Saturday, August 25, 2012


I must confide.

About a week ago, I discovered that one of my favorite authors had been hired on as a proffie here at my school. He wasn't here four years ago. He's here now. I don't know when he started.

It's been twenty years since I first read one of his books. Then I read another. And so on (although, until a few days ago, I hadn't picked up one of his books in years). Let's say one of the books was Old Yeller. Only a heartless bastard could read that book without shedding a tear. Moreover, as it turns out, I had figuratively adopted a similar dog when I was younger and had had to "put her to sleep" myself. There are other reasons I feel connected to this author, too.

So he is a real human being, a good writer, someone with whom I feel connected in various ways, and he even has the office that for a long time was occupied by a friend of mine.

I want to drop by the author's office and introduce myself without seeming to admire him too much. I don't want to come across as a stalker. I don't want to blush and gush and drool.

But I also want to go tell this author, "Hey, do you know that you're occupying the former office of a legend? Do you appreciate that his books were on those shelves, that his son's photo was in a frame right there, that his strange old lamp was there, and that he didn't smell as funny as you do? Are you even capable of knowing how many people adored him? Are you going to have the decency to invite me over for dinner like he did?"

Ten days ago, this author was an abstraction. Probably lived in New York, for all I knew. Now, I realize I've been walking by his building for years. I probably have walked right by him without even knowing it.

I just don't want to meet him and have him turn out to be an asshole in real life. He's not a hamster furologist. And I'm not as big a name as he is. Frankly, I don't know if he's that big himself--and perhaps that's why I hadn't become aware that he was here.

But I admire his work and I so desperately want for him to be a decent person.

I feel like I'm in high school. I don't know what to do. Should I avoid him and simply continue to know him through his books? That way, I could continue to think of him as a really swell human being. I haven't made a new friend in a while; I trust the old ones. I'm so exhausted with the beginning of the semester. I can't even write about this without being confused and sounding inept. I wonder if I should drop by his office. I wonder if I'll be disillusioned. I wonder if he'll fail to hold me in esteem.

I wonder if he's a kind person.


  1. Well, I've been around writers for a long time, and I have to tell you that in my experience writers--with some notable exeptions--are crazy, self-centered bungholes. I went to grad school with a variety of famous writers and tons of students getting MFAs. Nuts. All nuts. Bunghole nuts. So you needn't worry about seeming to be a kissass--they actually love it if you shove your head right up their butt and start spelunking.

    So, if you want to be his friend, just go over there and say:

    "Hey, my name is Bubba. I've been an admirer of your work for a couple of decades, and it's a real kick to have you as a colleague. Can I buy you a drink sometime?"

    He'll love you. Just don't blame me if all you ever talk about is him, and the drinks are all on you.

  2. It sucks whenever you meet one of your idols, and the person turns out to be a jerk. Einstein had this unpleasant experience when he met Ernst Mach. Not only did Mach think that Einstein was completely wrong about space and time, for reasons that were clearly poorly though out and little more than base prejudices, but Mach also turned out to be anti-Semitic, and was gratuitously nasty to Einstein since Einstein was Jewish.

    I've had at least one similar experience. I've also more than once had the opposite experience, the pleasure of finding out that the idol is indeed a fine person in real life. If the idol also turns out to be a sexy babe, it's all I can do not to drool.

    I've also had at least one in-between experience. The idol was kind and at least mildly intellectually interesting, but he turned out to be a disorganized, absent-minded dunderhead, since he completely forgot about a talk we'd asked him to give. When someone reminded him at the last minute, he wandered in and ad-libbed the whole thing, not good in a technical field like quantum cosmology.

    So, how can you know how it will go, in advance? My experience is that you can't. You might ask around, but colleagues' opinions may not be reliable, particularly if the idol has an aura that can distort reality, like the one Steve Jobs had.

    Since your idol is on the faculty, he must hold office hours, right? Look them up, or if necessary call his department and ask. Then, bring your copies of your idol's books to his office hours, and ask him to sign them. I've done this numerous times, and they're usually very flattered. If the idol then immediately wants to have sex with you, you're on your own, Bubba, but I trust you're old enough to make your own decisions.

    1. P.S. Freeman Dyson never tires of pointing out to visitors that he got Einstein's office, and neither does the anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History who got Margaret Meade's office.

    2. I think you have the right of it, Frod.

      Just wanted to add in, Bubba, that if your idol does want to immediately jump your bones, do it. It's polite, after all.

  3. Hmm. . .the plot seems to be rapidly wandering in the direction of Brokeback Mountain. Maybe it's the horse?

    In my experience, writers vary in character and personality just about as much as everyone else. My grad department had two quite famous ones, one a little more eccentric (and famous for being eccentric) than the other, but both good departmental citizens, and perfectly nice (if somewhat intimidating, just because you knew who they were) people to encounter at a party or dinner. My undergrad department had a famous poet who tended to seduce undergrads (despite having a wife back home in the country he so lyrically evoked in his poetry, and where he lived for all but one semester of the year, which put him in a dorm apartment for those few months, which wasn't ideal), but I'm not sure any English department was considered complete at the time without one of those (and I suspect the type persists, though perhaps now limited to seducing students in other departments, or visiting assistant professors, or something). My present department has quite an array of writers in professorial, student, and contingent faculty roles, and, once again, they vary. Many of the professorial ones who are actively publishing tend to be protective of their time, and so perhaps a bit less visible than other TT faculty, but that's about the only generalization I can make (and it may just be that they're doing things like arranging readings rather than serving in the administrative roles I'm more likely to notice). Once again, they're perfectly nice people to encounter at departmental parties (and have even been known to host said parties).

    So I'd say give it a try, Bubba. Look up his office hours, stroll by to see if he's usually mobbed then, and, if not, take your copies by to be signed, offer him a drink or a coffee (just in case he's not a drinking man), and see what happens. Maybe he'd like to make a friend, too.

  4. So, Bubba, are you going to update this one and tell us the end of the story? Or are you still weighing your options?

    1. @Cassandra: Weighing. Definitely not going to jump bones. Need to emotionally adjust to the idea that the author's a real person working on my campus. Also, the first few weeks of school, I might be too busy. So, weighing....


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