Back Bay roofs from the Hynes Convention Center
I attended five panels. Two I left early. Two I would have gladly sat through for another hour, or reconvened. Two I overslept. In a panel titled “Argumentative Fiction,” Marlon James asked why Katie Roiphe discusses only the Davids and Jonathans, and not Junot Diaz, and why she does not compare Portnoy to Yunior. Two panels that I wanted to attend were Friday morning while we shoveled snow and snow fell so fast that in the ten minutes we took to change from our shoveling clothes a quarter inch had covered my car. On the Mass Pike braking was impossible, one lane entirely snowed over. We arrived, parked underground, found the narrowness of our spot and the florist’s truck next to it hilarious.
Westborough, Massachusetts, March 8
I attended two readings in which famous writers were paired. I like thinking that after their words in their voices I am going to revisit and pause over their phrasing for a long time to come. I think I will. If the pairings were meant to have the writers relate their experiences and philosophies to those of the writer paired with them onstage, they did not entirely succeed. One of the mismatches felt like an awkward conversation the audience was awkwardly overhearing. The other felt exemplary, important, frustrating.
The panels I left early were not advertised as readings. The panelists read from their own work. Many of the sentences, in terms of verbs, followed patterns similar to this:
She raised his shirt, rolling a thickening hem and folding the buttons under as she went, carefully, as if preparing it for a laundry basket.
The gerunds—rolling, folding, preparing—convert action into description. The phrases require more time to relate than the act they describe would to complete and the sentence’s single active verb pauses for the description and so the sense of a live scene, of time unfolding, diminishes. Versus:
She raised his shirt. She rolled the hem and folded the buttons. It would be ready to launder.
Or, stacked, the gerunds’ stacking, the simply repeated pattern, becomes momentum:
She raised his shirt, rolling the hem, folding the buttons, readying it to launder.
Several people who greeted me I didn’t at first recognize by sight. Bangs, years, preoccupations. We laughed at that and though it may distance us from now on—and I wonder again if I have some touch of prosopagnosia—I appreciate them all the more for remembering.
In the house where I was staying no one else drank coffee. I remembered thinking, at some point a few years after college, that people who drank tea in the mornings instead of coffee were in some sense not quite serious.
Because I was walking with a friend I felt safe enough on the street after dark to open my laptop and check directions to a reading that was sold out before we arrived. Later, a few blocks away, a man outside a bar said to me the most threatening street-harassing thing I have heard in a decade. On Boylston Street, under the high windows of the Hancock Building, through its downdrafts on Copley Square, hurrying voices convened where boots had tromped the slushy crosswalks clean, and we jaywalked and dispersed.
I hope we run into each other, the poet said. All through the convention hall, people packing wheeled suitcases were barely on time for trains. Four books for twenty dollars, the woman said, in a tone suggesting disapproval for a refusal I had not yet made. I mind less the cost of shipping them, another woman said; it’s that they aren’t sold. In the last hour I bought books at half price that I would have liked as well at full price, but I was able to buy twice as many, as many as I could carry.