Go And Be Now

The day had come.

It was five o’ clock in the afternoon and I was sitting at my desk anxiously watching the traffic predictions on Google Maps feeling a growing sense of nervous anticipation: soon I would be getting on the road to redemption.

I hoped.

Back in May, I went to a book signing at Book Soup- an opportunity to meet Neil Strauss- an author that I admired. And while the event itself was lovely, my experience of it was a disaster: there I was with the opportunity to say something to a person whom I admired and I choked so hard I spent the next three days wishing I could walk to Canad and change my name to live out the rest of my days in Vancouver known only as La Idiote. (Instead, I wrote about it and posted it on the internet, so you can read all about it here.)

A week or so later, I got an email from Neil’s assistant which read: “Neil is throwing a small dinner party at the end of the summer and would love for you to join.”

I was thrilled, of course, but also completely mystified about where it was coming from. My comportment at the book signing certainly had not telegraphed that I Would Be A Good Dinner Guest in any way whatsoever. And what constituted “dinner party”? And what constituted “small”? And what constituted “end of summer”? Why me?

Be cool. I told myself.

I was not cool. I had absolutely zero chill about it, but I was also quite certain it was all a big mistake, a polite gesture that it would be quietly “forgotten” in the intervening weeks. Even so, I liked to imagine the story I might someday get to tell- The Time I Got To Have Dinner With A Favorite Author. If it happened, great, and if it didn’t- well, then at least it had been a pleasant fiction while it lasted.

And in the meantime, maybe I should focus on writing my own book so that I’d have something to talk about.

So I did.

I calculated that if “end of summer” meant Labor Day, then I had about thirteen weeks to stew about it. Counting up the number of chapter headings that I’d blocked out I figured I’d need to finish 3.7 chapters a week in order to finish my draft by then. I knew even then that it would be impossible, but I was already running full tilt at the windmill anyway. It seemed very important that I have something finished: there is a big difference between the sheepishly hopeful “I’m writing a novel” and the proudly declarative “I Have Written a Novel” and I wanted to stand tall. After all, this was my chance to redeem myself for the mumbling mess I’d made of the first time.

How’s your availability on July 10th?

Came the message at last. So soon! The book definitely wouldn’t be done by then, but I also wouldn’t have to wait the whole summer! I would take it. Instead of finishing the whole book I could practice a pitch and learn how to talk about it. I was going to have to learn how to do that anyway, no time like the present.

Make it so. I told the scheduler.

I realized that I still had no idea what I was going to be walking into.

Can I ask for some details about what to expect? I asked when I emailed back. On a scale of one to ten, how likely am I to have to sit through a pitch for a timeshare? Should I plan to rent a cloak and bauta?

The scheduler laughed and explained it would be a small group of about six people and would take place at a beach club in Malibu. Six people was a group size I could handle. Malibu was fancypants, but at least it would be easy to get to after work.

Be cool. I told myself.

I still was not cool. I still had zero chill. The closer the big day got, the harder I had to work to suppress my excitement. Ten days. Just ten more days! One week. By this time next week… Five days-

We have to reschedule. The email said. Neil is going overseas- are you available on the 31st?

Murphy’s Law.

Dick move, Murphy.

Dick. Move.

I said the 31st was just fine.

But I wasn’t fine. It was like someone had decided last minute to move Christmas. All the excitement that I’d carefully been containing with the expectation that I’d only have to hold onto it for another few days turned hot and mean and burrowed inward to gnaw at my liver with spiteful teeth. There were now three more impossible, endless weeks to wait. Three more weeks for other things to come up or fall through or go wrong.

Don’t think of that. I told myself. Focus on your book.

So I did. Or I tried. I made good progress, but it didn’t completely shut out the clamor in my mind of self doubt and inadequacy. What if I still got tongue-tied? Don’t think of that. What makes you think you even belong there? Stop it. Maybe you should run this simulation of way things could go wrong another two or three hundred times in your head. Shut up stop psyching me out.

I was less afraid of being tongue tied that I was of getting defensive and saying something stupid or sarcastic or mean. Being silent would be disappointing. Saying something stupid would leave me no alternative but to walk to the border and change my name and live out the rest of my days in Juarez known only as La Idiota.

I had three weeks of this.

But now the day had come and it was five o’ clock and I was waiting to leave the office. I’d been curiously calm all day- my mind had been clear and quiet, and I’d felt gently elated that Today was The Day, but not overcome with exuberance. But the closer the clock crept towards the end of the day the more my nerves began to build.

“Ok, now I’m nervous.” I texted to the Curmudgeonly Lion while I waited.

“Don’t be nervous,” he responded. “Just go and be now.”

Go and be now.

It was a phrase of such elegant simplicity I couldn’t help but be impressed. I knew exactly what he meant: just be present. Enjoy it. Relax.

I wrote it on my wrist so that I wouldn’t forget it.

Then I got on the road.

The drive up the coast was scenic but slow. I didn’t care: I’d left plenty of time to get there. Too much time, as it turned out- I arrived forty minutes too early. The girl at the door gestured me towards an outdoor bar where I could wait and I found a place by the patio railing where I could stand and look out over the ocean and just try to Be Now for a while. It was nice. Peaceful. Made me wish that I got to see the ocean more often.

When it was ten minutes to the meeting time I went back to the front in the hopes that someone else would be there and I wouldn’t have to stand alone anymore, but no, the girl told me, it was still just me. It felt stupid to go back to the patio, having just left it, and I was afraid that if I wasn’t nearby when the group arrived that I wouldn’t know how to find them inside the club. I found a ledge nearby where I could hang out and look casual while I waited. I began to sketch the front of the building to give my hands something to do.

“Oh hi!” Neil arrived arrived saw me there. I recognized his voice before I saw him.

“Hi!” I said looking up, this time managing to smile. Ok good. You managed the first word. You’re gonna be ok.

Neil went to the desk to sign in and then went inside. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to follow or not, so I waited. I’ll go when I finish my drawing. I told myself. You know, unless someone tells me what I’m supposed to do before that.

“You know he’s inside right?” The hostess said.

“Oh, yes.” I felt relieved for the direction. And then to save face: “I’m just going to finish my drawing first.”

I finished my drawing.

“He’s upstairs to the left.”

Upstairs to the left turned out to be a smallish upstairs patio room that opened out onto the beach. I found him sitting at a low table with his back towards the doorway. He seemed to be reading something. (A menu, as it turned out).

“Will I be disturbing you if I join you?” I asked- more to say something so that I didn’t feel like I was sneaking up on him.

“No, please-”

He gestured to the seats around the table. I chose the one opposite him, which was comically low, like the chair that a high powered mogul might put in front of his desk to intimidate the workers who came in to ask for a raise. I landed in it and my knees came up to my chin, but I was committed now, and damnit I was going to rock it.

We made small talk while the others arrived: a parenting instructor, and an event planner. The conversation turned to Charles Schultz and the “Peanuts” characters: the parenting instructor said she always wanted to be Lucy in her little roadside psychiatry booth (5 cents!) to which the event planner replied that he’d once been a figure skater and had played Linus for years in an ice show.

So there we were: Lucy and Linus and Charlie Brown and the Red Haired Girl.

Peppeyotepepperpeppermint Patty came later. A yoga instructor. (Autocorrect is awesome)

If I’m honest, the actual conversation was a blur: a whirlwind of talk about political correctness and bridge brains and techno-skepticism, and enneagrams and Burning Man and polyamory and was it politically incorrect to use ‘poly’ to refer to polyamorous people or was that racist to Polynesians? Food came and went. The lights brightened and dimmed. The server had spectacularly white, straight teeth. It was easy to just Be Now. The art of Conversation is a bit of a dwindling skill nowadays, but this group seemed to have the knack for it. Everybody was interested. Everybody was interesting. Neil himself was lovely; there is a quietude around him that is hard to come by in this era of the digital deluge. Someone who speaks thoughtfully, listens more than he speaks, and misses nothing.

And then, quite suddenly, the evening was over. Somehow it was ten o clock on a weeknight and the conversation at last ran its natural course and dwindled into a few spiraling after comments. And everybody went their separate ways. Quite suddenly, the Now was over, and it had been wonderful. I went home full of a sense of immense satisfaction. I didn’t sleep much for the rest of the night as I absorbed the memory of it into my body trying to hold onto it for just a little while longer.

Now what?

The question was waiting for me in the morning: now that you don’t have this dinner to look forward now what are you going to do? I wish I had an answer. There was a very distinct emotional hangover from the whole experience that has lasted nearly three days now, and I keep striving to move forward bit-by-bit on all the projects that I started back when I was trying to keep my monkey-brain occupied. So the road ahead is still unwritten, but maybe that’s OK for a little while. Maybe I am back at the place where I need to just move forward with confidence that my steps will lead me to where I need to be: wherever you go, well- there you are.

Maybe I just need to Go and Be Now.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on August 4, 2018.

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