Meeting Paul Auster

A few weeks ago, on a very rainy Saturday afternoon, I went to see Paul Auster read at Harbourfront. He was in town promoting his new book, Winter Journal, at the International Festival of Authors. I bought my ticket the day the event was announced. Didn’t even try to find someone to go with me – I’d be surprised to find any of my friends are Paul Auster fans, except for Gareth, who introduced me to him a long, long time ago.

Paul Auster didn’t give the best or the most captivating reading (of the authors I’ve seen in person, that award goes to Jeffrey Eugenides). I got the impression he isn’t too fond of the whole idea but it was something he had to do so he was doing it. Somehow I expected this. Based on absolutely no research I concluded long ago that Paul Auster is an introvert. The reading was good though, solid, and he was great in the interview half.

I’ve had a rough year. Somewhere, I lost some confidence. This was not related to writing, but it spilled over into everything and ended up affecting my writing. I had things to say, but I did not have the guts for any of it. And when I did, it looked like garbage to me. To be honest with you, I was beginning to think about throwing in the fucking towel.

Then Paul Auster said something that really, really helped me out: It’s impossible to describe how much I dislike my own work.

I didn’t run home, throw open my laptop and write an essay, but that comment seemed to go straight into my chest where it sat radiating for many days. I did start working again not long after, and I know this is a sort of comforting mantra that I will return to over and over again.

After, I decided to stand in the autograph line. It’s not really my style, but before I left home I’d grabbed my worn copy of The New York Trilogy, just in case. I thought it might be bad etiquette to bring an old book (I thought you’re probably supposed to buy the new one to be signed?) but I decided I wanted Paul Auster to sign this book not just because it is a favourite but also because it has great memories attached to it. I bought it in New York, at the Strand, with Ingrid – then went outside feeling elated (I bought books at the Strand!) and promptly slipped and fell down in the street. But even that had a certain feeling of elation (I fell down in New York!) about it. It turned out that each person was allowed to have five items signed (excessive!) and some guy asked him to sign his typewriter (hipsters!!!) so evidently there were no hard feelings about my old book. And now the old book has another awesome memory associated with it.

The line was very long so I had plenty of time to think about what I would say to Paul Auster. Knowing myself, I knew I’d be too flustered to say much. What can you really say to these people anyway that they haven’t heard a million times before? I really like your work? Lame. I could tell from the glass of whiskey to his right that he didn’t feel like a lot of chit-chat anyway. I decided I would go with something simple: It’s wonderful to meet you.

I got more and more nervous as my turn approached. I could feel my cheeks flaming when I was still several people away from show time. Of course when it was finally my turn, I was completely incapacitated. Here, I recount for you my exchange with Paul Auster, in its entirety.

PAUL AUSTER: Hi.
LESLIE: Hi!
PAUL AUSTER (autographs the book and pushes it back across the table): Thank you.
LESLIE: Thank you!

I then performed a strange curtsy-bow, a gesture I like to think indicated, “I am so in awe of you that all I can do is talk like a parrot and do this weird thing with my body. Also, your eyes are much larger than I thought.”

I mean, you get the impression from his dust jackets that Paul Auster has large eyes. But when Paul Auster fixed his gigantic orbs on me, I’m pretty sure he cast a spell that rendered me speechless. That’s okay, it is a miracle that I even went through with meeting him. I have never stood in the autograph line at a reading before and I must have considered a cut-and-run at least 500 times while I waited. Anyway, I wasn’t the only one he had that effect on. I was a few folks back of this girl who’d been going on loudly for what felt like an eternity about all the things she’d say to Paul Auster and then when the time came, what did she do? A curtsy-bow.

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