(First, go to this post if you don’t know what my #Before30BucketList is. I’ll also be going back to that original post and noting each goal accomplished if you want to keep up but miss out on some of my posts.)
This one was a really, really big deal.
I’ve spent my whole life going to concerts and rallys and shows and plays and movies and museums and whatever else people get excited about. But I’ve also spent my whole life loving books more than anything. And, until now, had never been to a single book signing or met a prominent author. I had heard musicians explain and sing songs that touched my heart, and I had watched my feelings played out on stage, I had seen art that spoke to me up close, but I had never heard an author discuss or read the words that lived in my soul.
So when I saw one of my favorite authors announce her book tour this year, I jumped on it. Then I decided to look up who else might be reading/signing close to me, and I found him.
The man who is made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.
(If you don’t know that quote we can’t be friends. Just kidding, keep reading, and maybe you’ll learn it.)
As a toddler, my favorite book was Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown). As I grew, obviously that changed. I don’t remember them all, but as an adolescent You Don’t Know Me (David Klass) really spoke to me. Of course all of the Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) books were in there, and as a teen I fell in love with Ellen Hopkins (Crank, among others). Once I started to fully come into my right-of-passage reading, I, like so many others, became glued to Catcher In The Rye (J.D. Salinger). As I grew into adulthood I gravitated toward the outcast novels — those written about drugs and insanity and homosexuality, with snark and exaggerated opinions — people who experienced struggles like mine with a crude mindset. Candy (Luke Davies) remains an all-time favorite, but Running With Scissors (Augusten Burroughs) imprinted itself in my veins and became a part of me.
(p.s. – If you’ve seen any of these movies but haven’t read the books, please don’t judge a book by its movie adaptation. Some of the best books I’ve read turned into some of the worst movies I’ve seen.)
Sometimes I feel silly, telling people my favorite book is his most popular, because mainstream isn’t cool or something. But then I tell myself to shut up and that I’m not cool anyway, so admitting to loving something that’s fucking amazing isn’t going to change my seat in the lunchroom.
I love everything Burroughs writes. Even if I don’t agree with it, I find myself accepting him wholly and begging for more. His memoirs put me in times and places I’d never otherwise be, but also bring a sense of home when his intense, blunt words intermingle with my delicate, rambunctious, off-kilter brain. His fiction is hilarious and riveting. Even in times (and they are rare) when I find myself not wanting to read certain stories or opinions, I later find that I needed to read them. I don’t really believe much in role models, because no one’s exactly like you, but he comes damn close because I relate so much to him, yet sometimes not at all.
Anyway, enough gushing. I stalked his Facebook and Googled my ass off and learned he would be in New Jersey on Tuesday, March 28th. So I put it on my calendar and my dad’s calendar and my husband’s calendar and my mom’s calendar and my sister-in-law’s calendar. I usually like to have a partner in crime (or two) when I have incredible experiences so my mom and sister-in-law were planning to come with me, and we had it all set. Except sometimes I suck, so while I knew there was a $17 charge for the NJ book signing (it also came with a paperback copy of his latest book, Lust & Wonder, which I wanted because I only have the hard copy), I somehow put it out of my mind until the weekend before. And of course, when I went to purchase the tickets they were sold out.
Me being me, however, I also knew pretty much every other date and venue on the book tour, and it turned out he would be in NYC that Monday, March 27th. Now you may think that New York is much farther away from me than a location in my home state, but I’m at the very bottom and NJ, PA, and NY are oddly set up so they were both actually the same distance. I was just worried that, since Burroughs had spent so much of his life in New York, and it was a free event, and it was freakin’ New York City, that it would be mobbed and I would miss out. I also found out that literally no one I knew was available to go with me.
So I got a babysitter and every book he’s ever written and my “I can’t live without books” book tote and my Jenny Lawson You Are Here coloring-but-not-really book and my gel pens and I set off for the big city, all by my lonesome.
I arrived four hours early. When I went to Jenny Lawson’s book signing I got there an hour early and all the seats were already taken so I had to sit on the floor (but in the front, so there, seat-takers) so naturally I assumed I wouldn’t be the first to arrive. The Barnes & Noble customer service representative looked at me like I was on fire and breathing spiders when I told her I was there for Augusten Burroughs. Also like she pitied me, which didn’t make me mad but rather humored because I wasn’t missing anything by waiting — I had my books (and a whole book store) to keep me company, while she would miss out on meeting a legend because she had to sit behind a desk. Who’s the winner, really?
While I was waiting I knocked out some aspects of my Traveling Alone bucket list item and felt very peaceful and content. It’s not such a bad thing having to wait for four hours exploring book stores and Manhattan and meeting new people and simply doing whatever I wanted. But I was a little neurotic and kept venturing back to Barnes & Noble to make sure some mad rush of fans didn’t show up and kick me out of my first-in-line spot.
They didn’t. I was the first one at the door, and the first one in the door, and the first one to pick my seat, which was obviously front and center. The rest of the crowd still thought I was crazy when they learned that I had arrived so early, but hey, when you’re passionate about something you fight for it. I fought time.
I was so giddy and so nervous and didn’t know what to do with my hands or my three bags or my phone or my breathing. I don’t know why I get nervous — I preach all day every day that politicians and police and celebrities and the like are all people — humans like you and me with flaws and fabulosities (I just made that word up), but when I get around authors I freeze and become a blubbering idiot.
We all got seated and excited and I kept looking around to see what other kinds of degenerates Burroughs attracted, and I was surprised to find a wide array of people — a businessman, a woman and her son who was actually named Augusten, teachers, young adults, older adults, gay men, straight men, the rebels and the righteous. We all came together over the love of writing or reading, specifically by one man who did not fit into all of our labels.
I was actually surprised to learn that Burroughs was more “stereotypically gay” than I had pictured him. I don’t know if that makes me a good person for assuming he was just a human, or a bad person for noticing “gay traits”, or maybe I was good turned bad or maybe I was just another person trying to scrub out the brainwashing done by growing up in American Millennium society. But I did learn a bit about myself, and him, and I felt like I got to know him much better which calmed me down a lot because usually I have a tendency to build people up into unattainable perfection in my head and am nearly always let down by the real thing.
He started out by reading a section from Lust & Wonder, and hearing how he narrated it in his head while writing was an experience I can’t even explain. We read things according to our own biases, and it’s often thrilling to learn how words on paper were meant to be read — with the proper exaggerations and pauses and snark.
This clip is long, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be able to watch it a million times. Otherwise, skip around, watch as much or as little as you’d like.
Then the room was open to ask questions. I’ve learned, in the whole two book signings/readings I’ve been to, that I need to not ask the first question, but learn to read the author and prepare myself for their ending so I can shoot up my hand at exactly the right time — not too soon as to avoid being rude, but not too late as to avoid be overlooked. I think I’ve perfected this art. (This is something that should be taught. People teach everything nowadays, maybe I’ll make my own “When to raise your hand at exactly the right moment to be noticed without being pushy” class.)
So I asked my question, which I didn’t even know needed to be asked until it came out, and his response was perfect and detailed and meaningful.
(I have this horrible habit of constantly messing with my nose and I never noticed how gross it looks until now and I’m horrified that I did it not only in front of, but to one of my swoon-worthy celebrities.)
After the questions from all types of audience members, we lined up to get our books signed. (I told people how excited I was and they agreed but then I noted that this was better than meeting Brad Pitt and they just gave me weird looks and stopped talking to me.) I was the only one with all nine of his books so I was worried he wouldn’t want to sign them all, or there wouldn’t be enough time, or his handler (manager was the word I was looking for but handler came out and now I think it’s fitting) would push some of my books to the side. But none of that happened. Burroughs was thrilled to take as much time as needed to sign everyone’s books the way they wanted, and talk to them about whatever nonsense came out of their mouths (I also told him the Brad Pitt thing and he said “No, it’s really not”, which is the same thing Jenny Lawson said so now my mission is to make writers realize how wonderful and talented and essential they are), and to take pictures with anyone who asked.
When I got my picture taken with Jenny Lawson I looked awkward and starstruck standing behind her, trying not to touch her but be close enough to look like she actually cares about me, all while hiding a horrible breakout I had on my chest. So this time I embarrassingly but wonderfully asked to take a selfie, and Burroughs was not only more than happy to partake but put his arm around me, got as close as possible, and let me take two to make sure at least one was acceptable.
The selfie thing totally worked out, by the way, because I’ve been breaking out like a 14-year-old lately and Burroughs mentioned that a facial he’d had a few days prior made him break out, but I’ve tweaked the light intake settings on my front camera to make us look flawless.
So in the end I got to experience a sincere reading, engage in extensive Q&A discussion, get every single book personally signed, take an everlasting selfie with my closest-thing-to-a-role-model, and partake in more personal conversation in which he told me he would remember my blog and check it out (Yes, I almost fainted) (Yes I’m also aware it might not happen). (If you’re reading this — I am crazy but I swear it’s usually in a good, quirky way.)
Then, high on life and experience and thinking magical thoughts and happiness, I went on my next #Before30BucketList adventure (coming soon).
Companions: Books, Augusten Burroughs, other fans
Book for Son: $5 (I always bring him home a book when I go to a book signing)
(Travel costs included in “Travel Alone” instead)
Goal Total: $5
4th Goal Accomplished
List Item #3: Meet Favorite Author
Bucket List Total: $129