In my more cynical moments, when considering the artist-creation continuum, I think the thing I’m best at, and that I should stick to, is being a fan. The one who consumes, digests, adores, cheers. Not a creator, not a critic, but simply a fan. Of course when I’m feeling more optimistic I hope I can be all three, that each role informs the other. Every writer I know constantly beats themselves up for not writing enough, for not trying as hard as they should be. We have such high hopes and standards and still, we’re never doing every single thing we could be doing. In fact, I just wrote an email with this closing line: i guess i didn’t write much this weekend :/ Being a fan is sometimes a relief. I know what to do and I’m good at it. I’m a completist, I’m a little obsessive, I like to tell people about the things I like. These are all good qualities in a fan, and I sometimes wonder if I’ll grow out of my fangirlish tendencies, but I’m firmly ensconced in my thirties, and while I maybe don’t go to the same lengths I used to, that same urge is still there.
I’ve been basking in fandom recently. Part of it is due to the fact that I’m living in Toronto again, which tends to be a default stop on most tours, while Montreal unfortunately tends to be overlooked. And it’s the fall, and so many things come out in the fall. One evening in early October I went with Samantha to see Eleanor Wachtel interview Zadie Smith at Harbourfront. Smith was articulate, humble and funny. She read excerpts from NW and because I hadn’t read the book yet and had also been avoiding reviews, I enjoyed hearing Smith’s own interpretations first, listening to her voice read the first few pages. She plays around with words and format, and hearing her read it with the pauses and tones she intended made it easier for me to subsequently read when I brought the book home later that night.
Another evening Cheryl Strayed did a Q&A at the Indigo at Bay & Bloor. The event was more related to her best-selling, Oprah endorsed memoir, Wild, and while I did love the book, she will always be Dear Sugar to me first. I brought my copy of Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of those Rumpus columns, and when it was my turn for her to sign it, I breathlessly told her how much I loved Sugar, and that I use my Write Like a Motherfucker mug when I need an extra boost at my desk. She was sweet.
I did that same kind of breathless ohwowiloveyou dump when I saw Chris Kraus in Montreal last week. Andrew had to go for a conference, and after I’d decided to tag along, I realized that Chris Kraus would be launching her book Summer of Hate the night we arrived. Perfect timing! Kind of –the day was busy, driving as fast as we could from Toronto, Andrew giving his talk, finding time to check into the hotel and change. I made it to Drawn & Quarterly, but missed the actual reading. The tiny bookstore was packed and I stood way at the back by the door craning my neck to peer in. She did a Q&A and whenever she answered a question, she would lean in close to the person, sometimes kneeling on the floor practically sitting next to them. It was strangely intimate, but I realized afterwards that it was partially so she could hear what they were asking.
Here is the thing with me and Chris Kraus: when I first moved to Montreal, I found her book I Love Dick by accident. I had never heard of her, but it was sticking out of a bookshelf at the bookstore at the Musee d’Art Contemporain, and there was such a zine-y, obsessive-y vibe to it. I had never read a book quite like it – unhinged and intimate. Wait, I don’t like the word “unhinged” because the book is actually very deliberate and considered, but the energy it had surprised me. I read all of her books soon afterwards. I’m not on top of music or writing the way I used to be when I was in my early twenties, but I can’t help but feel a little “I’ve know how great she is for so long!” now that there’s so much Chris Kraus love in the air. (Yet another feeling I wonder if I’ll ever grow out of? It’s so immature.) Anyway, I somehow vomited out my back story to her when she signed my book, and she smiled at me politely. The problem with being a fan is that any response you get will never measure up to what you hoped. Still, it was good getting the chance to meet her in this brief, weird way, on a rainy, foggy night in Montreal.
Yesterday I saw Junot Diaz read at an IFOA event. He’s one of those readers that makes me realize how awesome it is when a good writer is also a good reader. It was too short, and I kicked myself for procrastinating on getting tickets for the longer event he did the night before, but I was still happy to get the chance to see him in person. I’d started reading This is How You Lose Her the day before, and the stories go down so easy while still kind of knocking you in the gut. It’s like he’s figured out some kind of trick, like he’s fooling us. But, one of the reasons why I’ve always admired him is because he’s not prolific, because he’s open about how long it takes him to write a story or a novel, and it’s comforting to know that the ease in his stories is something he works at. Maybe if you also work hard, you could make your stories sound like that too. (Ha.) Anyway, another book signing, and because I bumped into my friend Sarah in line and because we saw another person get her picture taken with him, when it was our turn, I decided I wanted a picture too and Sarah would take it. It was not my most graceful moment – I was sheepish, jumpy with excitement and I didn’t have anything particularly interesting or articulate to say to him. But he was a pro at dealing with fans – genuinely warm, gracious – and I got my picture. Like a real fan.
And then, that night, I saw The Mountain Goats, a band known for their devoted fans. John Darnielle is loved, for good reason. He has a knack for writing simultaneously soaring and heartbreaking songs. Sing alongs are sometimes a little too twee, but when he started playing “Love, Love, Love” and the entire room sang along, I couldn’t help but get choked up. Some things you do for money, and some you do for love, love, love. And of course, at the end of the night when they played “This Year” with a full horn arrangement, you could hear the resolution and elation as the entire room yelled, I am going to make it through this year if it kills me in unison.
Good performances, good art, brushes with people you admire transfer a kind of energy, and while, okay, fine, I didn’t get any writing done this weekend, I feel it bubbling inside of me again. I can be both an artist and a fan. I think. Sometimes. I’ll try.