On Meeting David James Duncan

journal entry:  04.25.06 tyler street coffee house, port townsend, washington 12:15pm
i think, perhaps, treating yourself to lunch alone at a neighborhood coffee shop during the rush of midday is something everyone should do at least monthly.  i tend to do it weekly.
i went to this book-signing in seattle yesterday.  i’m not sure if i was fully prepared for my feelings in meeting the author that has encouraged me not only be a better writer, but a better reader, a better self, and a better person.  his words have constantly been in the back of my mind, whether it was Gus and his oranges, perched on a riverbed about to meet the woman deemed his soul mate [from “The River Why”], Irwin’s laugh at the end of “The Brothers K,” or reminding myself to look inward and stare at motes of dust.
i think i expected him to be more philosophical and less funny.  he seemed nervous, caffeinated and not himself.
i can’t imagine what it must be like to go on a book tour…
walking into the auditorium i was anxious to see what sort of people DJD would draw.  young fisherman?  old philosophers?  green, yuppie-types?
i was already walking in, feeling a twinge of guilt.  not only had i not read the book, i had just purchased it at Barnes & Noble.  i thought it odd that it was tucked in the back in the “new religion” section.
earlier, after buying “God Laughs and Plays” from the dreaded bookstore chain, i walked up the street to a pub i had heard good things about, sat out on the deck and read the preface.  not only was DJD speaking of something i have a long history with, he was using the Narnia Chronicles as a comparison, a series i had just finished reading for the…oh, 20th time.  i laughed, smiled, furrowed my brow, drank a couple of beers and kept my eyes peeled for someone noticing what i was reading, saying they were attending the same function.  i was even hoping to see DJD himself in some strange twist of fate.  i can think of no other person i would want to buy a couple pints for.
standing outside the town hall, smoking a forbidden cigarette, a man in his 60s walked out to grab something out of his volvo.  i asked him if he was there for the reading.  he said he was, and went inside.
i sat in the next-to-front-row, as close to the center as i could.  a hat sat next to me, which ended up belonging to the man with the volvo.
i sat, clutching my hardbacks and a weathered copy of “My Story as Told by Water.”  the book has gone everywhere with me in the last two years, replacing my ancient copy of “The River Why.”
i heard a woman sitting next to me say she comes to all the book signings, since she’s on the town hall mailing list.  the salty dog sitting next to me asked if i had read his books and what i thought of them, since he had never read any.
people walked up to the front of the auditorium, purchasing copies of books i have grown to consider as prized possessions, carelessly reading the back cover, flipping through the first chapter, then reading the last page.
(yes!  i actually saw that.)
i had to move to the back.
i took notes, writing them in the back of my paperback.
by the time he started reading, i was crestfallen.  is this what making it as a writer means?  selling yourself to book-hungry yuppies looking for the newest dinner conversational piece?
in the end, he read a bit out of “The River Why,” read a lot out of “God Laughs and Plays,” and answered one question by reading more.  he spoke of being tired, misunderstood in his purpose of the new book and spoke to audiences that walked out in response.  of course, all of these things made him even more of a hero to my perky ears.
i learned that he lived in missoula, a place i had already planned to visit.  i learned he’s a guest instructor there, and i silently made pilgrimage plans.  oh yes, montana calls.
i wanted to ask him if he missed oregon.  if montana was a close second–or even better.  i learned he has a 24-year-old son who goes to school in bellingham.  my heart leaped.
my pulse raced as i stood in line.  he said he was working on a new fictional piece, and fiction was something he’d like to do more of.  he seemed to be content to sit, sign, and chat a bit, but it was nothing like i had expected.  i wanted intimacy.  i wished for people in sandals and weathered carhartts sitting around a man in a chair or leaning on a table…like story-time at the library.  this was all too…promotional…too entertaining.
i wanted to wait until everyone had gone, then ask him to sign.  but i feared freaky-stalker status.  by the time i got to the table and look at the greatest living author i have ever known, i mumbled, “you’ve been an inspiration.”
this was not how i planned it.
he did sign my river tooth with glee, and wrote “for Stephanie” above the “strategic withdrawal” essay.
“i like this one,” he said about the piece.
“it changed my life,” i wanted to say.
i suppose all there is to do now is plan that move to MISSOULA, MONTANA.