This verbal snapshot project is inspired by the gorgeous blog “What I Saw in Berkeley Today: a photoblog love story.” Photographer Dyanna Anfang (in her other life a miracle worker responsible for many people walking upright instead of crawling around on the floor) writes about her pictures, “Almost everyday I see something in Berkeley that I find so powerfully beautiful, sad, moving, strange or just memorable.”
This weekend, after assisting with vegan speed dating at the World Veg Festival Weekend in SF, and thinking about how much can happen in a very short time, I thought I’d try my hand at catching some layered moments in verbal snapshots. Not so beautifully colored as Dyanna’s photographs, not updated every day, and preferably not a substitute for writing my current novel. Just glimpses of a few things I happen to be present for. (And as long as these snapshots are made of words, I might put in a quote of the day as well.)
The vegan speed dating (first “over 40” and then “40 and under”) took place in a small room right off the San Francisco County Fair Building kitchen, where I'd just been frantically helping to dish up macaroni in cashew-cheeze sauce and black bean brownies with strawberry purée for the 75 or so hungry people who'd been watching Emily Weber do a cooking demo.
In an hour, the under-40 vegan speed-daters would be lining up, looking like a casting call for fabulous extras in a Hollywood barroom scene, all buzzing with happy adrenaline. First, though, the older speed-daters, some considerably over forty, signed up on our lists and took their coded nametags and index cards with an uneasy, joking pessimism. (At least a couple of them had faces/bodies that said “widow” or “widower.”) Although the under-40s would be more evenly matched, there were about a third more women than men in the older group, most looking for men rather than other women. So during some three-minute periods, they sat alone, mostly interacting with their phones.
A beautiful woman, blonde, probably in her mid-40s, sat alone at a table just opposite the facilitators. Her hair was in an Alice-in-Wonderland style and her expensive makeup and clothes, her rounded body, her air of confidence in her own ability to navigate nearly anything, suggested a life with an excellent job – well-performed – as well as evenings spent at good restaurants with lively groups of friends. And yet she could only have been painted by Leonardo or Rembrandt, not by Botticelli or Rubens with their depictions of lush, uncomplicated, innocent-animal femininity. She looked up from her smartphone, gave us a proud and rueful smile, tossed her hair over one shoulder, and went back to typing. When we gave the signal to change partners, she sat up straight, switching into full, vivacious sympathy and attention as the next man moved in front of her to give her his three-minute story.
Quote of the day:
COLM TOIBIN There is a tone in your three novels which is light, too, and I am curious about it. The page for me (I write in longhand) or the screen for you — you are more modern — is not a mirror, it is blank. But, nonetheless, as we fill it with our dreams and lies and inventions, something of the inner novelist attaches itself to the tone. I know what happens to me: I go all sad. You, however, have a way of creating undertones and overtones of comedy, as though you are always about to burst out laughing, when you write a scene, even if the scene includes suicide, war, riots or lost love. I have tried to copy this and failed. Can you help me?
JEFFREY EUGENIDES In person, you are one of the funniest, liveliest persons I’ve ever met. One would assume that your fiction would be, at least in part, funny. When I first read your stuff, I used to wonder if you were allowing your whole personality into your work. Maybe you thought literature had to be “serious,” or that seriousness had to be quarantined lest the slightest germ of comedy infect it. But now that you’ve written so many more books, I don’t feel that way at all. The emotional range of your fiction is too broad to be covered by words like “sad” or “funny.” I don’t know how I feel about your saying that I always seem to be about to burst out laughing. I don’t feel that way when I write. I can be a sad boy, too. As for the differences in our temperaments, I think it comes down to our childhoods. Mine was happy. I think your childhood was less happy, which is why memory “haunts” you. Maybe that’s what you’re hearing in the undertones of my writing: my happy American childhood.