Because it’s important to finish what I started, I’m writing a concluding book tour post from the airplane even though I’d rather lose myself in my library book. I’ve read more of the novel This Is Where I Leave You (by Jonathan Tropper) during the first two hours of this flight than I read during two weeks on the road. I finally have what feels like true, uninterrupted relaxation. Ahhh… Alas, I am compelled to provide some closure.
The last few events, all in the state of Massachusetts, went well — great turnouts, each with a completely different crowd vibe. Over the course of a trip, my nervousness faded away and was replaced by a pre-event giddiness as I developed a rhythm of preparation, reading and storytelling ease, and my own style of engaging the audience through questions, eye contact, gestures, posture, tone, and humor.
I like that first moment, looking out over the group, guessing who they are and why they are there, letting the need to know go as I find the friendly and interested faces that I return to again and again for encouragement. But I love the ending even more, when these people approach me individually and I learn something about them, share a moment, a connection, sometimes deep and personal. Actually, I love the events in their entirety. My heart is fully invested in this speaking thing.
In Amherst, I read at Food for Thought Books, which as far as I’m concerned is like the Madison Square Garden of alt literary tours. Every queer person or group I admire reads here, one of the few collective bookstores left, and a spacious beautiful one at that, with a podium of snaking iron and curved wood, and a red curtain for a backdrop.
The large audience surprised me by not laughing in any of the usual places, but there’s something interestingly weird about this geographic area, like it’s been stuck in its own liberalism for too long and has acquired a progressive stuffiness. I appreciated being asked to read my short humor piece from the recent Original Plumbing “Family” issue. The uber queerness of it contrasted nicely with the total ignorance of the character in Nina Here Nor There, otherwise known as me five years ago.
I guess I have to admit that speaking at Harvard brought out a bit of pride, an ego-driven sense of accomplishment standing behind the crested podium, or maybe it was a, “Look at me now, Fuckers” attitude. I was rejected as an undergrad, and while my desire for their acceptance, then and now, partially comes from an elitist privileged place, I have always found something untainted and amazing in the people I meet surrounding this institution.
The Harvard event was the best on the tour. I think this had to do with their widespread promotion. There were ALL types of people there, students, grad students, faculty, teachers from other colleges, local queer and trans kids, aspiring writers, and a few of my long-lost friends. And every single person appeared to be truly into the whole event. I think three-quarters of the room asked a question. It was the only time when the Q&A didn’t peter out naturally, and I had to look over to the organizer to end what was turning into a long night.
For my last night, I spoke at Boston College. The building looked and felt like a church, and the room was covered in crosses, saints, and Latin. I had to quickly change the passages I slated to read when the student organizers told me the administration had looked at my website and I “couldn’t advocate for same-sex marriage” or “read about dildos,” or anything I extrapolated to be equally inappropriate.
Which is why this night felt awesome in a way unlike any of my other events. These students pushed for me to come to campus, pushed themselves to learn about a topic – trans folk – in which they knew little to nothing. While all the other schools I spoke at have like 10 to 30 queer groups under a larger umbrella, BC has only one group – they call themselves the campus gays – and they were the only people who showed up at the event since it was closed to the general public.
It was a good turnout for a rainy night, and because everyone in the room knew each other, it had a familial atmosphere. I offered a bit more Trans 101 here and altered my manner to be even more encouraging with questions than usual. I really liked these kids. They smiled a lot. And they inspired me, the way they were out and proud in an environment that was not particularly supportive of them. I’m sure this sounds ridiculously patronizing, but I got the sense that they were good eggs, like they were going to really succeed in this world in their own diverse ways.
After the event, I had the world’s worst veggie burrito. (I’m coming home SF!) On most other post-event nights of the tour, I had a drink with a random grouping of whoever wanted to join, which was always bizarre and great. But on this last night, I was alone, exactly what I needed, a brief moment of private reflection and celebration.
This tour was all that I could’ve hoped for and then some, a success on every level (except I’m a dipshit for never putting out a mailing list). Seeing my parents and connecting with old friends added a huge bonus to the experience. I am grateful for all of it, especially everyone who opened up their homes to me, offering me not a couch but a guest room.
By the time I returned the rental car (with nearly 800 miles in one week), I was already plotting for a way to keep running with speaking engagements, to develop a presentation and maybe a workshop. There’s something in this that I really love.