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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 - July 26

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.