Thursday, August 03, 2006

to the man on the train

Today, on the train, I saw a middle-age man in spectacles and a business suit, standing, red tie, reading Alice Sebold’s Lucky, a memoir of the author’s rape as an eighteen year-old. I have had to stop myself, these past few weeks, telling strangers how good the book they’re reading is. I am never tempted to point out bad choices, but good ones, I want to congratulate. I want to agree. I want to throw parades with flaming marshmallows shot from cannons!

A few nights ago, we sat on the train thumbing our respective reads, and the stranger on my left was John Wesley Harding, and the stranger on my right was critical theory, and we were Berrigan and Freidman, the library corner, swaying at the stops.

This is a city of readers. I have been thinking, for the first time in my writing life, about how to make them mine. It’s not a conversation I’m comfortable having. When I think of who I write for, I think of teenage girls. Me as a girl. Girls who wear overalls and baggy shirts and look down. But maybe men could read my books. Maybe my father. Maybe they would like them. We write books so people can read them, all people, any people, even me.

To the man on the train reading Lucky: good choice. Good job. It surprised me to see you reading this. It made me wonder what in your life, in the lives of the women in your life, brought you to this book, which is a thought that should not have mattered, and I was surprised and disappointed in myself that I thought it.

In truth, it doesn’t matter why or how you came to a book. You could have liked the cover (how I discovered Kate Bush and Julianna Baggott). The point is, you came. You came, and you stuck around. I hope it moves you as much as it moved me, to read the book, and to see you reading it. You give me hope, stranger.

Other hope: Happy birthday, Lauren! I am sorry you’re there and I’m here. I like to think that you prepared this city for me (and me for this city) just like I prepared California for you, tamping sedge, making headway, lighting fires. Be magical, be brave. Wake me up at 4am with a phone call telling me you’re happy. I love you.

Goodbye Rachel and Dave! Now you go to a new state, and a new part of the country, and a new life together. Rachel, you, out of the thirty-odd new writers I was to meet last year—all wonderful—you were the first, and your work is what I aspire to, am awed by, and relate to the most. You don’t know how much your music has moved me. You and Dave are my second favorite poet couple in the world. You inspire me with your humor, your poems, and your love. So I will pretend you are just in the back room, behind a curtain, the two of you, sneaking off to kiss. You are still there, you’re late to the party, you’re just around the corner. You’re still in town, we all are.