Read Part I First

posted July 4, 2005

Part Two: Wherein I meet Anne Lamott

Did I mention I was sick during my honeymoon? Which was another thing about expectations. “How can a person be sick during her honeymoon?” I wailed to Tom, in the manner of George Costanza’s mother, Estelle Harris. Fortunately, I’d just had Handy Life Lesson #25 about expectations and letting things be exactly as they are, so I wasn’t too sad. To tell the whole truth, I was thrilled to be sick; I had exhausted myself in the weeks leading up to the wedding, working full throttle on life coaching, teaching writing workshops, writing Effelia, revising The Big Idea, and along with Tom, planning the wedding, overseeing the renovation on our house and frantically losing the battle to alphabetize our now merged CD and book collections. When I get busy like this, the kind of busy where I find myself listening to War and Peace on my iPod while simultaneously watching the movie version of it on the television while also folding the laundry and painting my toenails, some still small voice within whispers, “Nerissa, my love, perhaps you are overdoing it.” And a slightly louder voice says, “Wouldn’t it be great to get sick? Not terribly sick: just a mild cold. Yeah.”

This is frightening, because every time that louder-than-still-small-voice speaks this manner, I inevitably succumb to some illness or other. Take now, for example: I am sitting with my left leg up and an ice pack on it, because yesterday I twisted my knee after stubbornly attempting to move a large piece of furniture by myself. (Yes, I know. R.I.C.E). I seem to have a self-timer within me, an alarm clock that goes off to keep me from burning all my fuel and taking off into the stratosphere only to be marooned up there. (Since I lack an appestat–the internal mechanism which tells a person when she is hungry and when she is full—my theory is that this self timer is God’s consolation gift to me in its place.)

At any rate, being this kind of compulsive workaholic, I had made a deal with my darling Tom: we would have a honeymoon, yes we would! Only couldn’t I do just a teeny book tour while we were out on the west coast? Say up in Portland, Seattle? And, being wonderful, he agreed. We would have six divine blissful days of honeymoon nothingness and then the Saturday after the wedding, I would appear on both West Coast Live (an early morning live radio show; San Francisco’s answer to A Prairie Home Companion) and a solo show at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. On the same day.

I woke up that Saturday morning seriously regretting my wicked workaholic ways, cursing that part of me who looks at a blank calendar and rapidly fills it with activities, meetings, gigs, lunch, dinner and coffee dates, clients, workshops, retreats, boxing workouts, meditation sittings, professional trainings, astrology readings and the like. All I wanted to do was loll in bed with my new husband, maybe rising at eleven to saunter down 24th St. to the coffee shop to read our Russian novels.

Instead, we woke up early (by this time, our jet lag had worn off, and 7am California time now felt like, well, 7am.) We realized that the venue had moved from delightful Fisherman’s Wharf to less delightful downtown San Francisco. The venue was now in a red velvet cabaret room off the lobby of a hotel. It smelled like the fifties, and not in a good way. There was no dressing room; just the back hallway of the hotel, and I was advised to keep a close eye on my guitar and knapsack which was full of Emergen-Cee, Airbourne and various herbal teas. I clutched a box of Kleenex in my hand like some hypochondriacal security blanket.

Also, I was tired, which for me usually translates as “scared.” It was the first time I was to read my book on the air, the launching of my book tour, and on national radio no less. When I get scared, I get sleepy. Seems to me like a reasonable reaction. I gazed up at the Xerox the stage manager had posted on the door of the little backstage room that housed the coffee and crudités.

10:38-Nerissa Nields.
10:59-sponsor announcement/break
11:03 Anne Lamott.

Anne Lamott!! Anne Lamott, whom I had discovered in 1998 and who had ferried me (via her books and audio tapes) through the most difficult time in my life; who had taught me to be a woman of grace and dignity, and who was not too dignified to laugh at herself; who showed me how to be both writer and writing teacher.

I dropped my box of Kleenex.

“Don’t get excited,” I said to myself, shaking with excitement and nervousness and no longer the least bit sleepy, “She lives around here. She will waltz in at 11:01, do her thing and skiddaddle back to Marin County. I won’t even meet her. And she certainly won’t see me sing.”

Sedge Thomas is a gifted interviewer and a funny man, but his biggest talent is his uncanny ability to make the person he is speaking to seem far funnier and more clever than she actually is. I have benefited many times from his excellent interview style, and I always enjoy being on his show. This time was no exception. I sang “This Town Is Wrong,” and then he asked me a bunch of questions about the writing process, the singing life, my new marriage, the honeymoon…and at one point I gazed out in the audience. There, in a golden glow (really! The light made a halo around her blondish brown dredlocks) sat my literary hero, my wise writing teacher mentor, my favorite “spiritual” writer! AND SHE WAS BEAMING AT ME!!!!!

After my interview, the stage manager told me to go over to the table set up by the local independent bookstore. “Take a picture of that,” I whispered to Tom, pointing at the stacks of Annie’s books adjacent to my own little Plastic Angel. “I already did,” he whispered back. Annie was at the table signing frantically. I assumed she wanted to go home to her house in Marin, perhaps to Sam, her teen age son, perhaps just to lunch. Either way, I didn’t want to bother her, even to tell her how much she means to me. But she came to me, took my hands, looked me in the eye and said, “Bless you!” She hugged me and said, “Matzel Tov on your wedding!”

“I love you!” I blurted. “I think you are amazing! And we’re coming to your church tomorrow!” I immediately regretted saying that, lest she think, as Tom had suggested she might, that we were some kind of spiritual stalkers. But she just looked slightly nervous and said, “Good. I think I will be there.”

And Tom and I hugged each other. He beamed down at me and said, “Guess this wasn’t so bad after all?”
And then we drove off into the sunset…or rather, into the midday San Francisco Saturday traffic and onward to the ER.

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