Recently in Nonfiction Category

Greetings from Iowa, Again

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I'm currently in the library of my second favorite alma mater (I only have two), the University of Iowa. I'm here for a conference called NonfictioNow, which I attended two years ago. I can't believe how hip Iowa City has become! The university and the city are clearly awash in money, in ways they just weren't in the 90s. There is lots of new construction and the whole place reeks of affluence (which of course smells much better than poverty). In addition to the Java House, there are other coffee houses everywhere.

I'm not as excited about the conference this year--it hasn't been quite as magical as it was last year, perhaps because the amazing Pico Iyer isn't here there year. Not that it has been bad, by any means.... The first conference just had so much energy, was such a pleasure to attend. I'm enjoying myself and have heard some great panels, but it's not, well, magical like I said. And I am a little freaked out by how much Iowa City has changed. I lived in the most wonderful house when I was here, a marvelous arts and crafts home on the edge of downtown, and while it's still there, three houses on the block have been torn down to make way for a parking lot, and the garden I so lovingly planted is a hideous mess of weeds.

I'm writing this after ditching out on a panel that turned out to be a disappointing and boring account of stuff I already knew. But lunch is coming up, so I will head off for that.

My New Boyfriend

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I'm totally in love with my brand new boyfriend.

OK, this guy I'm in love with isn't REALLY my boyfriend--not yet, anyway, because we've never had a conversation. Not only that, but after the events that made me fall in love with him, I ran into one of my friends, who said, "Wasn't he GREAT? All the women at my table decided we were going to marry him."

Which made me feel better, sort of: at least I'm not some overwrought, self-deluded stalker, assuming after one utterly charming performance by an utterly charming man that he and I were going to spend our entire lives together: No, I was a NORMAL and REASONABLE groupie, the kind of woman who thinks, "I really, really, really want to spend some quality time with that man, so that he can decide ON HIS OWN that we are destined to live out the rest of our lives together, in noisy, intellectually stimulating, conjugal bliss."

But it also made me feel worse because I realize just how much competition I have: the world's majority of literate straight women.

I'm talking, of course, about the INCREDIBLE Pico Iyer, who gave a lunchtime talk on Friday and a Saturday night reading at the NonfictioNow conference I recently attended in Iowa. (I am happy to report that conference organizers promised it would be held again in two years--I can't wait!) Pico claimed his talk was impromptu, but it was more coherent and eloquent than many well-revised speeches I've heard. His reading was equal parts fascinating unrehearsed reflection and well-crafted prose: he read four short pieces, including an excerpt from an essay about losing his home and everything in it to a devastating fire (the first essay from the collection The Global Soul.)

Mr. Iyer is a slender gentleman in his late 40s, of Indian descent, who speaks with a slight British accent and incredible graciousness. He is particularly well known for his travel writing and has called himself "a global village on two legs." I admit I didn't bother to introduce myself to him--I couldn't think of anything to say that wasn't fawning and obvious--but I know that if I had, he would have shaken my hand and smiled at me with genuine beneficent warmth as he listened to me tell me how much I admired him and his writing.

I'm Curious

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Sometimes people complain to me that they find it difficult to have "important and meaningful conversations" as part of their normal, daily interactions with people. This often surprises me. I feel I manage to have important and meaningful conversations with Tom's five-year-old daughter (whom I'll call Princess, because she wants to be one), though they're of a very different nature from my conversations with Tom, which of course are among the most important and meaningful--not to mention entertaining and enlightened--conversations ANYONE could have.

Sure, there are conversations that bore me. I don't give a shit about football, for instance. I can talk about Barbies (I had plenty as a little girl) but I can't play them any more, not with my nieces, not with Princess–I can't become the consciousness that animates and moves a Barbie, which is what playing Barbies involves; I just can't make myself do it. And I don't pay much attention to the details of most people's jobs, since they're usually not interesting. Once I was talking to my mom about one of my oldest and dearest friends, and she asked what he did for a living. "He works in a bank," I said.

Without You I'm Nothing

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I like to sit around my motel room after my show in my bra and panties and I’ll say to somebody, “Get me a Remy Martin and a water-back, goddamnit!” -- Sandra Bernhard, WYIN

At some point during the summer of 1990, I went to the Catalina Theater on the corner of Campbell and Grant in Tucson, Arizona, to see the film version of Sandra Bernhard’s smash one-woman show Without You I’m Nothing. I went by myself; I know people who won’t go to movies alone, but I’ve always kind of liked it, liked sitting wherever I want and being able to watch every last credit without someone saying, “Can’t we just go?”

I remember sitting in the theater, my jaw slack with wonder, my stomach clenched like a fist with envy. How does someone work up the audacity to do a performance like that? I knew I didn’t have a personality that would let me dance around on stage to “Little Red Corvette” in pasties and a sequined g-string bearing the stars and stripes, but I did decide that I wanted to use my life as the basis for my art, just like Sandra did, and that I was willing to bare almost every crevice, crack and contour of my soul.



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