Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NY Event Number Four: Seeing other important people read stuff.

(Posting a couple days after this actual post's date, because I just haven't had the time to sit down and really focus on this.)

Thanks to the generous thought of L. Moon in an effort to assist me in knocking things off my list, I went to an event called Public Lives/Private Lives, part of the Festival of International Literature being held this week in New York. PEN is the organization that is running the event, and this selection of readings took place at the Town Hall, a venue I'd never been to before. Basically, authors from around the globe, deemed important for whatever reasons (some of which I understood, others I did not), were brought together to read pieces from various work they've done. Salman Rushdie introduced and closed the function, and I must admit I didn't know who he was initially except as "that guy who was in 'Bridget Jone's Diary.'" The readers were:

1) Michael Ondaatje
2) Evelyn Schlag
3) Rian Malan
4) Peter Esterhazy
5) Annie Proulx
6) A. B. Yehoshua
7) Carol Bracho
8) Francine Prose
9) Ian McEwan

McEwan was the real reason I wanted to go--I have never read a lick of his prose, but I loved "Atonement" so much that I figured the author of the novel the film was based on would be well worth seeing. And he didn't disappoint. But it was great to hear several of the other authors as well, who, because of their international standing, I probably would have gone on without ever having heard of the rest of my days (though I could have been spared the two female poets, Bracho and Schlag, whose work did not impress anything upon me at all). Peter Esterhazy (that's him in the picture), a Hungarian, was really great, as were Michael Ondaatje and A. B. Yehoshua, all of who I plan to look up, whenever I finish the three books I'm already currently reading. Wait: make that four. I'm reading four books right now. Which actually means I'm reading no books, because I'm so overwhelmed by the idea of reading four books. Gah.

The people at the event were somewhat predictable. I looked around on the street while I was waiting for my friends to meet me out front before the start of the event and was struck with the thought: "These are people who read." I know this will make me sound like a jerk, but there is definately a specific demographic of people who in their personal identities border on academia (or have {or like to think they have} the prowess of academia), but still work "real jobs" and then go to these sorts of things and wear their tweed jackets or embroidered scarves, glasses (here it's okay to not put your contacts in), and velvet--there is always a lot of velvet at these functions, crushed or otherwise--to get closer to living that life that they don't necessarily live day to day. The women always give off an air of having read a lot of Jane Austin and that they hold those ideals found in her books true to their hearts, though now in our post-Nora-walking-through-the-door-age, they also accompany it with a sense of modern feminism: many will dress that scarf up with a pants suit. And the men come off quiet and thoughtful, with some kind of struggle between the eloquence of the words and works they try to produce, and that more masculine thing they had to leave behind perhaps to do so. And everyone probably listens to NPR more on principle, less because of enjoyment--I know I do. A few may have even given it money.

Where's Bukowski? Where's Hemingway? I want some one to read me a poem that will rock me in my seat, and then watch them throw up on stage. I want some one to look like they just walked back from an African game hunting expedition, slap a woman on the ass as they go up to the podium, and then promise to make it up to her by making love to her later in his hotel room in a way that she'll never forget and always regret that she'll never have again. Where are these characters? Hidden under all that wool? Perhaps.

I often wonder when I go to these sorts of things if I look like I belong. I don't read, not really, and I wonder if I look like some one who doesn't, despite owning several scarves, two corduroy jackets, one tweed jacket, one velvet jacket, two berets, and glasses (which I haven't worn since early December when I stepped on them); none of which I was wearing that evening. I wonder what I look like, if I come off as an actor at first glance. I always figured it was apparent once I started a conversation, and once some one gets to know me I think it's an undeniable fact--I am rather dramatic at times (or All the time). But I've always sought to be unidentifiable in a way, never wanted to be pinned down as this or that. I find labels annoying, and stifling, even though they are sometimes the best way to communicate ideas ("These are people who read"). Part of being an actor is to remain constantly available to change at any moment, whether it's your demeanor or your haircut. And how can you be that available if you fulfill any label wholly? But then a question arises when it comes down to personal identity-->who are you, if you're an actor, if you're some one that needs to be able to defy lables? And is this sense of need of some kind of vague, surface anonymity one of the reasons I'm having trouble getting myself in gear for school? Because to stand up and say, "I'm an actor, I'm a student, I'm an American, I'm a woman, I'm an artist," to say all of those things suddenly you set the bar, and suddenly you have to reach it.

One of the hardest things to do in life is to declare what you want, simply because there's a risk you won't get it. Then what are you--something to be pitied or mocked, neither very desirable attentions really. This is of course if you value other people's opinion of yourself to the point where that sort of thing becomes a concern. And I do. And the truth of the matter is, I view myself on occasion with enough distance and enough drama, to consider myself as something worth pitying or mocking. But I'm human, and all humans should be pitied and mocked at some point or other, just like they should be granted love and sympathy. Maybe "human" is the only label I'm really comfortable with at least acknowledging--the business of being human is far messier than most people give it credit for, and I won't say I'm completely comfortable with it because that would be a lie.

But of course we must risk something. Otherwise we'd just sit in our beds all day and never move, and die right there in the covers. So now I have what I want. And what do I do?

Oh, but how did we get here? I'm ending this post right now because I don't know what else to say, and frankly tying it up with a "lesson" is just too annoying. South Park can get away with it, but I don't trust myself to not end up writing something terribly cliche.

Do I deny my true nature by doing that?


Zuzu Petals said...

I'll never be able to hear the word "agua" without wincing again. Should prove interesting in Mexico.

Lea Maria said...

Dear God, that was a terrible poem. I wanted to drown that woman in agua.

I saw Peter Esterhazy walking down the street on Saturday and tried to say hello and thank you and you're awesome, but he was speaking to someone in Hungarian and took no notice of me. I was so close to greatness!

*Le sigh.*

Lori said...

It was an enjoyable evening. I have to agree regarding the word agua - ughhh.

So close to greatness - I'm so jealous. He really was my favorite even I still think about Ian McEwan's work that he read.

Ahhhh, I'm glad I could help you cross off a NYC experience.