tied, as I’ve been with other favorite authors. Should I list topics in advance that I wanted to talk about? Should I have some questions prepared? What if she was nothing like her writing?

I shouldn’t have worried. She arrived and greeted me with the most incredibly warm, sparkling blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Her peaceful manner invited conversation and soon we were both chatting animatedly about favorite places we’d been, where we still want to go, and the importance of writing everyday. After lunch, we continued chatting until we realized the sun was setting. As I hugged her good-bye, I had connected with a kindred soul. I have no doubt our paths will cross again. I’m looking forward to that day.

A Row of One’s Own

I surprised myself in an “Oh, my goodness, I didn’t think I was that type of person,” sort of way.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

We had boarded. The flight was not full. The exit rows in front of me had only one of the six seats occupied. The flight attendant asked if anyone would like to move to the exit rows. The two people next to me got up and moved to the exit row in front of me. I felt a moment of exultation. A whole row to myself on a cross-country five-hour flight. Oh, Merry Christmas to me. Space, space, I love space!

Two people in the row behind me got up as well. The man headed towards the other empty row of exit row seats. The woman paused, eyeing the recently vacated seats beside me. I looked at her and pointed to the exit row seats, “I think you want to sit there.” Stating it not as a suggestion, but as a directive.

She took my advice and they settled into the exit row. I didn’t realize I was so territorial. But am so enjoying my row of seats all to myself.

Running on Empty

On the way to the Charlotte airport, we passed exit 42 for Troutman, NC. I asked, “Mom, remember the last time we were here?” and we both giggled hysterically. Mom explained the story to Dad, who had not been with us.

We had gone to pick up Grandmother (in SC) to bring her back to our house for one of the holidays. Lori must have been in high school, right? We stopped for lunch, and I knew we needed to stop for gas, but just plumb forgot about it. We were driving along and the car just stopped. There didn’t seem to be any other cars passing by, so we sent Lori to walk to the nearest exit to try to find someone. She got to an overpass and a young man on a scooter rode by, stopped, and hollered down at her, asking her why she was walking along the highway. She explained we had run out of gas and he told her to walk back to the car. He arrived a few minutes later with a can of gasoline.

The rest of the drive home, grandmother kept saying, “I’m so glad Lori was with us, because no one would have stopped for two old ladies like us, Sybil.” (This is the same grandmother who greeted me with, “Have you gained weight? Why aren’t you married yet?”)

From there after, I always filled up the gas tank as soon as it reached half a tank. No more walking along highways for me.

Christmas, a Little Bit Early

Since I’m flying back to California on Christmas Day, we celebrated Christmas a couple of days early with my sister and her family. Ashley told the children (ages 5 and 11) that we would open gifts after dinner. At breakfast, Zach, the older one, started the countdown to opening presents. “We’ll eat dinner at 5, and open presents by 5:30. That’s only 8 more hours.”

About 30 minutes later, “Is it time to open presents yet?” “Not yet.  Not until after dinner.” “Can we open just one gift now?”

I envisioned this repeating itself every 30 minutes, much like a Christmas version of the movie Groundhog Day, unless something was done.

“Hey! Let’s play a game! Let’s see how many fun things we can do today before it’s time to open presents. Ready? Let’s go!”

And that started our day of fun. Making reindeer out of styrofoam balls, yarn, and wobbly eyes. Riding bicycles in the driveway. Playing hopscotch (much harder to do in high-heeled boots than I remembered). Drawing chalk pictures on the driveway. Watching Toy Story 2. Dressing up as princesses (tiaras hurt if you wear them for too long). Playing dolls. Multiple board games. Eating candy canes (cherry flavored, not peppermint). Nerf basketball. A made-up game where the three of us threw a ball to each other, the object to see how long we could keep it up in the air, before someone yelled “Dance party!” and we all crazy danced to the song on the iPod. With occasional breaks for snacks.

And finally, it was almost dinner time. Almost. Ashley allowed them to open one present each before dinner. Zach chose a large box, which contained a sweatshirt. Hadley chose a small gift bag that contained an advent bag containing 24 small toys. I explained that I should have mailed the bag so that she could have opened one toy a day in the month before Christmas, but since I didn’t, she got to open all 24 at once. She squealed with delight. The 24 toys kept the two of them entertained until dinner was ready.

After dinner came the flurry of wrapping paper and ribbons being ripped off of presents, oohs and aahs, and donning of new bathrobes, slippers, and clothes. Building the gingerbread house, which stood long enough to take a picture before being devoured by little hands. Drawing with new art sets, playing more ball, dancing to new songs downloaded with iTune gift cards. Then, exhausted, but not wanting the day to be done, bed time.

Broadway is Magical

At the TKTS discount ticket booth:

“How do the seats for How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying look?”
“Two seats, back two rows, left. Eh.”
“What about On a Clear Day You Can See Forever?”
“Obstructed view. Wouldn’t take them.”
“Only one seat left.”
Rock of Ages?”
“One seat.”

We looked at each other. “We’ll take the two seats to How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.” Rachel made a comment about being too close to the stage; I interpreted the dealer’s comment as being at the rear of the theatre. We looked at the tickets. She was right. Row B. When we took our seats, I thought, “Wow. We’re close. Really close. Six feet from the stage close.” Close enough that when the actors came on stage, we could see their mic wiring. And how much they sweated. And, once or twice, could make eye contact.

The story was campy. A throwback to 1960’s corporate culture. A story where a window washer follows the advice of a book (How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) and climbs up the corporate ladder, getting both the girl and the corner office. A time when men hired secretaries on the basis on their looks, nepotism was the norm, and a woman’s ensemble included gloves and a matching pillbox hat.

It took me but just a moment to get past the fact that Harry Potter was the main character. Okay, not Harry Potter, but Daniel Radcliffe, best known as the actor who plays Harry Potter in the movie series. The songs had me seat dancing and singing along. And laughing. Where else but on Broadway do you get a full-blown number about the psychological benefits of the coffee break? Or reasons why your secretary is not a toy? Or dreams of waiting for your future husband, the successful businessman, and having the opportunity to keep his meal warm?

After the final curtain call and standing ovation, Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette appeared on stage, announcing cast members would be taking donations for the non-profit Broadway Cares after the show. “I’m auctioning this bow tie (he took his bow tie off), with the results going to Broadway Cares. Who would like to start the bidding?” The first bidder bid $50 and the bids quickly escalated into the hundreds. And then the thousands. Radcliffe threw in a back stage meeting with the himself and Larroquette. The price rose several hundreds of dollars. The final bid was $3,500. Radcliffe paused. “Would anyone match that bid, for the bow tie that I wore during the first act?” Silence. Then a woman’s voice from the fourth row clearly offered, “Thirty five hundred dollars.” Two bow ties, five minutes, seven thousand dollars for charity.

Rachel and I looked at each other. Best night ever at the theater.