Earnestness Wears a Jacket Without a Tie

David Mitchell is a terribly charming man. He was so kindly and patient, with me, with my husband, with all the lame little things I said and—most joyfully—with the exchange of information I so dearly wanted to set up in a handful of words, the recognition between stammerer and stammerer, quietly so (no I did not bring Black Swan Green for signing; I brought Ghostwritten and HB brought, of his own volition, Cloud Atlas), and he was every bit as grandly endearing—such a thing exists—as I could have wished he would be, for HB.

I say “terribly,” though, intentionally. The other day I dreamed that as the town’s attaché I was tasked with calling him and giving him a list of bar recommendations. How mortifying to wake up to! I pride myself on being the distant, respectful, non-creepy fan, who would never grab someone recognized on the street and demand a chummy photo, or corner the person in order to wax poetic on how I and only I am capable of understanding the deepest meaning of this or that work of theirs. I take my cues on this from my dad, who has encountered any number of esteemed individuals with quiet dignity, making a fool neither of them or of himself. And then for my subconscious to fill me with such glee at being charge of—of all things—a list of local bars! I protest, subconscious. Strongly.

Anyway, he is probably the most enjoyable lecturing author I’ve listened to, and I was pleased that his last lecture fell today, at the start of NaNoWriMo. Listening to him I realized too, independent of his accent and warmth and humor, that it has been ages (far too long!) since I’ve been able to listen to someone talking that way—I was trying to figure out how to word it but I think it has to do with him talking about the insides of people, how they work and why, with the unstated understanding that what he was saying was completely subjective and that he was claiming no universal, factual truth; only imparting what he’d learned about himself to try and help others learn about themselves.

Do not snicker! Academia is about bludgeoning people with your chosen version of the truth (even if your version is that there is a multiplicity of truths) and punishing them if they do not swallow it. I have become used to listening to people with an eye for either chinks in their armor, if I disagree with them, or footholds up to their ivory tower, if I like them and they’ll let me in. But to be talked to by someone who, in every sentiment and self-professed conviction, was still only learning, and said so, and held nothing against you (or at least made it pretty clear he wouldn’t if he had the opportunity) if you weren’t on the same page, so to speak…it was fantastic. Warm.

It’s not about talking about writing—his introducer the first night did that and he made all the pretentious, arrogant assertions I am used to hearing. It’s not the content, then, but how he gave it to us. “It’s not just about the how but how the how transfigures the what,” he said at one point. And: “It’s one of the greatest miracles I know of, how these squiggly little black lines on a page or a Kindle screen can make your heart beat faster, can make you snort with laughter or maybe throb a little with lust.”

Someone using the word miracle earnestly, unapologetically, and meaning it? God damn. Please just keep talking all night. I have a long list of alcohol-serving establishments if this place closes up shop.


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