The hotel concierge was kind enough to point me in the right direction. Despite the concept that I believed all roads were connected, I have been turned around more than once in the city. I took an early train from upstate, had arrived early enough to check in and get freshened up, and had extra time before the reading at KGB Literary Club and Bar in the East Village. I walked through Washington Square Park, took a seat near the fountain, and heard Joan Baez in my mind:
Now I see you standing with brown leaves all around and snow in your hair
Now we’re smiling out the window of the crummy hotel over Washington Square
Our breath comes in white clouds, mingles and hangs in the air
Speaking strictly for me we both could’ve died then and there
“Diamonds and Rust” was one of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard, and back in college at a campus protest, I was thrilled to have met Baez and tell her as much. She’d written the lyrics based on her and Bob Dylan’s relationship, a beautiful moment where time stops, where two become one, where they experience immortality for a moment. Her voice and poetry combined with the universal experience of what it meant to be young and in love resonated with audiences. The youth seemed so magical that at the time people thought it would last forever, but it doesn’t.
It evolves and changes over time and relationships aren’t perfect. Most people aren’t the Cleavers or Waltons; they are more like the Bunkers or Maude. There are children, teenager, and adult children issues, health problems, financial debt and woes, house problems like roof leaks, running toilets, cracks in the pavement from settling, and many more that make life less poetic and bleaker, and while I walked to the KGB a few blocks away, I decided that I would definitely read from a story where I described the reality of adult life, a life lived that no longer reflected youth in the rearview mirror.
When another writer, Mathieu, a younger guy from Hollywood who had real talent, suggested I come to the city and read with him, I wondered if my rurality, my realism, almost negativity, had appealed to him or if it was because my story appeared in the same issue of Granta as his poem. To say I had been ecstatic about being published in a top ten publication in the world was an understatement. Though I wouldn’t tell him, I had immediately sensed his genius and talent when I read his poem “This Password.” His concept of adapting that which is modern, or postmodern, into verse, was phenomenal. He took the mundane, a simple problem, like being locked out of a computer, needing to enter a password, and described it perfectly, with humor, and with an appreciation for having had the experience. I, on the other hand, would have written that in a negative way with cursing, bashing a computer company, and damning society for being less self-reliant.
I likened my perspective of Mathieu’s writing to what Salieri said of Mozart in Amadeus: that Mozart’s music seemed simple at first, but it swelled into a symphony and Salieri was jealous. I was jealous, too, because Mathieu had it in his twenties and I wasn’t published until I was forty, when I would not have as much time to enjoy it and when I had grown accustomed to a life of work and making money and found it too difficult to sacrifice that for art, where my anxiety had kept me on a leash, where being rejected wasn’t understood as the editors simply had too many good submissions, but it meant rejection of my art and me.
Now, in the winter of my life, I’ve found Xanax, I’m getting published, and I read at KGB from a copy of the magazine. After I put on my readers, and I held it close, the magazine shook back and forth like I was holding it to the air conditioner vent, but was blood sugar tremors. Doctors had warned I was one piece of New York cheesecake away from a full pancreatic shut-down and for the first time in my life, I had tried to avoid carbs, something far more difficult than I ever imagined. Once finished, the audience clapped, whistled, and hooted.
When Mathieu took the stage, he pulled his i-phone from his pocket and read “This Password” with a steady hand and no readers. As I watched and was envious for his youth, I smiled because his poem had given me an idea for a story, which translated for me that what’s new, different, and creative can influence what is not, like a dead car battery being jump-started. The red room guests at KGB clapped for Mathieu, and afterward, we clanked our beer bottles and toasted our success.