As we stood in line waiting to get into the venue housing last night’s John Irving reading, Sister #2 set out a few ground rules.
“One,” she said. “There will be no hugging. ”
There was more on the list, but I was too distracted by a nine-year-old wearing heavy makeup, falling off what can only be described as 6-inch-heeled stripper shoes, and calling out for her mom. I’m not even exaggerating. She was sporting some black-patent leather numbers with the kind of straps that wind around your ankles and tie. It was an image so disturbing that I had to ask if it was real. Sister #2 and Ben both saw it too.
But there was no time to dwell on inappropriately dressed children. I had to get my swoon on, because as we approached the ticket table, so did John Irving.
John motherfucking Irving.
John Irving, the man who wrote A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp,
I noticed two things right away. He’s much shorter than I anticipated and his wife is quite a bit taller than he is. If I were not immobilized by fear, I could have scooped him up and put him in my pocket.
I’ve often struggled with the idea of paying to go see someone read. For some reason, it feels weird, wrong, greedy. Which doesn’t make any sense at all, considering I pay to see bands perform their work all the damn time. So why isn’t paying for a reading the norm and not the departure?
Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. I paid $30 to see John Irving read and even if that price hadn’t included a signed copy of Last Night in Twisted River it would have been worth the money just to hear him say “YOUR MOTHER HAS THE BEST BREASTS OF ALL THE MOTHERS” in Owen Meany’s voice, or at least how he hears Owen’s voice in his own head.
He spent a lot of time talking about craft, and how he starts with the last line and visualizes punctuation. Generalized craft, process talk like that kind of bores me. Maybe because I believe each writer’s process is totally unique to the individual, or because I’ve read so much about Irving’s process. It’s interesting because Sister #2 and Ben loved the craft talk. They found it endlessly fascinating.
What I found endlessly fascinating, was when he spent some time talking about nightmares. He said, your nightmares are what define you more than anything else. If your nightmares aren’t autobiographical than what is? He asked.
I loved it. Writers are often accused of only writing about themselves, and Irving even covers the topic to some degree in A Widow for One Year. But I think he defined that autobiographical nature of a lot of writing in a way that not only makes sense to me, but pertains to my writing. I write about what I’m afraid of more than I write about myself.