Experiment In Savoring

It’s a sunny day in a quaint Ohio town. I’ve taken up a position on the sidewalk under a blue tent. Most people going by avert their eyes.

I’m here because, nearly two years ago, I agreed to do a book signing at an independent bookshop so adorable it could easily serve as the setting for a novel. The pandemic postponed this signing so long that I’m sitting here with the title that came out before my most recent book.

Although I’ve had four books published, I’ve never done an individual bookstore event before. Readings, yes. Workshops, yes. Group signings like the annual fabulous Author Alley at Loganberry Books, yes. This is a fresh experience for me. Other writers have told me bookstore signings can be excruciating. Often the only people who stop by are those asking if there’s a public bathroom or where the horror section is located. Today I’ll discover what it’s like for myself. Except I’m not inside, I’m out on the sidewalk. The open-sided tent blocks the pavement, meaning passersby must walk under it. This forces them to decide whether to look or not look at the strange woman sitting a few hopeful feet away.

I brought a basket of wrapped chocolates, a pen, bookmarks, and a little poster noting that a portion of each book sale goes to support the work of Medina Raptor Center. I brought what I hope is enough curiosity about this experience to tamp down my ongoing urge to hide in the stacks of the bookstore behind me. I tell myself I will savor the face of every person going by. I will spend by two whole hours being fully present.

People savoring isn’t difficult, especially since it has been over a year and a half without teaching in-person classes. I miss faces! But that fully present thing is as hard as it has ever been. My restless mind wanders every which way. My eyes linger on trees outlined by blue skies but thoughts continue scrolling. Wedding gowns displayed in a store window across the street can’t help but contrast with memories of my own frugal wedding where our church basement reception offered no music, no meal, no table seating. (We’ve stayed married, disproving all the naysayers.) The number of people going by with coffee reminds me of pre-pandemic days when I’d regularly meet friends in a coffeeshop to catch up on our lives. The clock in the town square chimes – 15 whole minutes have passed.

A trapped beetle buzzes angrily in my pocket, except it’s not an insect, it’s my phone. I know I shouldn’t look at it, but I do. Then I do some more, at least when no one is walking by.

I smile at families heading to the ice cream shop or sandwich shop, then smile as they pass by afterwards. A little girl wearing unicorn pants says, “I like your hair” before I can compliment her many perfect braids. I notice how many people walk by with faces aimed at their phones. I listen to conversation snippets, like “They’re finally moving to Portland” and “Naw, no way!” and  “He won’t go to therapy.”   

A huge streetside pot draped with withering coleus is so dry that I give it half the water from my travel mug, hoping no one hears me say, here you go friend.   

I try again to settle my mind by focusing on a lamppost’s reflection in a store window across the street. It’s perfectly meditative for almost a minute. The town square clock chimes – a half hour has passed.  

I listen to music blaring from passing vehicles, most often classic rock played by expensive-looking motorcycles ridden, in nearly every case, by gray-haired sunglass-wearing men. This makes the few cars blasting hip hop a nice contrast.

I notice significantly more white vehicles than any other color. At one point there are five white cars parked in the angled lines in front of me. I count colors in passing traffic for a while to get a ratio. Looks like one out of six is white, at least for the few minutes that counting holds my attention. I briefly ponder whether white is a dog-whistle, coded language for what I’d rather not imagine, then chastise my thoughts for heading that direction.

Plots for short stories come to mind. I imagine the guy who has been walking back and forth, coffee in hand, for the last 15 minutes is actually a spy. I think of a story based on the weird dream I had the night before. I was in a dystopian future where desperate people pushed contaminants under their skin hoping they might sell the resulting antibodies to Big Pharma. I consider a story about a writer who quietly dies at her book signing table, but nobody notices. These are all stories I’ll never write.

A man with young children has gone by three times. He shares a friendly aside at each pass, even claims he’s heard of my book. I feel extra tenderness for him, not only because he is jovial with his kids, but also because he looks like a dead friend looked 20 years ago.

A handholding couple stops to talk about a mystery they both read. One lovely elder notes the title of my book, then breaks into Bye Bye Blackbird, a song I used to play on the piano for nursing home residents in my first job out of college. I join her for the chorus and she pretends I have a lovely voice. I insist it’s easy to follow her more melodic voice. The clock chimes – an hour has passed.

The few people who ask, “What’s your book about” recoil almost visibly when I say it’s a poetry collection. Most people don’t ask.

Not long before my sojourn is over, a poet friend pops by to say hello. I’m wildly happy to see a familiar face. We talk about deep time, about the impulse to write, and about book publishing. I’ve enjoyed his presence so thoroughly I don’t notice the clock chiming until I’m a full 20 minutes past my time to pack up and leave.

I carry the books back in the bookstore, apologize that not copy one sold, and head out for the hour’s ride home. From the security of my elderly car I savor a cloudless sky so blue it’s nearly iridescent.   

17 thoughts on “Experiment In Savoring

  1.     Oh, the seduction of an adorable bookshop, and the magic spell that obligates one to sit under the blues tent where passing wizards only sometimes spare the author from the eyeing of unknown intention: will it be a surreptitious spell or merely a request for the proper spelling of a fan’s name on an autograph — hard for a muggle to know. I’m not sure if raptors can be familiars for a wizard, but I’d be inclined to think they’d be grateful that you support the Medina Raptor Center. I would guess that you’ve found that having pigeons on the pavement can be a problem if they have messages strapped to their legs asking for autographs — there’s an inherent conflict of interest given the rapture of the raptors around gourmet food. Oh and who gets to eat the chocolate?
        Wandering trees in wedding gowns with blue skies under a blues tent is indeed quite distracting. Holy cow and wholly present seems a present too much to unwrap with raptors about.
        The rapture of passing phones. Hmm, buzz, buzz, a Rhapsody in blue already taken and named.
        I used to read poetry in Central Park near Columbus Circle or go inside and read at the fountain or elsewhere. I could get no one interested in my book but someone asked me where the Russian exhibit at the Guggenheim was. I thought nothing of it until I wandered through the park to Central Park East and stood on a corner to read (or shout so it would echo off a building). A man with a Russian accent asked me where the Guggenheim was. He asked me as if he already knew the answer. It was the same tone as the girl in the park: she acted as if she didn’t care about the factual answer. Both of them I thought were waiting for a code phrase that I would answer if I had the secret information or microchip or whatever. Obvious spies. Q. Where is the Guggenheim? A. The blue squirrel knows. Then they would have given me the money and I would have given them a wounded raptor and a pigeon.
        You are so lucky that a couple stopped by to sing Bye Bye Blackbird. I once read to Japanese tourists and gave them a sample book. They bowed but I just stared at them because I couldn’t decide if I should bow or shake their hand or say thank you but I think I’ve heard that there are different forms of address depending on your social status or class — I don’t know what I am.
        Poetic atmospheres are a fickle thing, but once my friend the High Priestess stopped by and shared a secret poem for me which made me feel better. She’s a pussy cat (although I’m not sure she likes raptors):
    Why does he know when the snow overwhelms me.
    Why does he know I plead for his whisker, and
    the wick of a flame,
    oh yes come brush me
    with your fur
    and I remember how you
    gave me the fur coat of your chest
    the tickle of your beard, and i
    didn’t mind if you would
    brush me with your hair
    and I could smell you like you
    were my lion, and I
    were your pussy cat

    — Zawmb’yee Nuje

        But a passerby said they didn’t like her subjunctive case and couldn’t tolerate a random “were” thrown in. Before I could answer, a peregrine falcon swooped down and grabbed a pigeon. It was very distracting, and there were no sales.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you very much. As they say, “Merci” brings mercy from the day winds, but I often savor my favorite French expression that everyone in the know knows:
        “A chacun sa voix unique apporte de la magie à une oreille retrouvée”
        To each their unique voice brings magic to a newfound ear.
        Um, uh, actually there is no such expression, but I played with Google for awhile until it seemed to mean something.

        Like

    • The old ways of sending written work out into the world simply don’t seem to work. I celebrate the many ways we’re able to access the work of writers, artists, filmmakers, playwrights, musicians, dancers, artisans, and others who bring creativity to life — I just wish all of us might have more than a penny’s chance to support ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

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