It was already 11:00 AM and I still hadn’t found a pen. I easily could have bought one at the Rite-Aid across the street, but I figured they should give them out for free. This was a book festival, after all. As a relatively new Brooklyn resident I feel the need to immerse myself in every remotely bookish event out there, and the Brooklyn Book Festival was no exception. Book festivals make me feel like I’m in Mecca with other members of my literary transatlantic tribe. I always imagine I’ll find a bunch of kindred spirits and we’ll spontaneously start talking about Milan Kundera, and I’ll mention I had my Kundera phase while living in Istanbul, and then I’ll feel like I belong. But I only talk that way in my head, and the truth is I didn’t talk to anyone except a man behind me in line who asked, “Are there any messages for me?” as he looked over my shoulder while I checked my email on my phone.
There were lots of great panels and speakers, but the one I wanted to attend the most was with Shelia Heti. I’d just finished reading How Should A Person Be? and the question was really weighing on my mind. If Shelia Heti struggled with how she should be, then how the hell was I supposed to figure it out?
I was disappointed because the line was so long by the time I got to the building where her panel was that they closed the venue. I felt that in a strange way it was punishment for me not bringing a pen. The real reason I didn’t have a pen was because I came to the festival straight from some else’s apartment. I’m sure he would’ve gladly let me borrow a pen, but I forgot to ask.
Instead I wandered around and picked up leaflets that I immediately threw away upon returning home. Today this thoughtful Q&A with Heti came out, so that was a slightly redeeming factor. Anyway, her book was not only good but it felt good to read, strangely illicit and daunting as well, a feeling akin to sliding around on a thinly frozen lake with your socks on.
I went to another panel then walked outside again, and who should be speaking in the courtyard but Tony Danza. He was talking to Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz about his book about teaching high school. I thought I saw Sheila standing in the crowd, but I got caught up in an anecdote about the first time Tony cried after a class. He mentioned origami. It suddenly erased all the shame of all the times I’d cried after teaching a class, from when I was a tough “good” teacher busting students for plagiarism to when I let them wipe their feet all over me. Anyway, Tony’s story washed it all away just like that. Sure, I watched Who’s the Boss?, but I never would’ve guessed Tony Danza had that much power over me.
So yes, apropos of How Should A Person Be: I’ve always found close female friends who I wanted to be like. It wasn’t that I wanted to be their sort of pretty or their type of writer per se. I just wanted to be me to the same degree that they were themselves. I’ve often disliked them for being like me, for getting into destructive relationships or not following through with their goals or squandering their talent and obsessing over silly things, like their thighs. How could they be so stupid? I’ll tell you how. Because they are just like me.