Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Tonight, Neil Gaiman came through Denver on his "Final U.S. Book Tour" and did a 1000 ticket signing at the Tattered Cover bookstore. It is the only bookstore on the tour as the requirements for those wanting to host the tour (per a conversation I wandered into with an employee) was that they'd have to rent a hall capable of seating 2000 and have it rented into the tiny hours of the morning. The Tattered Cover couldn't do it, so had to pass. Per the story I heard, Neil intervened because he had fond memories of the place and wanted to include it in his last signing tour. (In his Reading and Q&A prior to the signing, he told a story about two previous signings - at the first, he signed someone's arm. At the second, he saw his signature tattooed onto that person's arm and swore to write legibly on flesh from that day on.)
If you go to conventions or signings or any event really, you learn to recognize a line, even if it's scattered through stacks, or zigzagged around tables. The signing today was no different.
I arrived at 4pm but was not near enough to the front of the line to get seating in the 300-person event hall. The whole thing was wired, however, so that there was a single projection and sound on the entire second floor. I shared a divan with 4 other people, not including the 3 that used the headrest for leaning support from the floor. No one complained, no one said anything rude, no one made judgey faces. We were all there because we loved something.
We all shared a love of some piece of Neil Gaiman which he's given to us in his creative works.
I didn't exactly break bread with strangers, but we moved from a loose social bond in the line to sharing a table and a common space. We had conversations almost like friends. People and books all over the place, and a common feeling.se
(I also played spot-the-(local)-author. Saw Stant Litore (The Zombie Bible), Stephen Graham Jones (The Last Final Girl), and Gary Jonas (Modern Sorcery).)
When I finally decided to find a place on the floor to sit for a while, I couldn't read. I ended up next to two younger individuals. A comment was made about how friendly people were, and how many strangers were ebbing and flowing through conversations. I was candid, I wasn't nervous, I wasn't shy. I told them this;
"There's a kind of connection at geeky events like this. Conventions, signings, and the like. This is the only kind of event where I talk to strangers. Not at the grocery store, not usually in a classroom, only here."
What I didn't say out loud, what I ran out of words to say was that... these are the places where we feel the least judged for our loves. No one was there who would say "Why would anyone stand in line for HOURS just to meet some author?" or worse, they wouldn't ask "Who?" or question the joy on my face at the prospect.
When it was time, I struggled with myself in the line. I swiped away tears, I told myself I could do this - I could be coherent, I wouldn't cry, I would say what I wanted to say and I knew he would understand what I was trying to communicate.
I took a breath, opened my mouth and I said "You're my unicorn."
Let's take a little time out to talk about social & generalized anxiety, and the little hateful voices that so many of us are cultivated to have. Immediately, I hear the screaming in my head, "What did you just say? Do you know how stupid that sounded? You're a stalker, you're a weirdo! Why would you say that! Why can't you just be normal?"
Why can't you just be normal.
Why can't you just be normal.
It's a mantra that devours so much confidence, so much energy, and so much good-will. It takes and takes, and what it gives back is nothing you want to have.
I stumbled over the words, tears choking my voice. I wanted to explain to him that I struggle with social & general anxiety disorders. That I drove into an unknown place, alone. I parked underground (I'm a little claustrophobic). I walked alone. I talked to authority strangers (the first security person when I pulled into the wrong place, the second when I lost my sense of direction). I was far away from all areas of comfort (so I believed earlier in the day - turns out I'm at home even in 'strange' bookstores) and I was totally alone. I had only myself to depend on - and sometimes my Self is not very reliable for me.
I managed to say something about my anxiety but I was already in tears. There was no stopping them.
"Come here for a hug."
I wasn't sure I heard right, but the assistants around the table ushered me around and Neil Gaiman gave me a hug. A firm, warm, comfortable hug. He told me he was proud of me. I told him I was sorry, I didn't want to cry on him. He told me it was okay, to go ahead and cry. I did, though I held in most of it. I had permission, but I did not want to cry in his hair, on his shoulder - he has a long night ahead of him and is due in another city by tomorrow evening.
I cried all the way home. I'm still crying as I write this.
It all spun by so fast.
Not that I imagine he'll see this here, but:
Neil Gaiman - thank you. From the depths of my heart and the deeper places. Thank you for the works you share with us, the love you engender in your fans - the love of your works, for yourself, and for each other. But also thank you for taking a moment for a kind gesture and words that really do mean more than just the letters or the sounds. Thank you for drowning out those terrible little demons with simple words and real feeling.
I fought and was wounded, but ultimately defeated beasts just for a chance to simply see one of my metaphorical unicorns tonight. My efforts were repaid more than I dared to hope.