“I can’t do this,” I told Evie, my therapist.
“Look at the YouTube of Meryl Streep celebrating Stephen Sondheim’s ninetieth birthday,” Evie suggested. “Meryl has no makeup on and she’s wearing her pajamas.”
Yesterday, Saturday, I had a Zoom tutorial with the novelist Joseph Moldover, who is involved with A Mighty Blaze, co-founded by novelists Caroline Leavitt and Jenna Blum. With unpaid staff they have put together this team to produce an incredibly generous virtual book tour for writers who have had their book tours cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
My first slot will be on Wednesday May 6 at 4p.m. when I will speak via Zoom with Joseph Moldover, the clinical psychologist and author of the debut novel Every Moment After, about two boys who survive a mass school shooting, and Suzanna Hermans, owner of Oblong Books in Rhinebeck NY. This will be an Indie Bookstore Spotlight event. I was asked to choose a favorite bookstore and the three of us will be talking about Oblong Books, the largest independent bookstore in the Hudson Valley. Founded in 1975, Oblong Books is a father-daughter enterprise.
Later in the week, Friday, May 8 at 2 p.m. Jenna Blum, bestselling author of Those Who Save Us, The Storm Chasers, and The Lost Family, will be interviewing me about Old Lovegood Girls.
Anyway, back to yesterday’s tutorial with kind and patient Joe Moldover.
So I shed my pajamas for the first time since I won’t say when, put on real clothes and then did all I could with makeup, deciding at the last minute to forego the whitening strips.(“Don’t expect a BIG difference,” Heidi, my dental hygienist, had told me, “But you will definitely see SOME difference.”) I wound my good-luck black-and-yellow scarf from the 2018 Grief Cottage book tour high around my neck, got my anxiety under control, and went upstairs to my study with my iPad, glass of iced tea, and cough medicine.
Seeing myself in the little Zoom square on my iPad turned out to be less alarming than watching Joe in the big square above me, smiling expectantly as he waited and waited AND WAITED to hear my end of the dialogue. The delays completely robbed me of all the subtle social mechanisms I have counted on over the years. It was impossible to achieve that instantaneous back-and-forth transmigration into another’s soul. The delay problem was on my device or my receptors—or both. I don’t think we can fix it by Wednesday. A successful connection would probably mean buying a new computer. So I have resolved that, come Wednesday, I will just speak slowly and try not to signal and flail and show my agitation.
As I rested afterwards, I thought a lot about the time and effort that goes into the presentation of oneself after not having to be seen or heard during the years it takes to sit alone and write a book.
For me, the Self-Presentation nadir came at 3 a.m. on a 1991 spring morning in a New York hotel room. My publisher had booked me on the Today show with Katie Couric, the only problem being that Katie had just flown off to D.C. to interview General Norman Schwarzkopf, and I would have to take a very early flight to D.C. if I wanted to keep my slot on the show.
In those times, I ritually washed my hair every day, so there I was, about to lower my head into the hotel sink. I turned on the faucet and out came dark brown water. The choice was to wash my hair in the dirty water, per my daily ritual, or preserve the cleanliness of yesterday’s hair-washing.
Which do you think I chose?
While making up my mind at the sink, I bemoaned the fact that it wasn’t the Middle Ages anymore with its comfortable standard of artistic anonymity. It was not the artist that was important, Aquinas told us, but art’s product “because art is the correct concept of things made.”
In other words, the activity which shapes outward matter is not the perfection of the maker but the perfection of the thing being made.
I flew to Washington with hair freshly washed in brown water. *
I asked Caroline Leavitt how she and Jenna Blum came to call their generous literary enterprise A Mighty Blaze. Caroline is the best selling author of Cruel Beautiful World and the upcoming With or Without You. Jenna had a friend who called his kids “the mighty boys.” “And every book, Caroline said, “is a candle lighting the darkness— the more books, the mightier and brighter the blaze.”
You can read Caroline’s interview with me about Old Lovegood Girls at http://carolineleavittville.blogspot.com/2020/05/literary-legend-gail-godwintalks-about.html