The Big Book Launch!
"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, February 2007
It seems like whenever I need sleep the most is when I'm guaranteed to sleep the worst -- today I wake up feeling like someone is drilling a hole into the center of my forehead, thinking okay I have a book launch today, let's engage, let's engage. Sitting on the fire escape for my afternoon sun exposure, I have to face away from the sun and the view I usually live for -- downtown San Francisco all the way to the bay if I face left, the San Bruno Mountains in the center, the trees of Buena Vista Park all the way to the right. Usually, sitting in the sun makes me happy but today it just makes my body feel even more twisted and dried-out. When I sleep extra-terribly, I can't digest anything, and today is no exception -- I'm just going back and forth from eating to shitting, doesn't feel that effective really.
I figure that today's the launch for Nobody Passes, so I'll turn on the news and listen through the lens of passing. Doesn't take long for them to start talking about bipartisan consensus -- that's a passing crime if I've ever heard one. First thing they're talking about is Robert Gates, the Iran Contra war criminal on the path to becoming the next Secretary of Defense, and Senator Carl Levin, who is just so heroic because he actually supports withdrawal from Iraq -- I mean, who would've thought of that -- withdrawal from Iraq? What does this firebrand of the Democratic Party say about Robert Gates -- he says: I think he has an open mind. That's great -- a war criminal with an open mind -- Mr. Gates, torture or death squads? -- Oh, I have an open mind.
Next thing I hear about is how Congress is debating a resolution condemning the French city of St. Denis for naming a street after Mumia Abu-Jamal -- what an insult to our national security -- the US must defend capital punishment at all costs -- it's one of our greatest exports!
Then, a wetlands protection act that authorizes more drilling on the Gulf Coast -- That'll protect the wetlands! And then, we get to hear from San Francisco local Nancy Pelosi -- did you realize she was a woman? A woman! A woman as the Speaker of the House – wow the US is really ready for change. Anyway, Nancy Pelosi says that she doesn't support drilling on the wetlands, but she will not organize opposition. Now that's new leadership!
After that, I turn off the news and put on Nina Simone, but at least I've got some great material to add to my introduction. That's when I start to feel better -- when I'm practicing my introduction, after I've taken digestive enzymes and my stomach sort of feels calmer. Grant comes over to help me get the books to the library, and then Katia arrives to drive us there. I'm stressing out about whether the sparkly purple belt is the right choice with the rest of my purple and pink outfit, but the curls in the front of my hair are exactly in place, so that makes me feel better.
At the library, I'm a sketchy mess, finding it hard to breathe with so much going on -- it's intense how nervous I get before a launch -- it's hard to focus on anything. Then I'm up there at the podium, talking about the news from the news, running into Laura Albert (who invented the JT LeRoy Experience) while mailing a package, then on to deeper terrain with the visit to my father and that emotional space of simultaneously expressing everything while not pretending that ANYTHING was okay – it’s that place of refusing to pass that I want to invoke with this book.
Then I'm talking about the book, how it arose from wanting to examine passing as a means through which the violence of assimilation takes place, and then I'm reciting a few of the subjects addressed within -- that's a fun (and long!) list, and people applaud right when I get to the end, which makes it even more fun. Then I talk a little bit about all the drama with my editor at Seal, which I wrote about in an earlier column and then also the book intro. And, ta-da-- a few anecdotes and I'm ready to welcome the contributors!
It’s so much fun to see people reading their work live, to see all of these complicated and surprising intersections between lived identities and struggles and stories. I also like watching the contributors watch each other. Since there are 10 contributors reading at the launch, I've asked everyone to read 1-2 pages max, so that no one goes over five minutes (the library is really strict about time, and a security guard comes to kick us out around 7:45 p.m., just an hour-and-a-half after the event begins). Several times I get nervous that someone has forgotten the time limit, but actually everyone is on it. When the reading comes to a close, it's before 7:30 p.m., the time when I wanted the reading to end so that people could socialize and buy books and get their books signed. We even have time for a few questions, but the audience is silent. At this point, there are well over 100 people there (I'm counting), the seats go all the way from the front of the room to the far back. No one has any questions? -- everyone's passing here, I joke -- but the truth is probably that there is so much information that people are saturated with it, taking time to digest. There will be more time for questions at the City Lights reading in a few days -- for now I'm appreciating this sensation.
I sell about 35 books -- which is a ton -- it's also the only reading when proceeds from sale of the books will go directly to funding my Nobody Passes book tour, so that's great. The library is such an ideal venue for a launch-- the room is large, but comfortable and accessible -- the only problem is that they close so early, people have to rush out instead of socializing. I've had my last three book launches here, but I always miss the fact that people can’t stick around -- there's so much energy and excitement. And there aren't many comfortable places nearby to go -- Katia figures out a Middle Eastern place that turns out to be a great idea because it's wide open and comfortable and the eight of us who gather there can actually hear one another. The lentil soup is good, too -- and they have this great homemade flat bread. I always like the social time right after a reading -- it feels extra-intimate.
Back at home, I'm incredibly exhausted but in such a different way from the beginning of the day. I don't feel edgy anymore, just satisfied and excited about the book and its possibilities.