Earlier this month, I sat on my bed with my laptop, contemplating purchasing a ticket to yet another book event. Only this was not any ordinary book event. It was a release party for Tiny Beautiful Things, hosted by TheRumpus.net. I knew I had to go. So I plunked down my virtual $15, and tried to contain my excitement for about three weeks.
As I headed to San Francisco from my home, I was excited…but also nervous. I don’t really know why. In the months between February and early July, I had become better acquainted with The Rumpus, but I had yet to take up the mantle completely and “waste time better”. I felt a bit like a fraud as I drove into the city. I felt like if I did manage to meet up with Isaac Fitzgerald (managing editor, with whom I had a brief email exchange earlier in the day), I wouldn’t know what to say. I wanted to sound like I belonged there – a long time reader and brilliant writer, et cetera. But of course, I’m not a long time reader of The Rumpus. I am a writer, but brilliant? Not really. I write, that’s it.
Off I went though, fighting the usual traffic, and finding parking near the Verdi Club. I have to say this, finding parking Friday night was disturbingly easy. (Really? I can pull in and there’s NO METER?)
The line for the party stretched around the corner, but I didn’t mind. I walked to the end of the line, took out my iPod, and futzed around with email, Facebook and twitter. The people in line talked among themselves as we slowly filed in. A few minutes went by, and I stepped inside the Verdi. I immediately felt less nervous. There was a man standing in the hallway near the bar area, letting people know that they needed to grab their books from the stack on a table near the wall. I picked one up and headed toward the main room.
The atmosphere was electric, although most of the people had gathered in the bar in the adjoining room; talking, laughing and reading. I took it all in. The main room had been minimally decorated – just a few fake palm trees on the walls, some crêpe paper from the corners of the room joined in the middle at the mirror ball, and The Rumpus banner hung on the back wall above the small stage. Music blared from large speakers at the back of the room. The scene reminded me of a high school dance – in the best way possible.
I said hello to a greeter from The Rumpus, signed up for their event email list on her clipboard, and asked if Isaac was there. She said yes, and pointed to the guy in the hallway directing people to the book area and greeting people. “Just breathe”, I thought. I walked towards him.
I hope that he doesn’t mind me saying this, especially given that I really don’t know him at all, but Isaac is…well…a force of nature. He’s loud and engaging, personable and funny. I was immediately relieved as I said hi and he seemed pleased to see me there. I handed him my blog card, and headed to the bar to get a drink.
I managed to find a seat in the main room next to another woman who was there on her own. We introduced ourselves and chatted for a bit, relieved to have someone to talk to before the festivities got underway. The rows of seats in the room filled up around us in a flash. Before I knew it, Steven Elliot, founder of The Rumpus, took the stage to get the evening started.
First up: The Rumpus Encore Players. Five people filed onstage, and each did a dramatic reading of well-known letters featured in Tiny Beautiful Things. They breathed life into those already moving letters. Some played for laughs (the WTF letter), others were a bit more on the dramatic side (The Beast letter). All were wonderful.
Elissa Bassist then took the stage. She did a reading of an essay she had recently written, called “How to Move to New York” (her answer: “Don’t. Don’t do that”, brought down the house). I wish I had recorded her piece, honestly. It contained lines like “…full of the vulnerability that drives people to the Internet..” and “…pain is a motherfucking beginning…”. It was brilliant and funny.
Local comedian Kevin Camia then performed an all-too-brief set, which was positively awesome. Evidently Stephen Elliot and Issac Fitzgerald had gone to comedy clubs all over San Francisco for weeks on end, trying to find someone to perform at this particular event. Their efforts paid off in a big, big way. If you live in the Bay Area (since I really don’t know how much Kevin tours beyond this area), then you need to check him out. He’s really, really great.
A short performance by the band, Baby and the Lovies closed out the first half of entertainment for the evening. But before they officially broke for intermission, attention was called to the line of typewriters (!!!) on a long table in front of the stage area, and they encouraged people to come up and write a letter to Sugar. They had a plan for those letters, but they didn’t tell the crowd just yet.
Author Yuvi Zalkow presented a video and short talk about his upcoming book “A Brilliant Novel in the Works“. You can check out the video on his website. Believe me, it’s worth watching. I immediately pre-ordered his book when I arrived home Friday evening.
The letters written by the audience during intermission were then used for an “advice-off”, featuring Stephen Elliot and Elissa Bassist as the “Not Sugar Team” and Cheryl Strayed and Isaac Fitzgerald as “Team Sugar”. The “Not Sugar” team was hell-bent on giving the worst possible advice…EVER. And the Sugar team…well…it was Sugar. Isaac let Cheryl shine…and shine she did. As eloquent as on the page, even when on the spot in front of a crowd. It was remarkable to see.
The Rumpus saved the best for the final reading. I don’t know if Cheryl knew they were going to do this – but it hardly matters. The evening closed with a “world première” performance of Elissa Bassist reading her remarkable letter to Cheryl “Sugar”…and Cheryl reading her response to Elissa. I couldn’t help myself, I recorded the entire exchange. It was better than reading that letter which elicited the response of “write like a motherfucker”. The room was riveted, only making a sound to laugh at certain points (like with Elissa’s hand gesture to illustrate writing about her “vagina as metaphor”). It was the perfect end.
All in all, I had a wonderful time. It was inspiring to be in the company of such talented people, and be part of such a great night. Many thanks to Isaac, who provided the Rumpus logo for me to use in this blog post, and for being so kind to me on Friday. I look forward to attending more Rumpus events in the future.