I was in a workshop recently, an evening organized by some friends and offered to me free of charge. At one point you were supposed to speak as if a year or two had passed and you were bringing people up-to-date on what had happened in your life. “Well, you all saw Oprah, I guess,” I said when my turn came. Yeah, I could dig all that, the big exposure, talking about Authentic Writing while Oprah sits next to me with a make-believe expression of interest on her face. I could dig all that and sometimes it feels like it’s going to happen. “You’re going to be famous!” my friend Dinah said as we sat outside the Café Reggio, meeting up for the first time in thirty-five years. She had no doubt and when she said it I didn’t either.
I have imagined being one of those people who is famous for a little while and then disappears from view for the rest of their lives.
And the whole fame thing? I don’t know. Yes, I’m reaching for it though not in the way that people who are really serious about it reach for it – like Madonna who is really famous just for being famous.
Some of the emailers accuse me of only wanting fame, and that is so obviously off-the-mark. They aren’t reading what I’ve written. They’re freaking out.
I called Dinah the other day. She lives in New Zealand so I don’t do it often. Her British voice came through on the answering machine – neither she, nor her husband, nor her three kids were home. I’d been feeling down, suddenly devoid of energy, a strange feeling, and I was looking forward to her great comfort. I didn’t tell her that on the message though. It was the day the first real avalanche of bad emails was coming in. Fred was away. I didn’t want to think that the cacophony of witch-hunters had anything to do with how I was feeling that day, but it was hard to ignore the synchronicity.
I had woken up with a muscle inside one of my shoulder blades freezing up so that by afternoon I was having a hard time turning my head. I wandered into town, something I like to do when I’m trying to take it easy. It makes me feel like I’m on vacation and it takes me away from the computer.
I passed by my friend’s little store where she sells her own art work. She’d left me a message a few days earlier, sounding desperate, going through some horrific emotional upheaval, so I came to see her. She said her shrink had upped her meds and she was feeling better. I didn’t contradict. I just listened. She looked defeated, but not as desperate and tearful as she’d been a few days ago. She had been trying to get off the drugs, she said, partially because her boyfriend didn’t believe in them.
I told her about my frozen shoulder and she sat me under a tree and pummeled my back with experienced fingers. “I guess I just have to accept …” -- her voice trailed away. “You don’t ‘have to’ anything,” I answered. I didn’t like the sound of “I have to be different, I have to change.” I wanted my friend to feel okay just as she was. And I could feel the strength surge back into her voice. “You’re right,” she said. “I don’t have to anything.”
I was wearing a bright red tee shirt. I wondered as I walked along the sidewalk if anyone drove by and noticed me walking, anyone from the devotee group here in town, perhaps the person taking the brochures. I thought of Barack Obama, always needing a security detail. How exposed you can feel.
When I came home the key that’s always on the front porch was missing. Someone’s taken it, I thought. Just that morning I had thought that I should hide that key more effectively, and now it was gone and I was locked out. I called Robbie, my friend and neighbor, to whom we gave a key several years ago because she was here so often, watching over Tamar and Mousie while we were away. She was in town, cleaning out the little house she’s going to be moving into in a month, and said she’d be right over.
She didn’t have the key anymore. Don’t know what happened to it – I tried every possible one on her heavy key chain. She’d gone round the side of the house and by the time I caught up with her was half-way through a living room window that I hadn’t been able to open.
“Oh, Robbie!” I was so happy as she opened the kitchen door from inside. “You are the absolute best!” And I told her of my fears that someone had taken the key. I checked my office, the library table – no key. So I hadn’t by mistake brought it in myself.
Then I saw it hanging tidily by the front door. “I’m a jerk,” I said. “Look, it’s right here.” And it was. I hadn’t been prowled upon. Life shifted back almost into normal.
Usually I hate being in the house alone at night and can hardly bear to go to bed. Having Tamar, the black dog, helps a lot, but still I feel vulnerable and paranoid. But that night it was suddenly easy. I turned all the lights out and slept with confidence, and the next day, though I wasn’t at all-systems-go energy, I was much closer to normal, and the frozen muscle had almost completely unclenched.