Sitting on a panel to discuss memoir writing with three other authors and the moderator, a lovely gentleman who has a passion for books, should have been a fairly predictable event. Michael and I had flown from San Francisco to New Orleans by way of Atlanta and were being housed in a stately hotel in the French Quarter that even had a merry-go-round for a bar and a swimming pool on the roof. No one was being allowed on the roof, however, as there were showers heavier than any dogs or cats I have ever seen and lightening and thunder impressive enough to keep one ducking for cover. The merry-go-round bar was fair game and folks seemed perfectly content to duck in there and spin in a slow circle while trying to keep track of their bartender in order to nod yes to another Bloody Mary.
The audience was chattering and whispering as each of us took our seats according to the name card placed on the table. Microphones stood at attention and I will confess, that always makes me feel more important than I know I am. To my right was the recent winner, (deservedly so) of the National Book Award. To my left, a young man who had written a powerful book about his father's murder. To his left, a woman who has written an insightful book about the history of Harlem and how that plays against the Harlem of today. Next to her, the moderator.
Introductions were made and the audience applauded, then settled in to listen to the discussion they had come for. As I looked out at the hundreds of men and women I wondered how many of them had written or were writing memoirs. This may have been the reason they bought a ticket for this particular event, I determined. For the next hour and a half we would hold forth on a topic of great interest to them all. Except, actually we didn't.
My book really isn't a memoir, the writer to my far left stated, and then went on to talk about why she had chosen the subject of Harlem to explore. She is examining not only the past of this famed New York neighborhood, but looking at its future. What effects gentrification has on a place and its people.
My book is not a memoir, stated the author to my left as he then went on to talk about his desire to write about the murder of his father that took place when he was six-years-old. He has no clear memory of it but was able to go through old records and interviews and like a good journalist knit together these bits and pieces into a wild and woolly tale of crime and corruption and yes, murder.
I wrote a memoir, I said as I looked out at the sea of faces. But in explaining what it was about, moi and kissing and life and mistakes made, I felt rather like the fluff on the panel. Especially as the author to my right was introduced and she too stated her book was not a memoir. She was however working on one, and it centered on the fact that during a short time span in her life, in her community, five young men died of different causes. One was her brother. Her excellent, award-winning novel is a deep, dark story of poverty, hurricane Katrina, and eventual redemption.
And I brought kissing to the table.
As the moderator continued to interview each of us I could not decide if I should drift a little to the darker side myself. When the moderator stated that my memoir had many "laugh out loud" sections, I was tempted to say, "but there is some really dark shit in there as well." But I knew it would most likely just earn a laugh. And I simply decided not to compete, but to play the role of comic relief on this stage at this performance. The audience didn't seem to mind. I was Lucy, my fellow authors were performing Hamlet. An excellent Hamlet I might add.
How had this happened?
Once over, we were escorted to the signing area where our books were waiting. Enthusiastic readers handed over their purchases to be signed. Generous folks made generous comments. Praise flowed like rainwater in the overflowing streets outside. But I was still feeling a bit disoriented by it all. As if I, a round peg, had been placed in a square hole. I caught Michael's eye and nodded. I knew exactly what I needed. He slipped out of the room and in no time returned and handed me a salt and pepper rimmed glass filled with a spicy tomato concoction, two olives on a toothpick nestled between ice cubes.
It was just what I needed. I hadn't even been on the carousel and still my head was spinning.