By Bianca Alu-Marr
Last night I went with my husband Taylor to the Tower Theater in Philadelphia to see Neil Gaiman speak, read and answer questions from the audience. I’ve admired Mr. Gaiman for a very long time. Because of his wonderful way of paring magic and realism, and especially because he writes across so many genres, and fantastically so. Novels, comic books, poetry, short stories, T.V. scripts and speeches, he does it all. As a writer, who also doesn’t feel limited to writing in just one way, I wanted to hear him in his own voice talking about his process, and to see what he’s like in person.
A basket for people to put questions for Mr. Gaiman in, that you wrote on an index card, was on an unassuming table to the left as you walked into the theater. I excitedly dashed down the one question that plagues me the most as a writer. We found into our seats, which proved to be rather far from the stage, and I squirmed and bit Taylor’s arm in excitement as Mr. Gaiman walked across the stage to the microphone. Wearing his signature all black, with is long curly salt and pepper hair, there was no doubt who he was. You know how meeting your idols is usually disappointing, or surprising, but never exactly how you picture it to be? Well, this was not one of those times.
A soft, wonderful British accent washed over the crowd in gentle waves, embracing all with care and consideration, and carefully hand crafted words. He said, he loves to write with fountain pens, and his favorite book is a huge empty volume he found in a dusty corner of a little bookshop waiting for him to find the story that fits inside. He tried to write a Neverwhere short story in a handmade journal that a fan made him, but the rose petals infused in the paper clogged up his fountain pen. He could tell that women who brought weathered volumes of Coraline with them to his most recent book signing tour need a hug so he offered them one, and they whispered in his ear how Coraline’s bravery got them through rough childhoods. He used his own children as influences for his childrens books, and later tested the results on them to gauge if the stories were too scary for kids.
I listened to him speak about writing and his never ending passion for it; when he’s depressed the solution is writing, advice to an 11 year old who wants to write is to write until it’s good and never get discouraged, finish stories even if the ending is terrible. And finally my question came out of his mouth, “How do you figure out how to finish your stories,” (my biggest problem as a writer). His answer essentially was that he constantly processes and thinks and daydreams about his story even when people are talking to him and he’s pretending to listen, until he discovers the solution.
He read his final piece which was a poem to his unborn child with Amanda Palmer, due in four months. I closed my eyes, so I could just listen to his voice. Tears spontaneously rolled down my face. There was no agony in the tears, no scrunched eyes or heavy heart. Just tears. They fell because my soul was confirmed in witnessing that such a man could be real. A man who lives, breathes, and drinks writing. Who still wears all black and goes to dusty bookstores. A man who sees the magic in the ordinary, who’s weird in a certain way. A way that my soul knows very well.
It’s genetic you see. My mother infused the love of books and art, and creativity in me from a young age. Mr.Gaiman’s love of fountain pens, unique empty journals and hole in the wall bookstores reminded me of her love of art supplies, first edition books and Sharpies. My father majored in English, and loves Robert Frost. Neil Gaiman is our people.
And more specifically, although I walk in varied circles of people, and I appreciate the facets of all of them, I never feel like I belong in any of them. The closest I came was a weekly open mike I was part of for 5 years where myself, and others could go and be inspired by one another. After that ended, I was back to being a single entity, connecting as deeply as I could with others, but always shoving my shape into the others shape, not quite fitting all the way. As I get older, I’ve accepted it and feel that it’s ok to be me. But it is lonely at times. And listening to Neil Gaiman, it confirms which category of human I belong in. I’m a writer. Weird, quirky, daydreamer who drinks in life with a straw, and spits it onto paper.