Last night I had a dream about Michael Cunningham. He was giving a writing workshop in some small, gloomy city and I wanted desperately to be part of it, to see if he remembered me from the P-town workshop I took with him 11 years ago, to impress him with my extraordinary writing and my brilliant banter. But the workshop was closed. Like a Lady GaGa concert, it filled up 5 minutes after it was offered.
There was more to the dream. I crashed the workshop and had to sit in a tiny elementary school desk, the kind with the seat attached to a manilla-colored rectangle top. There was something about a pair of aviator reading glasses on his desk, some perfectly folded men’s white briefs, a lot of randomly placed wooden cutouts of zoo animals. Everyone was using vocabulary that sounded like it came from a GRE study guide. I felt completely out of place and inferior.
Aside from the obvious interpretations (over my head in this writing thing, fraud, inexperienced, getting too old for this, etc.), this dream got me to thinking about writers. About how we look for other writers to love us. And how we emulate and worship certain writers like other people emulate and worship movie stars.
I actually did take a workshop with Michael Cunningham, and it was amazing. He was late for the kick-off meeting of a week-long summer session at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. When he finally walked through the door, interrupting some spiel about where we had to go for lunch, he took my breath away. He had on a simple pair of faded jeans and a bleached white t-shirt. I swear he was barefoot but maybe I made that up. He is a tall man, and his face was tanned, with hair windswept in gorgeous dark waves, high chiseled cheekbones, eyes full of mischief and attitude. When he smiled I’m pretty sure their was a collective gasp in the room. He had just come back from the movie set of The Hours, watching Nicole Kidman transform to Virginia Wolf through the power of Hollywood. I hung on every story, every arch of an eyebrow, every thoughtful piece of advice or feedback. I loved him so.
It doesn’t matter that he is a gay man and I am a lesbian because the reality behind all our obsessions with Hollywood or literary stars is, well, not real. From the moment I read “White Angel” I was smitten. He is inspiration and aspiration and even at times a little perspiration. And I want to know everything. What does he wear when he writes? When does he write and how often? What was it like to win the Pulitzer, be published in the New Yorker, meet Oprah? Does he drink tea or coffee? Does he eat red meat, cheese puffs, quinoa? Who does he hang out with? What does he do about writers block? Who is his favorite writer? Who broke his heart? Does he watch the Cooking Channel? Is there a quote pinned over his desk that pushes him on in dreary times? Has he ever dressed in drag?
I bet I could start a magazine about literary stars. Amy Bloom’s workout secrets, what really scares Stephen King, Eudora Welty’s secret addiction to Mint Juleps, Toni Morrison writes a Vampire book under pen name Tina Mire, Joyce Carol Oates is really 3 people, Geraldo Rivera uncovers Harper Lee’s sequel, To Kill A Mocking Bird II, Oscar Wilde wasn’t really gay …you get the idea. I think I could make a fortune and get to meet a lot of really cool writers.
Because I can’t be alone in this. Some of you must get it. Who are your literary stars?
And what do you think the perfectly folded men’s white briefs means?