Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reverential Treatment

Scott D. Parker

Earlier this week, my wife and I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Jane Goodall. The Wortham Center here in Houston was sold out, but there were a few empty seats. Maybe it was traffic?

Anyway, after the first two gentlemen spoke, out walks Ms. Goodall. This thin, 77-year-old woman was dressed all in black with a nice, fuscha shawl draped around her shoulders, her long, gray hair pulled back in the customary pony tail. There was a palpable excitement in the air and we all sat enraptured during her 70-minute speech.

After a short Q&A, she exited to the main foyer of the Wortham. This is a huge space, stories tall, and we patrons did the thing all of us likely really came for: to stand in line to get her autograph and a quick snapshot. By the time we got out of the auditorium, we were about third from the end. (Mental note, Scott: Q&A isn't that big a deal. Do what the others did and get in line at that point.) For an hour or so, we stood in line, chatted with those around us. I got to hear stories of how Goodall has affected each person's lives.

All during this waiting, Ms. Goodall sat on a stool, signed everything put in front of her, and posed for the official photographer to snap pictures. I've been to author signings so this part is nothing new. I noticed something I haven't seen at an author event: a good number of the people meeting this remarkable woman--perhaps for the first and only time--touched her, mostly on the shoulder or arm.

What is it about this woman that makes people want to touch her? I don't ever remember feeling the urge to touch the authors I've met. Well, I've shook the hands of each, but that's more of a professional acknowledgement. This was like a form of worship, if you want the truth.

I know we humans can become a fan (fanatical) of a particular movie, book, author, actor, singer, etc. It can border on obsession (says the guy who memorized the number of the trash compactor from "Star Wars" when he was 10 and has never forgotten it). I don't get the sense that we readers and writers worship fellow authors, even if we happen to meet someone like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. Is it, perhaps, because we do what they do, that is create stories? Sure, not as successfully, but still, it's the same basic thing. Is there a loss of mystique when we can replicate what famous people do? Perhaps that's why we get tongue-tied when we meet folks like presidents or activists like Goodall rather than authors.

What do you think? Is there no mystique to writing? Or is it that we fiction writers don't necessarily do the kinds of things that make people want to turn out to see us talk, sign books, and touch our shoulders?

App of the Week: Angry Birds Seasons: Shamrock Edition. I updated my favorite game app for my iPod Touch and found many of these new levels strangely difficult. But I powered through them.


sandra seamans said...

I think the media has dispelled all of the author's mystique. They're no longer just amazing wordsmiths transporting us into unknown worlds, they're human beings just like us. Heck, go read an author's twitter feed and you can see that they eat and drink and get dressed just like the rest of us. God! They're normal!?! Knowing everything about an author tends to wipe away the wonder of what they do.

Dana King said...

Iy has less to do with authors and everything to do with Jane Goodall. People are aware of the sacrifices she's made for her mission in life, and how much good she's done, with really no appropriate recompense. When we talk as writers of our sacrifices, we talk of social engagements missed and income done without. She's gone without things we take for granted, and done it for as long as anyone can remember.

Jane Goodall transcends common treatment.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think she brings something different into the room-a feeling she has done something brave and important with her life. YOu can't compare her with novelists, I think. It's not about the writing with her. It's about the project.

And some people just seem touchable. Others, not.

Scott D. Parker said...

Sandra - Authors, normal? Not sure about that. I guess it's always been that way. Even when I was a lad, I'd scour magazines and newspapers for tidbits on my favorite personalities. The internet and modern media just make it easier.

Dana - A keen sacrifice she told us about during the lecture. She went to a conference in 1986 and learned about all the bad stuff going on around the world in her field that she felt compelled to leave the idyllic world of study to become an advocate. Since then, she has not been in one place for longer than three weeks. That's 25 years of constant movement. Incredible.

Patti - She mentioned that, for her first outing in the field, she had to bring her mom since Jane was such a young person. Jane is very much of a different cloth, and she urged the audience, especially the children, to do great things, even if those things are in our community.