The first day of March. The snow is a smooth crust in our yard, but in the north corner near one of the tallest spruce trees it was a warm springtime. Jan and I sat out there for a spell this afternoon. She has a cold and I was tired. We had cleaned house and sorted our recycling. I was getting myself together to sign books at the local bookstore at three. But sitting in the wobbly plastic chairs in the sun for the first time in months I didn't want to go anywhere. It was exquisite with the sun reflecting off the snow and the heat on our faces. We are sixty, is that why these moments feel so fine? Is that why I want to stretch them out? A few more moments...just a few more moments.
But I got up and took the recycling in. Jan didn't want to go. Her cold had gotten the best of her. She hadn't taken her medication for her Parkinson's and she wasn't moving well, so I blasted off and I packed my good clothes to change at the store because I was running late and I would get smelly dumping the beer and wine bottles from our tree-burning party that were in the recycling.
To tell the truth I wasn't looking forward to the local signing. My hometown signing is always emotionally loaded for me. These really are the people I want to like the book. This is my audience, if I have one in my mind, other than my siblings. So...if they don't come out I take it personally. I know I shouldn't. But I do. Another big problem was there was a big event scheduled at the same time, the very popular, Wearable Arts Show! So...big draw for the likely readers. Jan calls me Eeyore when the local signing comes around because I tend toward pessimism.
But I have another problem with the hometown signing: tension, memory, and my terrible spelling all conspire against me. Here's how it works: I have a hard time with names, I can't spell, I get anxious about it. I see someone in line, I know their name, but then as they walk up I start to freak out and their freaking name flies out of my head. I panic. I try to cover and I say, "Help me with how to spell your name," and they inevitably say, " B... O... B" and I say something like, " Oh the American way, not the French Canadian way?" and move on quickly.
This time there were people lined up who I have known for thirty years at the book store. I knew all their names perfectly well but that wouldn't matter because for some stupid reason as soon as they walked toward me with a book my mind would go blank. So, I took no chances. I announced to them that on the way over that I had suffered a severe head injury and that I would appreciate if when they came up to the table if they would all tell me their names and if they were buying books for someone else could they please write the names down on little stickies (which the bookstore provided) so I could spell the name correctly. I thought about wearing a gory bandage but hadn't prepared adequately.
The signing went swimmingly. I reminded Ashia, the kind bookstore manager, about my recent head injury and to keep telling the customers to tell me their names and everyone, even people I owed money to and had just seen that afternoon at the recycling center, came up to me gently and touched my hand and said, "John you are doing so well, are you sure you don't need a rest?" and I bravely pushed on and inscribed a book for them as if I were on the fields of Flanders. It was great.
I spelled most of the names correctly. I got one Kristen or Kirsten wrong but that name is fucking impossible anyway.
I had a lovely time, and I remembered what is great about doing this. Next to alcoholism whining is the biggest occupational hazard. Writers love to complain. I have done my fair share of it. I used to complain about how writing is so much about delayed gratification. You write and you never feel the satisfaction. When you play in a band and perform at the Moose Lodge you get to see the people dance and as a musician you feel GREAT. But when you spend years writing a book you end up with a stack of papers and you just look at it and then ship it out in the mail.
Not today. Today when people came to the bookstore on a wonderfully sunny day, when they snuck out early from the Wearable Arts Show, when they told me their names, even though they knew I didn't have a head injury, when I could see in their eyes they were looking forward to reading a story I had written, when a native woman told me she was buying a book for her 87 year old mother who had read all of my books and just had to have my new book, and when I told her that I had based a character on her nephew she clapped her hand over her mouth and giggled in a very old way that I instantly recognized as a family trait I was overwhelmed and grateful, grateful, grateful. And I was nothing but happy that I that I had chosen to be a writer today.
Crusty snow, warm sun
we sit in rickety chairs
and you hold my hand.