meeting michael chabon
November 5, 2010 § 2 Comments
Tonight I met and shook hands with my literary hero, Michael Chabon. I stood dumbly as he signed my well-loved copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a crisp edition of his essay collection Maps & Legends, and a somewhat obscure JSA All-Stars anthology. I am convinced his eyes are pieces of pure lapis lazuli, purloined from some traveling archaeological exhibit with a name like Lost Treasures of Ur. That is to say, they make other blues seem like nothing more than dirty, presumptuous purples.
Some background. He gave a keynote speech for a writers’ conference I am otherwise unable to attend. Not in Philadelphia at a prominent university, but at Montgomery County Community College (no relation). The pamphlet says Vonnegut once spoke there too. Joyce Carol Oates. Updike. Norman Mailer. Tim O’Brien. “Out in this corn field,” as the woman beside me murmured.
Since there was no time for a traditional Q&A–Chabon’s favorite part of similar events–he staged his own. He raised his hand and posed popular questions, then deftly, eloquently, answered them. He used ‘Russell Crowe’ as a verb. Or maybe it was a gerund. He routinely stumped the two women tasked with translating his wordplay into sign language. He made us laugh. He offered insights about writing and storytelling I tried to transcribe in a moleskine notebook with little success. He admitted to cramming three similes into a single sentence. Yes, he’d once used 17 similes to describe the blueness of a sky, because he was and is an optimist. He related the audacious statements of purpose he’d generated at 21 and 13, shaking his head at how shameless he’d been. He talked about the importance of lying. That fiction is often a way of expressing truths otherwise unreachable. Regarding the source of ideas, he offered all of the familiar answers: everywhere, nowhere. But he also stressed that ideas are truly arbitrary. Like the pound of insects his son once told him an average human unknowingly consumes each year, ideas pass through us at an incredible, unnoticed frequency. Often with little result. It’s what we do with our ideas that matters. How we follow through. Ideas aren’t very special at all. Not hard to come by. It’s the next bit.
A call to action. A damn good evening.