Saturday, March 7, 2009

Chicago Headquarters: WCF!!!

There’s nothing more thrilling, or nerve wracking, than looking out at an audience and seeing worlds colliding. And that’s what always happens to me in Chicago.

Thursday night at Women & Children, it was a raucous cosmic rabble out there: former students, current students, a former roommate, the boy whose birth I witnessed, other writers, my girlfriend’s friends, my ex girlfriend’s friends (but no ex gfs!), former Trib pals, folks who formerly worked at the Trib whom I’d never met until that moment, that woman who comes to every reading I do at WCF, the folks from my writers group, a former landlord, the girl I met on a layover in Jamaica en route to Cuba who was dating a friend of mine (and whom I liked so much right away, I wanted to warn about his, er, wandering eye, but didn’t), bunches of dykes, at least a couple of Orthodox Jews, a hip little cadre of Art Institute girls, really cute Cubans (some new ones!), poetry community big wigs like Mike Puican (a/k/a, the world’s most handsome man), et al …

I’ve been coming to WCF since it first opened in Lincoln Park in 1979 (it’s since moved twice, having taken root in Andersonville, prob one of the country’s queer friendliest and most diverse neighborhoods), first as a reader and then as a writer. It’s a big, bright place, one of the last feminist bookstores still standing. Long before I ever had a book published, owners Linda Bubon and Ann Christophersen would frequently book me, usually for poetry. When I was writing Days of Awe, the WCF staff practically doubled as a research team. There’s a whole different crew these days but they’re just as amazing.

Anyway, it’s always a little special to read here because it feels like home base. But this time it was really moving to hear Linda’s heartfelt introduction to Ruins. What got me wasn’t just how effusive she was, but how different it feels when somebody has read every word you’ve ever published and really knows your work. There’s familiarity, sure, but there’s also a bond that comes from having survived so much together (besides our literary adventures, Ann, Linda and I also served way back when on Mayor Harold Washington’s Committee on Gay and Lesbian Issues, which revealed whole other sides of our personalities and temperaments!).

It was sweet and wonderful to see so many folks turn out (there were people standing all over). I don’t have the strongest voice in the world so I tried to be conscious of projecting. I noticed a number of people were following along on my reading – no doubt noticing that I actually edit quite a bit in the process, trying to make the excerpt as self contained and smooth as possible. When it was over, I was so flush and nervous, I actually needed to sit down.

I hung out for a good long while, greeting friends, signing books, meeting lots of new people. Afterwards, a group of us went to the Korean place down the street to celebrate. The worlds continued to collide.

“How do you know each other?” Ceci Vaisman, a terrific radio artist and former NPR producer, asked me about the poet Mary Hawley, who’d joined us.

“We used to be in a poetry group, ‘Girls Night Out’, which used to do readings all over the city,” I explained. “It included Patricia Smith, Susie Berger, and Cin Salach. Back then, the only one of us who had a book out was Debbie Pintonelli. Patricia worked at the Sun-Times, but as a copy girl.”

“How do you two know each other?” Mary asked in turn.

“We used to share a boyfriend!” Ceci said with a laugh.

“I was about to say that Mary’s one of my oldest friends,” I said, “and then I realized, wait a minute, Ceci’s one of my oldest friends … “

I looked across the table at Patrick Reichard, one of my very best buds, who was laughing and shaking his head. We used to room together and this kind of thing happened with alarming frequency. He’d already met Ceci at last year’s seder. Then he leaned forward and made a point of introducing himself to Mary and Mike.

NEXT: Lafayette, Madison and Iowa City.

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