Wednesday, February 06, 2013

In Which I Gush About John Irving....

So this past weekend was beyond lovely.  My flight across the country started off with a plane that was only 1/2 full, so from San Jose to Chicago, I got an entire row of seats to myself and there was much expanding to fit the space and spreading out.  I read and came >this< close to actually taking a little nap (said the girl who has never been able to sleep on a plane; even overnight flights to Europe are sleepless , eye-burning experiences for me)

Unfortunately, my couch-in-the-sky to Chicago totally spoiled me for the rest of the flight because from Chicago to New Hampshire, the flight was completely full & I spent the two hours smushed up against the window, contemplating the structural integrity of the double paned airplane window glass.  It just so happens that being sucked out of an airplane window at 30,000 feet is my absolute LEAST preferred way to go.  Thanks to the miracle of modern cinema CGI, airplane catastrophes (thanks, LOST) have ruined me for stress free air travel.

Nevermind; I got to icy cold NH at midnight, having suffered no change in cabin pressure or "water landing," so it all worked out fine.  I celebrated by sleeping until 1pm the next afternoon.  Yeah, you read that right.  I slept for TWELVE uninterrupted hours.  I felt so good when I woke up, I couldn't even be bothered to be embarrassed by my utter slothiness. I faked a little bit of mortification, but really? Yay, me!

On Friday night, we headed up to Portsmouth to see John Irving speak at the Music Hall.  We started out at a little cafe that used to be called Cafe Brioche, but is now named something corny like "Breaking New Grounds" --get it, coffee grounds?  Meh.  My friend and I split a piece of some sort of chocolate salted caramel cheesecake thing and marveled happily at the number of people sitting in the cafe on a Friday night, reading real paper & ink books (we are both curmudgeony old biddies when it comes to the e-book).

Then we sauntered (well, as much as one can saunter in 20 degree weather) over to the Music Hall, which is this old-timey theater downtown.  Seriously, the old floor boards are worn and faded and the creek like an attic floor when you step on them.  At the bottom floor concession stand, we ordered glasses of wine only to find that there is a law in NH that one is not allowed to transport alcohol UP THE STAIRS at any public place.  Um.  So the usher had to take our glasses of wine from us and carry them up the stairs FOR US.  At the top of the stairs, she handed us our glasses of wine and told us to enjoy the show.  I'm not entirely sure what kind of mayhem is going to result in people carrying their own wine up a flight of stairs in a public place, but for a state whose motto is "Live Free or Die," it seems like a weird law.  I mean, this is a state that has a hard time passing seat belt laws and still doesn't require motorcyclists to wear helmets. can tear down the highway at 70mph on your Harley with nothing between your brain and the pavement but your own skull, but you can't walk up 10 steps while in possession of a plastic cup of merlot.  Okay.

Irving was amazing.  He talked about his new book, his old books, writing screen play adaptations (which he doesn't like to do because of how it corrupts the concept of the passage of time in his stories); he talked about how he has novels, written in their entirety, in his head, for years at a time before he sits down to write them.  He never starts to write the novel until the last line (and the several lines leading up to it) are fully written in his mind.  He told us about the book he's working on now--that's been rattling around almost fully formed in his mind for years.  He talked about the inspiration he finds in the 19th century novels of Dickens (one of my favorites) and Hardy (my favorite) and Melville (note to self: reread Moby Dick).

I was equal parts swooning and intimidated and jealous and in awe. Unfortunately, my friend pointed out that his voice sounded a lot like Christopher Walken's, so I might have been a little distracted at times, waiting for him to demand more cowbell.   He talked for about 30 minutes, then the NPR interviewer sat down with him on the stage and they had a James-Lipton-style question and answer session that lasted about another hour, maybe hour and a half.  When asked about the apparent autobiographical nature of his novels, he replied that while he is none of his characters, he does look to his life, to the people he has known and loved and that he is compelled to decide, for each book, how he is going to make those people suffer.  He talked about obsessions (if you read Irving, you know he brings the same topics and images into almost all of his books) and he talked about sex and sexual otherness and the role that concept plays in his novels.  He talked about sex and his characters a LOT.  Not surprising given that his latest main character is a bisexual boy growing up in Vermont in the 1950s.  Irving's books are often populated by characters who have "crushes on the wrong people," but In One Person kind of takes the cake.

He was funny at times, talking about how he is one of those people who is funny at the most inappropriate of times. And he was near tears at some points, especially talking about a friend he lost to AIDS, recounting how his friend had told him towards the end "don't come see me; you don't want to see my like this" and how, having complied with his friend's wish was one of the greatest regrets of his life.  "I should have gone.  Of course I should have gone," he said quietly, almost like he was unaware of the 900 people sitting in the audience.

I was so sad when it was over, but so grateful for my impulsive behavior two weeks earlier when I saw the post on my FB feed about the show, and dashed off a quick "GET ME A TICKET!!!" note to my friend, Tress and booked a ticket to fly across the country. Three thousand miles was a long way to go to sit in a room for 2 hours with a guy who wrote some books.  It probably seems frivolous and crazy to some people.  But for me, it was two hours of condensed and concentrated awe and inspiration worth every penny and minute it took to get there.


Sarah said...

Sounds SO FUN. I love him! I have his new book on my shelf and only a few library books to get through before I start it-- yay!

Becca said...

So, so jealous! I went through a John Irving stage a long time ago and this makes me want to go back and reread some old things and pick up some new ones. What a cool experience! Totally worth the impulsivity! And you got to be freezing for a weekend, you crazy New Englander!