Thisbe Nissen: Tour Diary
Preliminaries - Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4 - Day 5 - Day 6 -
Day 7 - Day 8 - Day 9 - Day 10 - Day 11 -Day 12 - Day 13 - Day 14 - Day 15 -
Day 16 - Day 17 - Day 18 - Day 19 - Day 20 - Day 21 - Day 22 -
Day 23 - Day 24 - Day 25 - Day 26 - Day 27 - Day 28 - Day 29 - Home Diary -
July 25 -
Day 23: Sonoma to Santa Cruz
Sonoma. A phone interview with Marta Salij, from the Detroit Free Press (the
pregnant woman at my table at BEA). We too get to talk baby names. Hers,
like Jenny's, is a girl. She likes Thalia and Helena. She tells me of a
new book out from Penguin of Classical Baby Names. She says it lists
"Thisbe," which is my test for how good a baby name book it is. It goes on
my list of Books To Buy.
We take Highway 1 down the coast to Santa Cruz, stopping at the beach on the
way to sit and look over the Pacific, sand blowing up our shorts. I get all
turned around direction-wise as we get into Santa Cruz. I lived here for a
semester during college, soon enough after the '89 earthquake that downtown
was pretty much an excavation pit while I was here. Now it's snazzy, glitzy
shops. Chris says it looks like Miami. A little scary. Our directions to
the hotel point us to Soquel Avenue, and I know Soquel Avenue -- I used to
live on Soquel Avenue. But nothing looks right and we keep turning around,
going back and forth on Soquel, searching for the turnoff. For some reason
I'm convinced that our hotel -- the Chaminade -- is going to be a little
Victorian downtown with four rooms within walking distance to the bookstore.
When we finally get on the right track to follow our MapQuest directions, it
turns out the Chaminade is actually a luxury industrial complex on the edge
of town. By the time we get in I am close to tears. This place approaches
my vision of hell. Outside our window is a faux beach volleyball station.
Everyone walking around looks like they won a weekend here on Wheel of
Fortune. It's horrifying. Why are we not at Motel 6? I thought the deal
was that I got to bring my boyfriend with me and in exchange we'd stay at
Travelodge... why are we here? I feel that sinking loneliness again, that I
am just not cut out for this world. Everyone says: just enjoy it, Thisbe.
But I can't. It's not enjoyable. It all just seems like such a waste.
Next time I'm going to stay at the damn Motel 6 whether Knopf approves or not. I just can't handle this. I feel like I'm at Disney world. I feel like I can't breathe. I feel like Santa Cruz is nothing like I remembered it. I wish I were at home.
Chris makes sure we get away from the hotel as soon as possible, so we head
downtown to the bookstore. Also, my computer's modem appears to be shot and
I can't get email or send my tour diary, so I figure I'll ask if I can log
on at the bookstore before the reading. We approach the store and see the
posters advertising tonight's reading. A huge photo of Myla and the cover
of "Bee Season," with blurbs and exaltations. In the lower right hand
corner there's a tiny picture of me, next to which it reads: "Myla's friend
and former Oberlin classmate will also read briefly from her new novel." I
feel the worst sinking feeling, I don't even want to go inside. Why doesn't anyone tell me these things ahead of time? I would have
found a shorter section to read.
As if on cue, a woman approaches me before the reading starts. She says she
just wants to catch me before the crowds descend to tell me how much she
loved my book. "I've given it to everyone," she says. "It's beautiful, it's
just the most wonderful thing." I thank her, gratefully. I tell her how
much it means to me, how I've been feeling pretty demoralized. She shakes
her head, no, "You mustn't feel like that." She goes on, she wants to tell
me why she loves my book so much. I begin to wonder if she means the stories
or the novel, but I don't really have time to ask. She says that what she
loved so much was how nonjudgmental I am, how caring I am for all my
characters, all different sorts of people, the Hare Krishnas, the... "You
know what?" I tell her, "You think I'm somebody else."
She peers at me questioningly. "I'm not Myla," I tell her. "I'm reading
tonight with her, but I'll pass all your kudos on to her, I promise." She
feels terribly awkward; I just feel terrible.
But I put on a good face and go through with it and honestly, it all turns
out really nicely after all. Lisa (Miya-Jervis, my close friend from
Oberlin, and founder and editor of BITCH magazine, co-editor of the recently
released book "Young Wives Tales") and her husband, Christopher, are here,
and that cheers me to no end, to see them. Then Kendall, one of my students
from the Iowa Young Writers' Studio last summer, is here with her dad, and
it's great to see Kendall again. Suddenly everyone I never knew in Santa
Cruz is showing up! Lilith, my housemate from when I lived here, just
happens to be in town visiting, and she's here with her folks. Walker, the
leader of the wilderness course I came out here to do in '92, who is in the
field more often than not, and who I hardly expected to actually see --
Walker shows up too! He heads back into the backcountry tomorrow morning!
Then, as I'm reading, I spot Karima out in the audience -- Karima, who used
to work at Prairie Lights in Iowa City and then moved to LA a couple years
ago. She's got two friends with her who it turns out she dragged up from LA
just for the reading! I hug her about 84 times in thanks. My whole
horrible mood is turning around, and suddenly I feel loved, like I'm among
friends, because suddenly I am.
The reading itself goes really well. During our Q & A afterwards someone
refers to Myla and my having been roommates at Oberlin. It's like watching
a game of telephone take place right before your eyes. You tell someone you
went to college together and suddenly you were roommates for 4 years.
Amazing. We sell a whole bunch of books, I think. It feels good. It is sad
to have to say goodbye to Myla at the end, as this is our last one together.
It's been really nice getting to share her readings, and getting to hang out
with her, a bit, at least. We make promises to hang out next time Chris and
I are in NY, meet her husband Jason, and all. She goes and finds Chris to
give him a hug goodbye, and I feel very touched by this. And then we're
heading out for some dinner with Chris and Lisa and Christopher and Karima
and Jason and Ashley. We go to the Saturn cafe, and I am grateful to be in a
town where you can get a decaf soy chai at any hour of the day or night. I
very nearly fall asleep at the table.