How can I thank you?
I'm told there were 150 people there. That extra rows of chairs had to be brought in, that people stood, gladly, for an evening-length event measured not in minutes but hours... They travelled in from outside the city. They jotted down remarks of mine, as though what I was saying had some kind of value.
Do you know how much that means to me?
There are different types of truths. When people ask how something like this book came into existence, they don't really want to hear the nuts-and-bolts journey. Who emailed who, what day the idea began. No, it's the emotional journey we can best relate to; the trajectories of thought that led you toward a decision, where you were standing when the idea hit, how warm it was. The childhood that made you think this or that way.
That's what I want to share here. I don't write a lot about myself on this blog. It only seems like I do. I tend to limit the discussion on myself to the literary equivalent of breadcrumbs, because I'm more interested in other people; but enough folks have asked about the book, and I owe you some details. Here goes.
I was a reader long before I developed an interest in film, and of course long before I began driving buses. My father worked (and still does) at one of the country's only surviving book menderies. The book as something valuable, bodied, real. Literature. Taking care of things, of art: These were concepts before I knew what the word concept even meant.
As an adolescent I worked as a page at King County Library System for six years (oddly, an ideal prep for bus driving– but we'll get to that in another post!). Again, books being the thing– and not just as an explanatory refuge of knowledge, but as the tactile living object. Things so worthwhile there was a facility dedicated entirely to preserving them, healing them, sending them back out into the world for me to shelve.
Those were the days of the real.
The internet existed, but not in a way you actually cared about; it wasn't useful yet, certainly no social media, not interesting enough to be a distraction or diversion. Checking movietimes meant poring over the newspaper, or calling the theatre and listening to that interminable voice message. When you wrote a paper for school, you went to the library and sleuthed for your information, pulling volumes off shelves and cross-referencing and indexing, books on books open to different chapters with your notes alongside. You remember. Cracking open an ancient encyclopedia and noting the smell of the inseam, the gentle stay of pages opened for the first time in who knows how many years. Life, a thing we experienced not just with sight, but all the senses!
It was into this environment my formative years were born. It was these textures, these places and memories that led me to place great value on books, and anything else that is tactile. Books, vinyl, film. Hipsters gravitate toward these same things because they do not have memories of them but secretly wish they did; I'm drawn because I do remember. Spoken conversation. The physicality of things, of engagement, greetings at the cash register, phones with a cord going to the wall, an envelope of new photos from the drugstore.
Do you remember winding a cassette tape back up with your pinkie finger?
It isn't physical objects I'm trying to eulogize, but tactile engagement. I'm not saying this is better. I'm saying we dream in the landscapes built by our childhood. It's because of this background that I place much greater value on accomplishments that are tangible. The blog is a major accomplishment, I'm told, but it isn't tactile to me. I can't touch it.
The book, on the other hand...
There are dreams you work toward hesitantly, making an effort not to picture the shape of their outcome, for fear of disappointing yourself. But you keep working away at them, if only to stave off the feeling of stagnation you'd have otherwise. I've wanted the blog to be a book, wished it could one day be a real live tome you could hold in your hands and touch, turn the pages, since, well, the beginning.
But I didn't dare imagine.
I'd stand in the halls of this same bookstore, Elliott Bay, one of the great independent northwest bookstores, newly opened on Capitol Hill at the time, pulling off titles that vaguely compared to what I was trying to do. Essay collections, non-fiction short stories, books emphasizing optimism or urbanism, nothing quite what I had in mind but similar– pulling them down to see who the agent was in the acknowledgments, reaching out to them with a query of my own (determining the agent and editor of a book is something you can still, largely, only do in person).
I went through the motions, querying agents, writing letters, writing drafts, assembling marketing plans and researching readership demographics. One agent in New York finally replied, asking to see my manuscript. I didn't have one, because non-fiction book proposals are normally presented before the book is written. What did I do? I put together a 300-page manuscript of stories in eighteen hours and sent it to him. Because I wanted this. I put the hours in. So many hours, agents, fevered late nights. But I never allowed myself to daydream; just work on what you can right now. And enjoy it. It never occurred to me to think about what my book would look like on those same Elliott Bay shelves, or what an author event might feel like. Don't set yourself up for that sort of pain, I thought, that disappointment!
One day I'll write further about the magic of how this came together. It wasn't through backbreaking appeals to New York agents, as above, not flowing against the tide of life but with it; working with the good people right here, friends and artists who so graciously reached out, whose interest, efforts and enthusiasm I feel enormously humbled by. Will I ever know exactly how it came about? For now, the point is I never actually thought about this day happening, let alone what such an event would look like. I've just been working at it, keeping my head down for a long time. Forgive me this post and the two which will follow.
This is me finally looking up, taking a look around.
That's the preamble. What did this thing feel like? Click here for the next post~
Above photo by Brittany Hammer.