The Strategic Retreat

Tom Robbins and 4 Ladies

I just got back from San Francisco. Being part of the 7/11 crowd in SF requires me to scurry home like a South Bay bilge rat before the last train leaves around 11ish, shunned until my visa run allows me to return the next morning. I’ve gotten fairly used to the scurrying by now and it sure beats parking in SF, or kicking out that rent, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

Tonight I was in the city to hear Tom Robbins speak about his life and his new book, Tibetan Peach Pie. I was there to hear the man lay out his words in an exceedingly compelling order but what brought me there was 4 ladies.

The first; Molly. I don’t write a lot about my ex-wife for a variety of reasons; I don’t think she’d appreciate it, she doesn’t relate to topics like why I hate the Red Cross or the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the whole truth of our failure is too complex yet boring for a blog format, but mostly because there just hasn’t been a reason to. She did introduce me to Tom Robbins’ writing though. So, for the first time in a long time I thought about her tonight.

The Second; Haylie. Haylie and I met on a night train to Chiang Mai, her departing from Bangkok me from Ayutthaya. It was a slow journey. That train had overturned the day previous and something like 3 times in the past month. What was supposed to be a 14 hour journey turned out to be a day. I don’t know if you learn everything about a person sharing stories for a day on a slow train to North Thailand, but you learn enough. I consider Haylie a friend and I still owe the chick 1 Baht. I learned of Tom Robbins’ new book through her as she just recently went to a book signing in Colorado. This spurred me to seeing if he was coming to the bay. As it turns out that’s one of the very few places he was heading on his tiny tour.

The third: Meredith. Meredith has no back story linking me to her to Tom Robbins. I was thinking of not going to see ol’ Tommy Rotten. I have to be up at 5:30am tomorrow, SF is a bitch to get to and I have two midterms to study for. But then I remembered Meredith. Meredith once interviewed Hunter S. Thompson whilst he was nude in a hot tub, if her story is to be believed. Thinking of this I realized how few authors who influenced me are left. I didn’t see Vonnegut the one chance I had and sometimes there just aren’t second chances. There was little hope and less desire for me to see Tommy in the nude but still, I’d like to hear his voice, maybe an anecdote that only exists in that place and time.

The fourth: Lena. My niece. The one I have to wake up for at 5:30, to pick her up from the airport. I had Tom sign a book for her. So at 2 she has signed books from 2 people who have influenced me; Ken and Tom. It’s my non-pushy attempt at shaping her.

Those 4 women combined to get me to see Tom Robbins tonight, unbeknownst to any of them. Although I may mention it to Meredith at her wedding next week.

There were two things that he said tonight that stuck with me, which is probably why I’m writing stream of consciousness before I go to sleep and risk losing those thoughts forever.

When asked about his take on self-publishing he said that it’s Karaoke. When people go to the bar, do a bit of drinking, have fun and sing a bit they don’t go around calling themselves a singer the next day. He wasn’t trying to be rude to those who wish to become writers but he was truthful that they aren’t. In a world of over coddling I really appreciated hearing him say that. You’re not a real writer until you’re not the one paying for the paper and ink. And even then, maybe you still aren’t.

The penultimate question asked of him tonight was whether there was anything he was afraid to write about. With great pause and delivery he gave his answer. “No”. Which, in its simplicity was amazing to me. There sat a man who truly believes he is not afraid to write about any topic. This is the polar opposite of myself. I am afraid to write. Full stop. Every time I write anything, I’m afraid. Whether it’s something I plan and put effort into or something like this which is as much a diary entry as anything else. Every time I write I put a piece of myself on display, open to ridicule, mockery, pity or -worst of all- understanding, I’m afraid. It was interesting to hear a perspective from the other side. I suppose it may be the difference between being a writer and scribbling words down at the bar.

About Jeff

Jeff was born in the back of a War Game Store on the day the first Star Trek movie came out, to a computer programmer mother and a father who wrote the story for Dragon's Lair. Jeff has an MBA, a CSM, and a penchant for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.