Being a good tomato scout, I always observe 11/11 as a very magical day. If there’s one thing that being in Jason Webley’s Army of Lunatics has taught me, it is that 11 11, (in any of its incarnations on clocks, calendars, or highways) carries a special and sort of enchanting power with it. There’s something paradoxical about multiple ones, and a lot of fantastic stuff has happened to me (mostly by following Jason’s lovely madness) on 11/11.
Four years ago, Neil Gaiman gave me a hug and introduce me to his wife. Through a friend, I’d gotten a belated wedding present to them, and on the corner of a street in Seattle where his wife, Amanda Palmer, was playing ukulele I met him. Everyone was swarming him of course, and I think he was doing autographs and giving odd little words of encouragement (we took them like blessings, wonderful artistic weirdos that we all were.) I know everybody has a story for their favorite artist that tries to convey just how deeply they’re lost in this hopeless sort of love for them…well, here’s mine:
When I was in third grade, Coraline came out. The first “childrens” book Neil did hit the shelves while I was in that perfect paste-eating phase to read it and be spooked in the most enthralling way possible. But I actually knew Neil Gaiman’s name before that, because months before I ever got my hands on a book of his, I stumbled onto a quote from Sandman:
“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life…You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like ‘maybe we should be just friends’ turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.”
…and I had just been dumpd by my boyfriend from Mrs. Mailloux’s first grade class. As a heart-broken eight-year-old, afraid that I would someday fall in love with another handsome boy who had a rope swing in his backyard, this quote really resonated with me. I didn’t read the Sandman series until years later when I had dropped out of college and joined the circus with a fellow tomato scout from Jason’s clan, but this quote stuck with me. From the earliest age, I knew: Neil Gaiman understands.
Then when I was thirteen someone showed me a Dresden Dolls music video and I was hooked. She was, forevermore after, my favorite musician. From her lyrics, I knew also that Amanda Palmer understands.
When I was seventeen and they got married, everything changed.
Suddenly I realized that everything I loved was more or less connected. That people who make strange art and take it into the world generally find each other, know each other… love each other. If I wanted to find the people like me, I had to broadcast who I was as loud as I could to as many people as I could in the best medium I could manage: my art.
So when I finally met him on that street corner and mentioned the writing my friend had given him for me, his face lit up in the most wonderful smile. He dragged his wife away from all the fans who were swarming her, and he introduced her to me and said,
“She wrote a book!”
…like it was the most amazing feat in the world. Like he didn’t do it once or twice a year. He made me feel special beyond all else, and I will never forget the night of 11/11/11 because of that feeling (also because Jason led us down to a waterfront park and dove into the freezing Pugget Sound while the cops came to break up this mob of people in a closed city park…but that’s another story)
If you asked me to define success, I think part of it would be getting my stories to Neil and Amanda. I know that if not them, I’ll naturally find other artists who understand. But part of it is a desire to show them what I’m writing for the same reason I want to show my parents, my teachers, my oldest friends…
I made this, but you made me.
In my supreme and beautiful arrogance, the last thing I said to Neil Gaiman four years ago was “See you later, Neil.”