Monday, March 14, 2011
When the Journey Begins
I talked about you all weekend at the Tucson Book Festival. It was the first time I appeared in public with my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, except for my book signings. This was a big venue - the fourth largest book festival in the U.S. I had a booth all to myself, next to the CareMore Unit with a group of the most fun guys (they took blood pressure and established glucose levels) and a couple of ragtag men left over from the Stanley and Livingston scientific expedition in the Congo. I didn't quite get what kind of books they were selling but I loved their authentic costumes.
My booth was bare with just a table and a chair. But they had put a sign above the booth with the title of my book. I loved that sign. I had no cover for my ugly table so I went hunting for a table cloth. As I weaved my way around the booths that were setting up at 7:30 Saturday morning, I saw in the distance the end of a sign above a booth: Venice, CA. I got terribly excited and ran over to the booth to meet a fellow yogi from Santa Monica who wrote children's books. It was an incredible beginning to my two day adventure. Etan was a light that shone bright during the weekend. While were talking, a very nice man came by wheeling his boxes of books. He told us that for some political reasons he lost his booth. Something about a conflict with other people who were selling cookbooks, and he wondered if Etan wanted to share his booth. His cookbook was a visual feast of mouthwatering pies.
Here was a moment out of so many memorable moments that touched my heart. There was a silent pause as I waited for Etan's response. Etan wrote a series of children's books that were sensational and he had energy and salesmanship that rocked the festival. Etan was thinking.
He worked mostly alone, but I was a newbie an I didn't know the territory or the politics of book festivals.
"Let me think about it," Etan said. "Come back in a few minutes."
Stan, the baker of pies, was totally cool. He smiled and walked away with dignity. Etan and I continued to talk about yoga and I bought a few of his children's books for my grandsons. And then Stan came back to us. Etan looked up as he approached. I was just about to tell Stan that I'd be glad to have company in my booth. It seemed awful bare in there. Then Etan said it was fine if he took the corner table. In a way, I was disappointed because I felt I wanted to be generous, but Etan looked happy and so did Stan. So all was good.
I asked Stan if he had an extra table cloth. He gave me some blue plastic, and I went on my merry way to my empty booth. I gazed at my box of books with tape still across the top and decided to set the books on a table. The morning sun was heating up and bearing down forcefully on our row of booths. Out of some nervousness, I kept futzing with the arrangment of books because I had no signage, no flowers, no decorations. I took out my IHome speakers and played tango music. The day was beginning.
I met one of my neighbors. Penny published books and she was a competent and confident single woman who had an incredible handle on the publishing business. She became one of the most important people I met during the weekend. And there were many women who came up to me to introduce themselves and to take me by the hand to other people at the festival who were going to play a significant role in my future goals.
And the books sold, and the people came up to talk to me about the boomer generation, what was it like to live during the beatnik generation in San Francisco during the early 60s. There was dialogue about existentialism, Sartre, Camus, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Vietnam, the greed, hubris, and total disregard for those who were hurt by the U.S. financial markets. They were also very concerned about the lack of urgency to preserve our natural environment.
What I found interesting was that there was an equal number of men and women who approached my booth to discuss my book. I'm sure that at the outset they were attracted because of the title. It certainly wasn't the decor that attracted people to my booth. They found sixty, sex, & tango three words that required some discussion.
I began to think that the speech I was working on, the unbundling of the boomer mythology, was a topic that was very interesting to our generation. Everyone 60 and over wanted to dissect the various movements and social currents and psychological effects that the boomer generation had experienced and are still experiencing today. I found women to be more optimistic than men. But I found men to be more vocal about the economic nuances of what happened to our economy and how our generation would play out the next couple of decades. "What happens to us?" they asked.
What also surprised me was how many young men and women came to my booth to ask questions that related to the historical context of the boomer generation. Some were even curious about the meaning of being "beat." Of course, the sex part of the title was titillating to most everyone, but there wasn't much discourse on that. There was tango conversation to be sure, but most of the talk tended to be more pointed toward the quality of life in later years and what they should expect.
The question of what happens to us boomer now is an area that I want to try to answer in this speech I was writing. It turns out that the connectivity I had at the book festival with its most interesting and intelligent attendees were the key to my conceptualizing the answer. And I'm still working on it.
But what I take with me from this book festival is a sense that a representative population of Tucson are caring and generous and outgoing. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a great deal about the tone and style of boomers in a particular section of our country.