Monday, January 10, 2005

Learning the Native Dress of my New Culture

I gave a talk yesterday at the local library on resources for writers in the area. (There are a lot of places to take classes, ranging from an MFA program to classes given by writers at the Poets and Writer's League Literary Center.)

Giving the talk is no big deal--I do this kind of thing relatively often. The big deal was figuring out what kind of head-covering to do. I still have normal, thick eyebrows and eyelashes, but my hair is of course a fright. I have my beautiful silk scarf, but it kind of proclaims I have no hair underneath. I didn't want the focus of the talk to be, wow, that chick has no hair. Does she have cancer? So I wore the wig.

I carefully made sure it was properly centered and Bob inspected me and proclaimed me symmetrical. (He's an engineer, symmetry is important.) I sort of moved my head around. The hair is mounted on an elastic net. Not elastic in the sense of underwear elastic, elastic in the sense of give--it's got more of the feel nylon, I guess. When I moved my head, the back scrunched up a bit. Imagine a bathing cap, and how they kind of wrinkle a little.

But in the mirror there was no difference. So I figured I could ignore it and took off.

In the car I had to fight the urge to tug at it. I guess it was a little like wearing nylons for the first time. I got to the library early and met Carol My Favorite Librarian. Then she took me back to the meeting room where I was scheduled to speak to a whopping 41 people about how you can learn stuff like technique and how to write a proposal if you live in the greater Cleveland area.

As I talked, I could feel the wig sort of creeping back from my forehead and up from my neck. Remember the bathing cap? Well imagine it riding up so that there's a noticeable amount of space between it and the back of your head. I talked about forming a writer's group. I talked about colleges that give courses.

Wig scrunched.

I told myself I was just self-conscious.

I talked for forty-five minutes and then let them ask questions.

Hands shot in the air. Lots of them. I started pointing to people and answering questions. By this point it felt as if the wig had moved back on my forehead at least an inch. I began to imagine that sparse strands crossing my scalp were showing. Were people trying hard not to notice? There were people I knew in the audience, and surely Carol would be unobtrusively signaling me if I was beginning to do the deranged-bag-lady-in-a-wig look. But Carol was talking to Bob, the guy who lives in the Victorian house with the beautiful yard that fills with spills of tiny white rockcrest flowers every spring. I tried to catch her eye, but someone else was waving their hand.

I know writing students. In their desperate quest to get their questions answered, they will keep you talking long after it is decent. And normally I wouldn't mind.

Hand up. What do I think of self publication?

I think it has a long and storied history, but there are problems with things like distribution.

Well, there's this company, the guy says. They promise that for a fee they will publish and get it on Amazon.

Getting a book on Amazon doesn't mean anyone will actually look it up, I explain. And newspapers won't review it. And if you pay someone else to publish, that's a vanity press. If you have to self-publish, you might at least consider doing it yourself.

I'm reduced by this point to looking for reflective surfaces. Glasses, am I reflected in anyone's glasses? The wig feels as if it has scrunched to the size of a yarmulke. Surely, people would be reacting if it had?

Finally, forty-five minutes after I start taking questions, Carol stands up, thanks me and thanks everyone for coming. At last, I can flea to the bathroom. But no. Half the audience heads towards the front of the room to tell me what a great presentation it was. And they want to shake my hand and say thank you. Shake my hand? Are they insane? My white count is in the effing basement!

But I stand and smile and feel the wig creep and now my head is itching. I tell people to keep writing. I turn down the offer of cookies. (Not before I wash my hands, sorry.) And finally I do escape.

The wig, of course, looks fine.


Blogger Sarah said...

Oh Maureen -- you sweetheart. I laughed, but sort of sadly. Sweet poignancy. The things we learn in this process, no? The key is that we laugh about it.

Growing up, I knew a wonderful Scottish woman named Josephine McDonald -- she travelled and drank and told enormously funny stories. She used to say about hard experiences, "Ah well, it's worth a drink on the cocktail circuit."

I'm glad you made it through your wig's first drive -- you'd have got a scotch for it from dear Josephine. All I can do is send you a big virtual hug and my thanks for making me laugh.

January 10, 2005 8:43 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

I keep looking for a site where Maureen can download some white blood cells.

January 11, 2005 8:58 AM  
Blogger Greg van Eekhout said...

I can imagine it must take a while to get used to wearing a wig. Hell, it takes some people years just to figure out their real hair.

January 12, 2005 11:18 AM  

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