Diary of a First Book, Entry 4: Still Loving Morrissey and Shopping at the GapOctober 23rd, 2009
by Suzanne Burns
Don’t ever agree to your book being published if you have a fear of public speaking. I can say that, over the past five months, I have almost completely conquered this fear. I have beaten it out of myself. My husband has stood by, helplessly watching the self-berating, doling out the necessary Kleenex and gelato cups, weighing in on every outfit I’ve tried on. My vain (in more ways than one) attempt at looking just the right combination of serious literary writer and hot-ass bitch has culminated in committing the worst of sins: I bought a black T-shirt from the Gap.
My post-Goth street cred all but ruined, I resigned myself to following the flow of a reading tour for Misfits. I was one of the reader’s at last month’s Loggernaut Reading Series in Portland and all the insecurity I thought I’d grown out of came flooding back. As I sat there, surrounded by many MFA students in a giant coffee shop at the edge of an industrial part of town where we fought over the last parking space with a slow moving bread truck, I felt dumb. Literally. I can’t put my finger on why. As much as I rally against what I see as the ridiculous notion that writing can be “taught” I was keenly aware of all these people, a lot of them a good decade younger, seeming to be in-the-know about my literary tricks. It was a tough crowd, mainly because they were studious and intent on learning craft and not distracted by my flamboyant outfit or my amazingly uncomfortable shoes. Plus the man who introduced me said such kind words about my book that I almost had a crying jag in front of all those serious strangers. Per my usual coping mechanism, my husband drove me to the nearest Voodoo Doughnuts after the reading—since I still don’t eat before I perform—and I indulged in a Marshall Mathers (yes, a doughnut covered in M&M’s).
The next night found me at a small bookstore that shall remain nameless, if only for the fact that said store forgot to tell anyone I was giving a reading there. Including the ten people browsing about ten minutes before I started. Okay, so I was seriously ready to call the reading off and hide in the small movie theatre up the street and watch Jennifer’s Body without shame when four people showed up. An elderly couple who, and I can only explain this non-delicately, had the look of loving Baby Jesus in their eyes, and a young couple I mistook for gutter punks. I was bummed. My husband was pissed that we got stuck with what I assumed would be an unappreciative audience.
I started reading my tried and true standard, Tiny Ron, which revolves around not only the world’s smallest man, but the world’s smallest wife beater. The young couple, who I found out were organic farmers from England hitchhiking their way across the country, laughed in all the right parts. The old couple, not so much. (Note to self: Christians, especially the fundamentalist kind, don’t take kindly to words like “pussy” nor do they enjoy hearing how the world’s smallest man can turn a finger cot into a condom.) After the reading, the old couple came up to me and said, “Unlike you, our daughter is a REAL writer. She’s written sixty Christian romance detective novels. And unlike you, she is a REAL writer who doesn’t have the time to get an agent and get published blah blah blah…” I blocked out the rest of what they said as they wandered out of the store.
The young couple was amazing. I knew I had made fast friends when I saw a profile of Morrissey stenciled on the guy’s skateboard.
“Is that…?” I asked
“It sure is,” the guy laughed. “And it used to say ‘Sister I’m a poet’ underneath the picture.”
We approached each other, both tentative, and I told them they were my angels and I would’ve cried if they hadn’t shown up. (Another note to self: don’t book readings to coincide with being in the throes of PMS.) I gave the couple one of my books and the boy gave me a stack of his homemade ‘zines from England. There was something touching about this exchange of work. I felt part of the writing community in a way I didn’t feel in Portland. There will always be a sweetness to a boy offering you a ‘zine. I am a great sentimentalist, and this gesture reminded me of being a teenager, writing poems that no one would see for many, many years, holed up in my bedroom, positive only Morrissey and Robert Smith understood my obvious pain.
I took the ‘zines back to our motel and pored over the photocopied gems. They were funny and political and bawdy and a great treat to end another strange leg of the Misfits book tour. I’d like to tell everyone that I have stopped worrying about how I look when I perform, that what matters is touching that one person in the crowd that will maybe, just maybe, touch you back, but those damn Gap T-shirts do amazing things in all the right places. Curses. And thanks…