Thursday, January 27, 2005

A real "real" signing -- and surprises galore...

More notes from a certain leather journal...

The sun goes and cold settles -- the coffee machines hiss and sputter. Voices. Rustling.

I spoke to a group at the library on Thursday (a woman at a nearby table just said "Thursday" at the moment I wrote the word -- how weird is that? -- and now I'm eavesdropping on her conversation; she's talking about a work schedule). Anyway. I'm talking to the group at the library -- and my dad is there, and my Uncle Eddie and Aunt Joan -- a total surprise. They drove in from Century/Pensacola without a warning and found the downtown library on their own and surprised me. It was a wonderful moment and helped make a special night that much better.

The talk went well. People bought books, gave hugs, laughed at all the right places, applauded at all the right places. They asked good questions. One man who said he "left Century 35 years ago" and had never gone back bought a book -- Uncle Eddie had coached him in football. They sat on the back row and told stories. Eddie told him about me throwing pebbles at monkeys at the old zoo in Cantonment or Pensacola or somewhere (I think that's where it was). I don't recall doing that, but I've heard the stories.

We went from there to Po Folks for supper, then to the house for a short tour, then they drove home. I was (and am still) pretty jazzed about the whole thing. George Vickery, the library director, gave a gracious intro, and Norma Hubbard, the president of Friends of the Library, decorated the refreshments table with camelias. Grandma Simmons would have approved. Visitors included Susan Tull, Nicole Barefield, Pat Nease, Marilyn Smith, Adele Head, Jack Saunders -- some names that have shown up in my journal before, having signed the thing at the Pottersville anthology debut. Other well-wishers sent emails.

It was a happy time and went well. I was glad of it and proud. And I was especially proud that Debra and Jessi were there to share it with me. Debra took money while I signed and schmoozed. Jessi checked out a book then came back for the talk. (Nathan was at a play practice and made it back just in time for the big finish; he'd have been there if he could've been.)

But I was especially proud that Dad and Eddie and Joan were there. Words fail. What really can I say? To have them go so far, come so far, just to be there, to be here, for my official debut, my coming out party, my premiere -- to support me, to love me, to give out good money to buy my book -- to be proud of me and happy for me.

Something special indeed.
Thursday, I was a blessed man.


(Originally written @ Books-a-Million, 1-24-05)

Here's the cover to Dazed and Raving

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Starry Night mask for Hospice

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Notes from a leather journal ... Downward Spiral:

Caught the press of time, the weight of unfinished something, of mystery unformed, of the uncreated, that which has not been made real maddens me. It eats at my brain and soul and heart. It saddens me. It demands something of me that can't give.

I am spiraling back into the dark place where I always go because I feel so constrained, so often trapped -- I long to be free to write, to create to make to do to be ... something. Something other. Someone else. Debra knows I am never satisfied and she feels at a loss, feels somehow responsible, like she has failed. I try to tell her that it is me -- that I have failed myself, me, I alone.

I must find my my way, and only I can do so. I stumble through the dark and no one else can lead me out.


(Originally scribbled @ 5:25 p.m., 1-9-05, @ Books-a-Million)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Notes on my first 'real' signing ... and my first book

(Let me share something from my journal...)

8:10 p.m.
(As Jessi writes on the 'puter and Debra talks on the phone and Nathan listens to music)

It is the evening after my first "real" signing. Sort of. Let me lay it out for you:
Having won some awards for my columns, emboldened thereby, one might imagine, I again requested permission to publish a collection. My boss responded that it was a good idea but again asked who would up-front the money, edit, produce, etc.? A friend said to answer "I will," which I did, and the word was given: Proceed; choose a route. Go forward. I moved, and in a few weeks time, I had books in my hands.

Oh, so strange, the sensations -- to have and to hold, to feel a dream in your fingers. It is not a real thing. The senses revolt. The brain does not accept the evidence of its input. Depression sets in: Is this all there is? Is this it? Really?

And then other people hold it in your presence and tell you how proud of you they are, how proud you must be of yourself, how good the book looks, how nice is the artwork, how favorable the cover copy reads, how nice the typography and so forth. They shake your hand or hug you or kiss your cheek. They toast you.

In my case, that didn't happen at first. No. At first, it was as if nothing at all had happened. Nothing had been accomplished. We did not celebrate. No dinner out. No champagne. No signing "event." My Dad bought the e-book edition and called to say how he wanted me to send him an old journal in my possession, one he'd read about in my collection of columns that he'd like to see donated to the Alger-Sullivan Historical Society. He didn't initially say that he liked the columns (that came after, but it did come; it did). First came the idea that he saw something there that he wanted from me. I didn't agree to give him the old journal.

David Angier bought four copies. Had me sign and personalize them. One he kept, the others were for Xmas gifts. The first one I signed -- my first autographed copy of my first book -- was to Wendi Twilley, a former News Herald reporter. I signed it "For Wendi -- My First." David said it would give her a thrill and make her husband jealous.

Then John Russo bought two copies; one for himself, one for his dad. And Ross Nowling bought one for his wife.

We journeyed home on the weekend of Dec. 10 and Mom bought four copies -- I signed them to her and Frank, Aunt Betty and David Massey, Beverly (mom's friend), and Johnny and Russ (Frank's mom and brother). She promised to mail the check soon.
But here's the great moment: After I signed Mom's books, Grandma Massey broke out the apple cider and poured it into fluted crystal glasses for all of us -- Nate, Jessi, Debra, Joe, Mom and herself -- and we toasted to my book and success, and I toasted to my family and felt the emotion fill me.

Later, at his place, Dad asked me to donate some of my free books to the Historical Society for them to sell to raise money. I told him I was trying to sell them to make back my up-front costs. Sometimes I just don't think he gets me. I did not give him any of my books.

So upon returning to PC, I contacted some of my friends, fans and other contacts to plan a "stealth" signing event for tonight (as this was originally written in my journal) at the Java Bar on Harrison Avenue. Carole Lapensohn and her husband came, as did Michael and Pam Lister, Bette Powell and Emily Cramer. Emily bought three books and gave me a nice pen for signing. Carole, Bette and Michael each bought a copy. It was a very nice, low-key evening.

Bette asked me what I thought of the book and I told her it was growing on me, that I was unsure of it at first. Debra said it was like a postpartem response, but it's also like a slow onset of acceptance of the reality of it. It's real now. I've seen people holding my book, flipping the pages, reading the words. I've seen people treating it like a real book, heard them chuckling at it and grunting at it when it hurt them or touched them.

I've done it. It is done.

To some extent, at least.

I've done it. Begun it.

The book is selling. It's on,,,, and The News Herald, which has already purchased 100 copies. It is in the world now, out of my hands. It has a life beyond me.

I am proud of the work between those covers. There are good words there, and true. Good stories. True thoughts. Some silliness, some pathos, some art.

Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century will follow. I know it will. It's only a matter of time. That will bother some folks, and anger some, and it will please some, and it will confuse some -- and some won't give a good goddamn. That's the way it is.

There will be others after that. I must believe that there will be others. Perhaps Caliban. Many a collection of short stories. Perhaps something else altogether unexpected. Tonight, I can believe.

(12-17-04, from my leather journal...more to follow in coming days, as I relate other stories of Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents...)

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Behind the Mask...

...I am painting a mask now. It has no eyes, though it has indentations that intimate the positions of eyes, and a rising and falling in the center of the oval face to suggest the placement of a nose, and similar rounded lumps where lips ought to be. It was a blank white plaster slate, yesterday. And today I'm painting it.

It's the third one I've done. The local Hospice organization auctions the masks each year, though mine usually go for the minimum bid, as I understand. Not like the thousands of bucks they get for celebrity masks by people like Courtney Cox and Justin Timberlake. Still, it's nice to be asked, and I take it very seriously.

Three years ago, I did a collage of sorts that incorporated bits of a an Undercurrents column about the space shuttle Columbia that is now part of my book. Two years ago, I did a collage that used bits of hardware, X-shapes and O-shapes, wire and so forth, all painted chrome and silver.

This year, my subject is a version of Van Gogh's The Starry Night. He did several versions of it, and there have been as many knock-offs on computer mouse pads and coffee cups and so forth, and I did a version on glass myself in 2001.

I'm thinking about masks and visions. What they hide, and what they allow us to reveal -- what our art reveals about us -- what our masks reveal that we think remains hidden. Wouldn't you have recognized Robin The Boy Wonder as Dick Grayson? Wouldn't you have known that was Bruce Wayne even in the cowl? Please tell me the black-rimmed glasses and change of hairstyle wouldn't have been enough to make you mistake Superman and Clark Kent for different persons.

What lies beyond the starry night? What visions lurk behind the closed eyes of the mask?