Monday, November 10, 2008

Master of Ceremonies: A Story of Love, Murder, Roller Skates and Chippendales Diary: October 13, 2008

by David Henry Sterry

I never forget how exhilarating it is to be on tour, but I always forget how exhausting it is. I always think I'll be able to do a lot of stuff when I'm on the road. Like write this diary for instance. But clearly I have been completely delinquent in that regard. Fact is, by the time you eat, and do your business, it's time to take a little rest before the show, and you have to get there a little early, and all of a sudden it's SHOWTIME! I don't like to eat before a show, it makes me sluggardly. So then I'm all jazzed and buzzed from the show and ravenously hungry, and I like to go out with my friends, so all of a sudden it's 2 a.m. and I'm trying to fall asleep. Then you get up and do it again. Amen.

I took the ferry over from the refurbished Ferry Building and got an outrageously overpriced but extremely tasty Mexican picnic treat which I devoured as the salt air and the blue sky and the blue sea and the white seagulls wafted by. Sailing past the Q, San Quentin, I was again struck by how lucky I am to be a free man, to be well loved and nurtured and fed and housed and clothed and encouraged as a kid. Gratitude I was filled with, to be alive. To have this life. To be a writer on tour with my book. It was a deep ecstatic rapturous satisfaction.

Book Passage, that rare jewel nestled in the juicy heart of Northern California, is a shrine a Mecca a center for intellect, a living breathing symbol that the life of the mind is alive and kicking hard the books are powerful, magical and important. It's one of my favorite spots not just in Marin, my former stomping ground, about 10 minutes from where I used to live in bliss, but in any of these great United States. I got there early, and while I had a cup of tea, the Muse kissed me gentle and moist on the lips, then whispered sweet nothings in my ear. And I had a sudden inspiration. Since I was having no luck getting anybody to read my book, given the crisis this country is going through, with the election raging, right now I should implement my idea of evaluating presidential candidates by reading their memoirs. So I went into the stacks at Book Passage and found one memoir by Barack Obama, and one by John McCain. And I started reading them. I did not know it at the time, but this would prove to be not only great fun, educational and instructive, but a way of getting my writing out into the world in great big way. More on that later.

BookPassageIt was a great honor to read at Book Passage. With pictures of Bill Clinton, Isabella Allende, Anne Lamotte up on the walls. And the people work there are so smart and gracious and lovely. Plus, they give you a really fancy box of stationery and envelopes with your name on it. I love that. I was just coming to the end of my last box, and now I have another one. I cannot tell you how ridiculously, irrationally happy that makes me. Every time I send something out to someone and I use that stationery, it reminds me that I'm an author, that I am in the world of books, swimming in a great stream that flows all over the world.

We had a really nice crowd. A few old friends were in the hizlle: ex-housemates Ron and Theo; Bernardinho, a great soccer buddy; Alison Llanda, a performance artist I once shared a bill with. But mostly it was just people who were curious about memoir. Again, I was right. There are so many people in America who want to write about themselves. I worry what this says about us as a country. Are we a bunch of extreme narcissists? Is that why we're in the hole we're in, because we're all thinking about ourselves all the time, how can I be rich, how can I be famous? And here I am, trying to be rich and famous.

Alan Black and Beth Lisick, my comrades in arms, kick it so hard. I can't tell you how great it made me feel when they both showed up at Book Passage to share the stage with me, to spread the good word about the power and majesty of the good word. And Alan and Beth are just nice people to be around. Make you feel good. Both of them are witty, self-effacing, sarcastic, big hearted, and charismatic. Plus, they are both extremely talented writers and performers. That makes them unique. That's pretty rare. They are very different skill sets. I learned something from watching them every night. And tonight was no different. Alan has this way of building suspense in the middle of a sentence and then slowing down at the end and lowering his voice in a way that is both menacing and comic. It's a great timing mechanism. In looking back, the more I performed with him, the more I started doing that in my own performance, unintentionally mimicking his rhythms. And Beth has this style that came out of performing in bars, and with rock 'n roll bands, it's fast and loose and funny and furious. She's also tender gentle and shocking and while. And quite lovely. Sweet and acerbic. With both Alan and Beth, the writing complements the performance, and the performance complements the writing. Form and function blend seamlessly, the sum becoming greater than the parts, and alchemy ignites a wildfire when they read.

I tried to make my performance much more conversational. We're sitting around and I'm telling you a story while we have a drink together. I'm discovering more and more how to perform this piece from Master of Ceremonies. When to go slow, when to let it roll, when to bust through it fast. Certain lines to eliminate. Certain syllables to hit hard. I really love that. The process of discovering how to perform a piece of work. I also discovered that when I really get into one of the characters in the book, an old lady agent who tries to convince me that I need plastic surgery, and gives me the card of her nephew, who's a plastic surgeon, she comes alive. She makes these funny sounds, wheezing and rasping in a chain-smoking death rattle, and the more I really inhabit the character, the funnier it gets. People were really cracking up. But when I just make the noises, trying to re-create what I did, trying to be funny, it's not funny. The sounds are not connected to an emotion underneath it. But when I'm really into the character, I never quite know exactly what's going to come out. And that's when it gets good.

This is like my daughter Olive. She is in every moment. It's all about nownownow. Not trying to re-create something in the past, thinking about something that can happen in the future. She has a lust for life that is so powerful and immediate. I learned something from Olive every day.

As usual, people wanted to tell their stories. People are so hungry to be heard. To be listened to. To be taken seriously. And people asked most excellent questions. As usual. Privacy is a big concern when people want to write about people they love. They're terrified that if they tell the truth about their family, their family will hate them. And they have very good reason to be.

A grand time was had by all, we sold many books, and I fell a little deeper in love with Book Passage.

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