Since I last posted, much has happened. Nothing world-media-worthy, of course.
Over the last week, several people at various social events have told me how much they hate blogs, and how blogs exemplify everything that's wrong with America, culture, youth today, our narcissistic society, the West, the new century, etc. Because I am a coward, I nodded/sipped my drink, while thinking: I must post something soon, other than a fascinating up-to-the-minute status update on Facebook, or a quick addition to our new Tulane creative writing site.
Be that as it may - as I think Tennessee Williams said, when he discovered his mother had been institutionalized on charges of hysteria and superficiality - here are some of the things that have been going on.
My stint as a panelista at the TW Festival was relatively horror-free, though I did have one of those moments, midway through the panel, when I realized that all my questions were pretty much used up, and that the panel members were all sitting in silent expectation, waiting to be fed another line. I didn't agree at all with some of the things declared by panelists, but - because I was chairing - opted not to squabble. We had a full room - around a hundred, perhaps - despite our sequestered location on the third floor of the Cabildo, and I heard that festival attendance was way up this year.
At Tulane that week, we had an excellent turn-out to the third event in the Rushdie Reading Series, which was a discussion of The Satanic Verses. I'd invited four faculty members with expertise on the book and/or Islamic politics/history to lead the discussion; my colleague Joel Dinerstein was moderator. One lesson I should have learned by now: when you ask faculty members to make short statements or give short lectures, they don't listen. They try to tell you everything they know about the subject. So forty minute lectures last for an hour, and five-minute overviews stretch to 15 minutes. I'm not talking about Joel here, by the way: he does pithy well. (He does loud voice well too, and he theorizes this is one of his strengths as a teacher.) All our experts were great, of course, but by the time we got to (and through) the actual discussion part, the vast quantity of Indian food we'd ordered was starting to get cold. This did not deter the 60 or so students from chowing down - despite the dire warnings from another student, not present, that nobody non-Indian liked Indian food.
Between that event and Rushdie's visit was a quick trip to St Louis. It takes almost 11 hours each way to drive there, and only since I moved to the US would I even consider making such a trip for what was basically a day's visit. (We were going to a wedding.) Highlights: being called "the one with the hat" by the photographer; scooping up someone else's child and inserting him forcibly into the photo tableau, from which he was intent on wandering away; experiencing the usual St.Louis car-trouble, though this time it was T. Middy's parents' car, en route to the reception, rather than our own Otto Von Bismarck; and, of course, the customary visit to a Cracker Barrel in Mississippi, located with the help of our trusty Cracker Barrel Map of the USA.
Rushdie's visit to Tulane was amazing. Word to everyone who said we should have booked McAlister, which seats 1800, rather than Dixon, which seats 1000: I KNOW WE SHOULD HAVE BOOKED MCALISTER. I wanted to book McAlister, but by the time I persuaded the powers-that-be, McAlister was booked, allegedly. (Though some of you, perhaps, should have turned up earlier than 6:55, when every seat was taken, and people were illicitly sitting on the stairs and lining the walls.)
This year I had 15 excellent interns (from my Literary Event Management indentured servitude program) to act as ushers and crowd control, so I thought that - unlike at the Toni Morrison reading last year - this meant I would not spend the half-hour before the event started running up and down the aisles hustling people into spare seats and feeling frantic. I was wrong. The ushers did a great job, despite trying events like a belligerent alum threatening one of them with physical violence if he was made to leave the seats reserved for English faculty and creative writing students, and the insistence of the Tulane cop that the four ushers who'd gone outside (to close the doors and tell the 100+ late arrivals that there was no room left) could not re-enter the building. "If you were real ushers," he said, "you'd be inside." Luckily I went out and managed to retrieve them.
The behavior of the desperadoes outside was something. Things said to me: "We drove here all the way from Illinois!" "Will you let me in? I HAVE to come for class." "You should have had this in McAlister." An hysterical woman was screaming and crying in the lobby because the cop wouldn't let in the photographer from her school, so I said he could come in. Then she continued screaming and crying, because her teenage son had just turned up and he was locked out as well. At this point it was seven o'clock and we were supposed to be starting, so I just ran off. (You see: cowardice is an ongoing theme in this post.) I ran down the aisle, and the President walked onto stage to welcome everyone, and I had about five minutes to catch my breath before it was my turn on stage to introduce Rushdie.
Later, at dinner, he told me he liked the introduction very much, but not a single one of my students have mentioned it at all to me. Actually, one of them said this: "Were you worried about speaking right after the Chair of the English department? He was SO funny." Maybe they didn't recognize me (I was wearing a skirt), or maybe they thought they whole thing was too embarrassingly awful to acknowledge.
The Q&A wasn't too crazy, and later we had a great dinner at Emeril's. Those of us who had dinner with Morrison last year were determined not to sit there like overawed toddlers this time, so conversation was lively. I got to ask SR all the things I wanted to ask him when he came to the party at our house in Iowa four years ago. Then, I was so busy filling his wine glass and discussing Nigella Lawson that I didn't get around to talking about his more literary acquaintances.
After dinner, Joel and I took him for a wander along Frenchman Street, and we called into the Apple Barrel for a drink and to listen to some music. The next day I drove him to the airport. He was charming, funny, engaging, intelligent, honest - ie, still the boyfriend I knew and loved.
The event made a big splash on campus and beyond: we even made the lead story in our student paper, The Hullabaloo. The story was fine, though it would have been better, perhaps, if - when citiing SR's anecdote about Saul Bellow - the report had not twice referred to the writer in question as Saul Bellows. Maybe they were confusing him with the doctor in I Dream of Jeannie?
After Rushdie: recovery, and work, work, work. Portfolios loom, as do honors theses and independent studies. I'm working every spare minute revising my short stories to make my (already extended) deadline. It's balmy spring here in New Orleans. Taxes are due tomorrow. Today I have to go to the Immigration Office to beg permission to leave the country in May. I hope they don't give me on-the-spot testing of my knowledge of the national anthem. I still don't know what those bombs bursting in air prove.