Lo, these many weeks ago, at the urging of the only soul brave enough to call herself my best friend, I went to a book signing. I can’t say that I was super thrilled about attending (writing my novel had become a soul-sucking slog up the side of an infinitely tall mountain made of tar and crushed dreams; what once had been fun had become daunting, which is the new opposite of fun; if my novel was a boy I’d’ve long since broken up with him, probably via text just before blocking his number because we were being JUST THAT KIND OF ASSHOLE to each other), but I figured it might do me some good to hear what someone who had actually completed a writing project of any kind had to say.
Also, there would be an abundance of books and other adults to not quite talk to, combined with a distinct lack of my children to supervise. Powerless to resist, that’s me.
It would be my second such event ever (last time it was for a recipe book signing; let me tell you, if you haven’t fangirled all over a housewife from Oklahoma, then you have not LIVED), so I didn’t really know what to expect. There would be an author, sure. One who had written a book that had been enjoyed by everyone in attendance, presumably. Author would speak, folks would queue up with books to be signed, author would sign books. Easy peasy. Ho hum.
I neglected to take into account the author himself.
By the state of his beard, I could see that this was not a man to be trifled with. No mere hipster affectation, this, no meticulously-groomed mansplosion of masculinity carefully contained within fashionable parameters and thus nullified (much like all but a very precious few hipster men, themselves), NO. This was simply the unchecked facial hair growth of a man with no fucks to give.
Or, as I discovered over the course of the evening, a man who is simply very choosy about to what and whom he gives his fucks. Personal grooming gets far fewer than, say, writing a bestseller or raising a family or championing a charity. Just enough to meet the social hygiene standards of a first world country.
He stepped to the microphone and offered us, the waiting crowd, two options. We could either …
A) keep our phones out, take pictures, record video, and receive only much-censored, watered-down, publicly-acceptable, and other-hyphenates-as-well versions of the answers he would like to give because, hey, INTERNET
B) put our phones away and have a moment in time together, just the hundreds of us, in which honesty would be served with unselfconscious dashes of personal anecdotes and profanity
Perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody voted for option A.
Shockingly, everyone complied with the terms of option B. It was weird, paying extended attention to something that doesn’t glow and/or fit in our pockets, but somehow we muscled through it.
Over the course of the next hour or so, there happened in that place a polite and open discussion between author and crowd-of-hundreds. Questions were asked and answered, flowing freely in both directions. It was the most remarkable thing, really – just a bunch of book geeks geeking out about books together in a book store. We laughed, we cried, it was better than Cats.
One exchange stuck with me long after lines had been waited in, books had been signed, and we had all wandered home through the rainy summer night. It didn’t stick with me verbatim, though – I’ve slept since then – so you’ll have to forgive my paraphrasing and flourishes. Or don’t. Carry a grudge if that’s your kink. I ain’t the boss of you.
Crowd Person: You rather famously spent fourteen years writing your first book before getting published. Do you have any advice for other writers on how to persevere through the Satan’s own endless roller coaster ride that is writing a novel until the ultimate goal of getting published is achieved?
Rothfuss: (distinctly uncomfortable) Eeeeeh, I don’t … look, I’m not some kind of literary endurance guru. All I did was write, and keep writing. Let me ask you this: how many of you have a garden?
(hands pop up across the room like alarmed meerkats, including my own)
Rothfuss: Okay, so when you’re gardening, you’re out there pulling weeds or whatever, are you thinking to yourself ‘Gee, if only I can grow the most perfect vegetables, and make the most beautiful garden ever, then someday Better Homes & Gardens will come and photograph my glorious garden and THEN my life will be complete and I will be rich beyond my wildest dreams’?
(a pause while this is mulled over in a few hundred minds; mine, specifically, swam with images of my own riotously overgrown tomato vines and defiantly flowering basil)
(a collective “No” issues forth)
Other Crowd Person: I just like to grow mint for my tea.
Rothfuss: Right. You garden for yourself, so you can have fresh vegetables and mint in your tea. It’s the same thing with writing. You have to be doing it for you. That’s when it’s easy, and it’s fun, and it’ll flow out of you on its own momentum. The second you start doing it for anything else, for critics or publishers or – god forbid! – financial gain, that’s when it gets too heavy. Too hard to do. … So, my advice?
(susurration of hundreds of heads nodding)
Rothfuss: … Grow your own mint.
If there is a word in the english language for a simultaneously joyous and heartbreaking revelation of something that had once been known but had been forgotten until that moment, I don’t know it. I bet the Germans have a word for it. Or the evangelicals. Regardless, whatever this nameless feeling was, it turned its attention on me in that moment. Luckily, it did me the kindness of waiting until I was out of the building and sitting in the darkened privacy of my own car to shoulder-check me to the floorboards and sit on my chest until I frantically tapped out, which it ignored.
I don’t do big emotions in public, y’all.
He was right. With the loss of my job and the advancement of my medical condition to the point of being unable to gain and keep other employment, the list of ways in which I could contribute to my family’s stability got narrowed down to just a handful of personal skills. Top of that list: writing. It was the creative delight of my spare time, the free and merry frolic about the magical meadows of my imagination, and I fancied myself somewhat good at it. But now, quite suddenly, getting my novel written and published became a bloody, desperate imperative. Which is precisely when I began to fail.
Every word was an agony of effort, the entire project loomed large and impossible, and I began to indulge in some melodramatic despair. I wasn’t quite at the black lipstick stage when I walked in to this book signing, but I was close.
It’s different now. Better. Thanks to a happenstance meeting with a magnificent beard and the guy behind it, I’m finding my fun again. Growing my own mint.
He’s a good guy, that Rothfuss. I owe him some thanks, which I chose to repay by donating to Heifer International. Some family in some part of the world that needs help is gonna get some chickens.
I don’t have any pictures of our brief meeting because at the time I didn’t think the event would mean much. Probably I was being a jackass (hello, title of my autobiography), digging in my hooves and flopping my long, furry ears over my eyes so as not to see the lesson that was being offered by an unexpectedly generous universe.
Here is the only photographic proof that Patrick Rothfuss and I once met. If you look closely, you can see where he inscribed, as per my dictation, “I don’t know it yet, but you are the wind beneath my wings. – Uncle Pat”.