I miss being part of the churning, noisy energy of Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, Missouri. I miss being a teacher, a colleague, an employee and a friend. Mostly, I miss these things because I miss telling and listening to stories. At lunch, in the halls, during the five minutes before and after class, we told stories all day long. The building was full of voices and laughter, and man, I loved it. The year since I left for Atlanta to nanny and write has been so…quiet.
So, what a pleasure it was to listen to four raconteurs (and three volunteers of varying degrees of sanity) tell stories all night as part of the Unchained Tour in Charleston last Friday (Sept. 21, 2012). An 11-show, 9-city tour from storytelling group The Moth, the Unchained tour is the brainchild of founder George Dawes Greene. Their mission statement is as follows:
Unchained believes that the art of the raconteur—the telling of unscripted, personal, porch-style stories—is one of the great arts, and that nights of storytelling are vital to any vibrant and healthy community. Our mission is to bring brilliant raconteurs, along with musicians and writers and other artists, to towns large and small across the South—and eventually across the continent. We’ll champion the local and home-grown: independent bookstores, community gardens, performing cafes. We’ll advocate getting offline and off the grid, and wherever we go we’ll celebrate the pleasure and inspiration of raconteuring.
We were treated to five short stories, two sweet-and-tart love stories from Peter Aguero, a story about embracing your identity from Dawn Fraser, a lost-and-found story from Edgar Oliver and an “origin” story about the power of words from Neil Gaiman (see how I included his name just like it was no big deal? That’s me, playing it cool. I’ll get to the squealing and delight over having met him below). There were also three volunteers from the audience given the opportunity to tell one-minute stories. Two of them did just fine, and one (his name was Zane, but we dubbed him Inzane) lead us through the most awkward 60-seconds of our collective lives. George Green came out and introduced the owner of Blue Bicycle Book Store in Charleston, encouraging the audience to purchase real books, from local sellers instead of chains (hence, Unchained). Rachel Kate and Josh T. Hamilton provided a couple of songs and were absolutely fantastic singers. We even ran into a fellow dressed as the 11th Doctor outside (which I can only assume has something to do with the fact that Neil Gaiman wrote an episode of Doctor Who last season titled The Doctor’s Wife.)
All in all, it was a nice night spent in support of a nice cause. The stories were funny, the music good and the crowd attentive.
Now, I am going to tell you the story of how Bex and I met Neil Gaiman and how we almost, but didn’t quite meet Bill Murray. I’m pretty proud of myself for holding my shit together this long, and I’m going to try to keep it together just a bit longer before I fan-girl the f**k out at the end.
Each city of the Unchained tour has a group of volunteers organized to feed the performers and crew before the show. Bex and her husband have ties through Jeff’s band, the V-Tones of Charleston, to those who hosted the pot-luck dinner in Charelston. With a delicious squash/quinoa dish in hand for the guests and a hand-made puzzle-box and bottle of tequila for the hosts, the three of us arrived calm, cool and collected. Bex and I immediately downed a beer to steady our nerves and repeated the mantra “Stay Cool. Stay Cool,” a dozen times. We had a plan – don’t bother him. Don’t ask for anything. Don’t stare. Don’t turn red and fall over. Actually, I guess we had an anti-plan – we knew what not to do, but not really what TO do.
Luckily, Neil Gaiman knew exactly what to do: just be a normal dude. Talk to the tiny, adorable woman in front of you who is squealing on the inside (that’s Bex) like she is a normal person and, voila!, she will be a normal person. Talk to her friend in four-inch heels more appropriate for the opera than a pot-luck dinner (that’s me) as if she doesn’t want to throw up and she will calm down enough to, you know, not vomit on you. Brilliant!
I knew we were in for a treat when I came out of the bathroom to see Bex and Neil in an (entirely appropriate) embrace. (“He hugged me!” she would later tell me. “And he’s really, really good at it. Neil’s a hugger.”) She waved me over quickly and over I came, remarkably steady on those damn heels. “You must be the other good girl who has gone geek,” he said. From there, provided you ignore the fact that I used the phrase “did us a solid” when thanking him for promoting our Sandman re-read last year, it was a perfectly pleasant, normal conversation. I quickly stopped being a nervous, jumpy fan-girl and became someone who was just really happy to be talking to Neil Gaiman, answering questions he had for us about our site. All this, with a calm that allowed me enjoy the moment. See, the thing is, it’s pretty clear that he was actually interested in what we had to say. So, we forgot to be nervous about things. It was so nice. He then said something like, “Do you have anything here you’d like me to scribble on?” and Bex went out to her car to get a book for him, while I left him alone to talk to other people. He signed Bex’s Graveyard Bookwith the inscription pictured below – both charming and a little “Um…yikes.” Feeling comfortable enough to ask for the favor of a picture with him, not only did he agree, but he called over the official tour photographer and had him take some pictures too.
It was while the pictures were being taken, with him in the middle and Bex and I wearing matching “Santa is REAL!” smiles, that I began to feel a little overwhelmed. I was 19 when I bought Preludes and Nocturnes at a small comic-shop in Iowa City. That was 19 years ago. So, Neil Gaiman has been in my consciousness for half my life. Now, he was in my actual, physical space and it was powerful.
Thankfully, that was that. Before I could get overwhelmed, it was time to go downtown for the show.
Two days later, Gaiman sent a Tweet saying that one of the highlights of South Carolina was meeting us, and included a link to our site. We responded that the feeling was mutual and that we were just glad we didn’t fall over. Then, I kid you not, he sent this:
This is where I fan-girl out: NEIL GAIMAN THINKS WE ARE WONDERFUL AND FUNNY!!! I’m pretty sure I have friends who would only give me one or the other on any given day, so cheers to that.
That concludes the Neil Gaiman portion of our story, but you better believe that it is playing on repeat in our hearts.
I know I promised to talk about how we almost met Bill Murray at the fancy-shmancy Party for the Parks in Charleston the next night, too, but the rest of this post has taken it out of me, so let me sum up quickly. We spent Saturday surrounded by really well-dressed people at Colonial Lake in Charleston, eating delicious free food and drinking approximately a baker’s dozen drinks between us. We also apparently were engaged in a Noises-Off-type cat and mouse game we didn’t know we were playing with Mr. Murray. Every one we talked to said, “Hey, did you see Bill Murray? He just walked by.” We certainly would have loved to have seen him, although I doubt we would have approached him. It wasn’t in the cards, but that’s OK too. We had enough excitement for one week the night before and soaked up the fun knowing that just like Unchained, our joy and enjoyment were all part of a good cause.
Later that evening, we took a pedicab to Big John’s Tavern to see Bex’s husband play with his band and rode home blissfully exhausted at 2am. (Anyone who knows me knows I’m generally on my third dream by 11pm, so being out until 2am is a clear indicator of how fun Bex is). Given that there are entire years in which Bex and I are never once in the same state, getting to see each other again less than month after DragonCon was fantastic. Here’s to more of the same in the near future.
You can read Bex’s version of events here.
Stuff we geek out about…
- A Little Something for the Fellas (2)
- A Little Something for the Ladies (9)
- Avengers Boot Camp (9)
- Before the Movie – Trailers (13)
- Editorials and Reviews (135)
- Interviews (19)
- Miscellaneous Geekery (48)
- Nostalgia (17)
- Sandman Re-Read (11)
- Three Favorite Things (4)
What we JUST said…
- All the Posts I Meant to Write this Month, Abridged
- Hemlock Grove-A New Guilty Pleasure
- Deborah Harkness and A Discovery of Witches
- Syfy’s Defiance- Hope They Didn’t Blow the Budget on a Song
- Cover Reveal for the New Liz Long Novel Witch Hearts
- From Gen-X, To Chris Hardwick With Love
- Before the Movie: G.I. Joe Retaliation