I’m over in the States for the Windham-Campbell festival at Yale (Knausgaard!) and the Brooklyn Book Festival (Philip Lopate! Elif Batuman! Ann Powers! (whose Good Booty I’ve just started reading, on Fergus B’s recommendation, and it’s GREAT)). I’m here a few days early, so I’ve been wandering around mostly failing to get my bearings so am just looking at things: the beautiful buildings (some of which look incredibly like decorative hats), streets that look like healthy green salads, a variety of small dogs, slow-moving professor-types, young men with lustrous hair walking with their hands held behind their backs. My overwhelming impression is: many people here are very, very clean and ironed-looking, like they’ve just hopped down off a clothes hanger. Even the air feels tumble-dried. I’m conscious that I’m kinda scruffy, still bloodshot-eyed and shiny-foreheaded from jetlag, and alternately I’m dripping with sweat or the sweat is drying out into a thin, salty crust. (It’s not massively hot, it’s a kind of close warmth: but also I’m a stress sweater. When I feel it coming on, there’s nothing to do but brace for the wave.) In an effort to tidy myself up a bit I went into a cosmetics store today and the lovely woman at the counter tried to put some makeup on me but like the octopus vanishing in a smokescreen of ink my face abruptly disappeared in a cloud of sweat. So. All of the Windham-Campbell writers are having our photos taken on Wednesday, in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (!!) and I’m not sure how that will go.
One of the side effects of the long-haul flight was this freakish auditory hallucination: I could swear I was hearing death metal all through the flight, and for a long while afterwards. It was very detailed death metal: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge; backing vocals, intricate riffs, drum solos, guttural screaming. I’ve never had this before. It’s pretty much faded out now, but every so often I’ll hear it trying to resurrect itself again. Could it just be tinnitus? Could this just be what tinnitus sounds like in the United States? I’ve heard of people having ‘musical ear syndrome’ but they hear opera or classical music. Not death metal.
I have a bunch of public events to do this week – here is one of them. And others here. And, I mean, holy heck: I’m tired of hearing myself complain about this, but I’m kind of terrified. The past couple of days have reminded me of my deep-set shyness and flailing nervousness – I’d thought they were somewhat under control, but they’d been lying there dormant this whole time! It’s like I’ve woken up into a room full of ancient cicadas that have dug themselves up and are now rasping their heads off to make up for lost time. And it’s funny how every time I go out to explore some new bit of the city – East Rock, today, which looked completely like somewhere I’d expect Dean Koontz’s Outsider (half ape, half bear) to come blasting out of some bushes – I feel immensely pleased with myself for gathering up the courage. The courage just to WALK AROUND. (Regular readers of this blog will know that the Outsider is my preferred childhood monster.)
But: one of the other writers here will be the poet Ali Cobby Eckermann, who was profiled in the NYT this weekend in a terrific piece by Charlotte Graham. I can’t wait to meet her.
Some inconsequential pics (they will hopefully get more interesting over the next few days, when I’ll be actually, y’know, meeting more people and forcing myself to go to parties.)