We sold one book between the two of us but spoke to enough Brooklyn “characters” to fill several more books including the Russian woman who claimed the US government had evicted her from her apartment and wanted to know if she could leave her suitcase under our canopy- out of the rain.
We probably should have checked to see what was in that suitcase but somehow we trusted her because in some way we might have identified with her that day— wet, isolated, alone, unknown, placed outside the inner circle of the writers who “made it” who were reading and selling their books in the dry comfort of Borough Hall or St. Francis College- the very college we were supposedly representing. Not wanting to remove myself from my table, from the slimmest of chance of selling one of my books, I gave all my complimentary tickets— tickets to see and hear the “big
writers,” the inner circle of writers— away.
We are the side show— we find ourselves on the outskirts of legitimacy— we are the “unestablished,” struggling for recognition, acceptance— “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” the Beatles said.
“Genius all over the world stands hand in hand and with one shock of recognition goes the circle round,” Melville said.
Meanwhile, we sit in the rain— listening to the stories of the wanna-bes, the almost-weres, the doomsayers and naysayers, the beautiful and damned, the marginal and neglected, those ancient and middle aged mariners roaming the earth and assorted book fairs needing to tell their story.
Now, nearly a year later I find myself at the launching of the next great Brooklyn Book Festival. Marty Markowitz, our Emperor, praises Brooklyn as the new literary capital of the world, it’s great writers like Jennifer Egan- recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Visit From the Goon Squad.
And here I am in the middle of it all— out of the rain, drinking red wine and eating little gourmet sandwiches with little toothpicks in them. I am, for the moment, inside the great circle and I am hoping as I shake the novelist Darcy Steinke’s hand that the shock of recognition will go the circle round!
The following Saturday I’m at my nephew’s Little League game with my brother-in-law who introduces me to Jennifer Egan whose son is on the same team. I tell her how much I liked her book and then my brother-in-law tells her I’m doing a reading that night. “Oh yeah? Where?” she asks. “It’s actually at my neighbor’s house. A shed in their backyard. A shed they renovated.”
I feel myself dissociating, drifting miles away. I don’t think Jennifer Egan can hear me anymore. I can barely hear myself. I begin to see Jennifer way in the distance becoming smaller and smaller receding further and further away until she becomes a single ray of light— until she is no longer there.
The Shed. What is the Shed? Is it like those barns in those old Judy Garland Mickey Rooney films where all these talented people are standing around and someone says— I think Mickey Rooney or maybe Donald O’Connor says, “Hey let’s put on a musical!” and Judy Garland says, “That’s a grand idea! And we can use my barn!”
My neighbors, Roberta and David, created this little cultural cocoon to give local, Brooklyn writers a place to read their work— a place to show films and documentaries, to hold animation workshops for children.
But can there be a place any more outside the inner circle? Unknown, unrecognizable, isolated?
We gather in our hosts’ living room and kitchen. I bond with my audience— eat with them, drink with them, discuss films and literature- before I myself read a single word.
Then it’s time. There really is no set time. The Shed is eternal. It is not limited by space (well, maybe-it can’t seat much more than 25 or so) or time (well, our hosts would like to go to sleep eventually).
As I step down the steep wooden stairs that lead into their backyard I start to panic. What am I doing? Where am I going? Is this expanse of darkness, as small as it is- between house and shed- a journey into the underworld? A journey back into my tangled past? Into an uncertain and anxious future?
My audience leads the way, strolling- with a palpable lack of urgency- a sense of amiableness and good will.
Then, once I enter the Shed, I shed my fears, my doubts, my geometric uncertainties. I do not see- “obscurely discovered shapes and visages of horror”- like Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown does in the dark forest as he searches for his own “Faith,” his own world and his own uncertain relationship to that world.
Once I crossed my neighbor’s backyard and enter the Shed I begin to feel at peace- that this is where I want to be, where I belong.
I begin to wonder what I could possibly have meant by this idea-my idea- of this inner and outer circle of writers— of the exclusiveness of art— of creativity— of one circle being superior to the other, of one hand worth holding more than another.
What could be more outside the circle of established writers, of established forums where writers read their work than the Shed nestled in the darkness, in the very back of my neighbor’s backyard and yet for me that night nothing could be more inside the circle.
Yes, there were only 8 people that night but they were 8 who came to hear me and whenever I looked up from my story I could see every face very clearly— listening, laughing, curious, surprised.
I followed my own story in their faces, in their eyes. My audience of 8 in the bright light of The Shed was worth a hundred in the dark.
These are the people I write for.
And this is what I have to remember.
Or else why write at all?