I moderated two panels, which always creates a little anxiety. The moderator should become an aside, the spotlight focused squarely on the writers themselves. So I hope I did well in this regard. Benjamin Hale, I predict, will become a household name. He’s personable and he’s willing to show his vulnerability, commenting openly on the struggles of his childhood and his face blindness (he has a difficult time remembering faces). Most important, his writing is brilliant. I hope he has a memoir in him that he needs to get out. He’s young, so I may have to wait a while. On the Italian cultural panel, Frank Cicero and Jonathan Cavallero were pros, making my task appear effortless. I felt like we were old friends.
I got to spend some time in the audience as well, a calmer experience. Jean Thompson is a patient and compassionate thinker. I wish I’d had her as a teacher. Her newest book is a quiet masterpiece. On her panel was Glenn Taylor, another talented and wildly creative writer, and Dean Bakopoulos. I’d never heard of Bakopoulos, but I bought his book, My American Unhappiness, which I love and can’t praise enough. The book is full of big insights presented in such an intimate manner that you feel as if the narrator is your buddy. Oh yeah, and the book is hilarious, too. My buddy, Billy Lombardo, did his usual excellent job of moderating this panel.
Here are some questions I wanted to ask these writers but did not, mostly because I fear that I’m the only one who thinks this way: When you walk around, are you constantly curious? Do you wonder where the guy in the black t-shirt and tight kerchief around his head is going? Does he punch a clock each weekday? What was he like as a toddler? Or how about that girl with the high boots in 90 degree heat? Are those the only shoes she owns? And if you do watch others and wonder, do you feel slightly detached and a little omniscient? (Is it possible to be a little omniscient?) Do you wonder if there are others watching you as well, if they’re directing your life in their heads? And does watching these people make you a trace sad because you’ll never quite know the answers to your questions? And is that why you write, so that you can satisfy your own curiosity about what goes on behind people’s doors? To feel some connection?
Here’s one really stupid example. I was coming home this morning from a coffee run and saw a sign: “Our church is prayer conditioned.” I wanted to know: do pastors subscribe to some newsletter that suggest various lines to post on the marquis? Or does the pastor stay up nights, alone, thinking of such witticisms? Does he bounce his ideas off anyone before sending some parishioner out there to construct the line, one letter at a time? Or is there someone who’s assigned and paid to decorate the sign? Is there someone behind me on his own coffee run who sees the same sign and groans at the pun?
Am I the only one who thinks like this?