50 Stories, Week 20: Heartbreaking Folly

Badlands at sunset. Photo has nothing to do with my story this week!

The classroom behind the pirate shop was incredibly stuffy and hot, but I didn’t care because tonight I was going to meet the man behind the Memoir.

I had never before considered the possibility of writing a memoir. I am, after all, only 34 years old. I believe memoir writers are old, crotchety people who couldn’t manage to get it together to write before they were on their deathbeds. No, I was not going to be one of those people. I began wondering if I actually had a story that needed to be told. I remembered seeing an autobiography of Joan Collins when I was young and I thought to myself… I’m no Joan Collins. Thank god. But after recently acquiring a therapist and trudging through my past, I considered the memoir a true possibility. My therapist thinks I’m funny and that I have such interesting anecdotes about my upbringing. “Surely,” she said, “you’ll write a wonderful book.” She can’t wait to read it. 

I love my therapist. Even if I pay her to love me. 

Part of last week’s therapy ‘homework’ was to engage in an activity that would inspire me to write. I found myself searching the internet for Bay Area writing groups. There are plenty, but none sounded right, none fit who I am. They all sounded too…I don’t know, wordy. “Do YOU want to be a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist?!” “Are YOU the next Stephen King?” and so on. And then I stumbled across 826 Valencia. Hallelujah, there exists a pirate shop and literary project  in one. If you’ve never been to a pirate shop, you absolutely must go. They have lard. And eye patches. And a big vat of sand with buried treasures for the littlest of pirates. And nooses, and peg legs and most glorious of all…a publishing house in the back. Dave Eggers started this pirate shop/publishing house/writing oasis for teenagers and adults alike. Dave Eggers. Dave Eggers. Dave Eggers whose Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius book stumped me, forced me to comb through the fine print, got my mind racing with wild tales of my own. OK, maybe not wild, but tales nonetheless. If he could write up his experience, bind it, put a pretty cover on it, and make money off of it – so could I. This was the first memoir class he was offering. It was like a sign from above. So, I coughed up the $100 registration fee and waited impatiently for two weeks to pass until I could meet The Man. 

The funny thing about having expectations is that no one or no thing will possibly meet them the way you have set it up in your mind. Expectations are for people who thrive on disappointment. And although I hadn’t previously considered myself one of those people, that night I found out I was. It turned out that The Man was The Moderator, not the speaker. He was not going to wax poetic about his struggle to put pen to paper. He was not going to cry on my shoulder about the pain he suffered while exploring his grief through his gift of writing. He was not going to look deeply into my eyes and see his soulmate. 

No. He was going to provide discussion material for the other three memoir writers on the panel and the literary agent he’d wrangled to speak on behalf of the publishing world. Boring.

So, I waited until the class was over to make my move. He was shaking hands with everyone, saying goodbyes and thank yous. I hid behind a wall of nooses and observed this fascinating man. He is humble, but passionate. Quick thinking, honest, and sexy in a boyish way…obviously my husband-in-waiting. As he was shaking a hand and emphatically nodding his head in agreement about something….I made my move. 


Apparently, I wasn’t speaking loudly enough, because he didn’t look at me and continued his conversation with the previous hand shaker. 

“Ahem. Hello.”

He looked at me. He looked at me longer than was necessary. I think he was gazing, actually. But then the guy he was talking to just kept talking, so I was forced to take action.

I thrust my hand into his. “Hi, Dave. I’m Christine O’Donnell. We have a mutual friend in common. Kent Nicholson.” He was staring at me, but I began to think it wasn’t with desire to know me deep within, it was possible that I was annoying him. I persevered.

“Kent Nicholson. The man who directed your play at IA.”

“Oh, yes. Kent. He’s great, isn’t he?” And to the Hand Shaker, “Yes, thanks again for coming. Bye now.” And back to me, “Did you enjoy the class?”

Well, what do I say to that? 

“No, actually, I was hoping for something more intimate. I wanted one on one time with you. I thought that’s what I was paying for.”

That’s what I meant to say. But instead I said, “Yes, it was very informative.” Informative. Could I be more uninteresting?

“That was the intention. I’m glad it was helpful.” 

Uncomfortable silence. His eyes started searching the room. Why can’t I say something? What has happened to the inability to keep my mouth shut, especially in awkward situations?

“Well, thanks for coming. If you’ll excuse me…”

And he’s gone. The Man is gone, while I’m left standing in front of a wall of peg legs and a bucket of lard. I tell myself to remember this moment. I may need to write about it one day.


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Writer Traveler Human Being

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