Tuesday, May 16, 2006

August and Everything After

Lucky Kim and I got to stay with Sara Woster and Rob Fischer at their cozy apartment in Williamsburg for our last two nights in NY. It was so terrific to see Sara after ten years! She hasn't changed a bit aside from her growing belly and copper hair. I was a tad emabarassed by my appearance as Kim and I let the makeover czars at Barney's turn us into pseudo drag queens. An explanation: I like to relax and in lieu of sitting in a coffee shop this seemed like an okay idea at the time. Esther, the Israeli grandma, who lined my eyes with purple and taupe shadows, whispered into my ear that she had a story for me. She averted her eyes from her manager's as she told me that her daughter had been born "slow," became pregnant as a teenager, and when she tried to arrange an abortion for her, she had her grandson five weeks later. As she told me about "the light of her life," she rummaged through her purse for her cell phone to show me a snapshot of her gorgeous 15-year-old grandson. Esther explained that she named him the Hebrew word for "moon shining at night," but he still shines during the day. I'm continually bewildered by the kind yet random people who feel obliged to tell me their life stories.

When we arrived at BookCourt around 8, Ayun Halliday strolled in fresh as a daisy after her afternoon swim. She told me Henry Zook, the owner of BookCourt, lives above the shop. Seeing Louise Jarvis Flynn again for the first time since high school was surreal. Looking into her eyes, I had a flashback to midnight at her house eating Pepperidge Farm crab soup and watching Angel Heart. The thought of that film still gives me the creeps. The young bookstore clerk then informed me the woman meant to introduce us would be thirty minutes late and would we like to wait? No, we would not. So I had to wing it. I introduced the book and then Jennifer Baumgardner, Louise Jarvis Flynn, Kimberley Askew, Sara Woster, Heather Chaplin, Ayun Halliday, Ivy Meeropol, and Heather Juergensen read their essays. Just as Ivy took the counter/podium, I had a little coughing fit brought on by my lingering cold. The resourceful Jen B. came to my rescue with a cough drop and thankfully I recovered my composure. I felt so unmoored by hearing and seeing sweet Ivy read. In all the time I edited her piece, I thought I had understood the gravity and magnitude of her family's legacy and then I heard her say, "my grandparents," and I lost it. I am not an overly emotional person given to creating scenes, but while she was reading, I was reminded of Ivy's description in her essay of her father, Michael, nervously shuffling through his papers when he was called on to speak during a hearing on the Venona documents. I thought of how flustered and emotional he must have felt in those moments and now here was Ivy standing before everyone sharing how she felt about her grandparents' legacy. I suddenly felt how heartbreaking and horrifying her experience and her father's experiences must have been.

And then the quiet Q&A. Heather Chaplin was asked how her "people" (most notably her parents) had felt about her piece? She joked that "no one knew about it and it stays in this room with all of us. " When one man asked what we thought our next wild ride would be, Heather Juergensen mentioned Winkie Rose and how we expected our lives to get better with every decade. We had a great crowd at the event: Deirdre Dolan, my agent Jennifer Carlson, my editor Sara Carder, Meg Leder, our token male spouses: Heather's honey Aaron Ruby, Sara's love Rob Fischer, Louise's hubby Sean Flynn, Amy Piper a woman from my high school(!), and various friends.

At Brooklyn Social, we made more new friends: Jami Attenberg and her Riverhead editor. We ate pressed sandwiches with Sara's funny friends in the corner. Heather J. and Heather C. were entertaining as always. It was incredible seeing Sara again after all these years. She's six months pregnant and so in love with her husband. He's been her best friend for years and now he's building a studio in the Minnesota woods where they plan to return this summer to have their baby. Rob has tentatively named their daughter August which we all declared an exceptional name. Their home is lovingly filled with books, Sara's paintings (the one above is of Rob who I think resembles a mustachioed Tom Ford), family photos (I particuarly liked a black and white of a rancher herding cattle), paintbrushes, blueprints, plants hanging in pots in the windows (ivy, begonias, a ficus) and lilacs in a vase. (This description reminds me of a medicine cabinet in a Salinger novel). I know they'll make a very loving family for August.


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