For a day that I’d been looking forward to for a very long time, there isn’t very much I have to say about it.
The day before I’d packed everything I would need: my ticket, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and its proof of Indigo purchase, my first edition of American Gods–the book that started it all for me–and then the following day I packed my less-than-often used digital camera: just in case. After a shower that same day and dressing up in my World’s Ender’s T-Shirt and carrying my leather jacket I got a ride to the subway and then eventually got off at Broadview to head towards the Danforth Music Hall.
I didn’t plan to be second in line. I came by the Hall and noticed that it was still closed. So I went for some food and came back and started talking with someone there. We became the beginning of the line: even though we all had reserved seats.
Eventually at 6 pm we were allowed into the Hall. A very nice Indigo staff member working for the event marked the place in my Ocean book where it was going to be signed and personalized and then she wrote down my question for him on another piece of paper. I asked a really convoluted and boring question along the lines of: “Was there an interview or an article where you actually stated that you wrote an origin story for the Beldam?” Actually, I just called her “the Other Mother” for good measure because it was easier for the person writing it: even though I knew my question wouldn’t be chosen anyway.
You wouldn’t have figured I’d have asked a Coraline question, huh? 😉
I was directed to my seat and after I went to the restroom I came back and settled in. I realized that two of my friends were actually at the event. I’d come to terms with the fact that I would be going by myself but I suspected I’d know at least a few people there. One of them was someone I helped at the Global Game Jam, while the other was a really lovely person from our stints as this year’s Toronto Comics Arts Festival volunteers.
The event started a half an hour or so later due to the bad traffic of downtown Toronto and the TTC. I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was going to be seeing him soon. Someone won some front-row seats because they had access to their twitter. And then after some introductions from Mark Askwith of Prisoners of Gravity who would go on to choose the questions we submitted for the Q&A and actually referred to our guest as “Toronto’s boyfriend”–and who better to have a one-night stand with the scattered secrets and mystical places in this city that keeps rebuilding and losing itself … he came on stage.
There was this roar of applause and shouts. In the spotlight, his wild crazy hair seemed white. In fact, as he kept talking, I could almost see him much older than fifty with a cravat under his chin and the collar of his dark suit. The light played with the shadows of his cheekbones and the hollows of his eyes, but it was him. It was totally him.
He started things off by reading a bit of Ocean: which he did with such expression and fluid emotion. What I mean is that he basically flowed from one nuance and tone to another according to each sentence that he came to. His voice, from the microphone and the lilt of it, filled the room of so many people who were so incredibly silent: just to listen to this man, this one man, read from this book.
And then he was done and the questions that were written outside by the Indigo staff representatives came to the fore. If the storytelling hadn’t already brought me to a very different place, then the Q&A did. After talking about wanting snakes for hair–just for the company–and which female characters of his he loved (Delirium, Hunter, Yvaine, the Hempstocks and even Ursula Monkton of all beings: who was “fun to write”) and a whole lot of things that I know I have forgotten or won’t come to mind until later tomorrow when I wake up, someone asked him what he thought of Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor and it was then–at that point–that I wasn’t just watching a hub of geekdom geeking out.
I was there. I was a part of the cheering. I was in the middle of it.
He even told us a story I’d never heard before: of the last event which made him no longer be a journalist anymore. He explained to us that the paper he was working for wanted to do a series on “the evils of Dungeons & Dragons.” And, according to him, it was the last request they ever asked of him because he quit not long after. In addition to this, he told us that there were two Hempstocks in his other books: Stardust and The Graveyard Book. After this, he proceeded to tell us, in just how many “greats,” that these two women were related to and descended from the Hempstocks in Ocean, these “great great great great great great great great great …” he went on, “great great-grand nieces.”
After this, he did another reading: this time from his upcoming children’s novel Fortunately, the Milk. I wish he had read to me as a child, but this was more than good enough as well and definitely something that you parents out there should totally get and read to your children. It was that good.
Then came the signing. He decided that instead of being called up row by row that each row would be chosen by lottery. I was in row ‘S.’
Row ‘S’ didn’t get called until a little past 1 in the morning.
He himself had those who were pregnant or sick or disabled come up below the stage and signed their books first: which was a really decent thing to do. There was wine-tasting outside that I didn’t get in on because I am not much of a drinker. The rows of seats had little space between them and I constantly had to get up to let them through or go into some weird contortionist stance. We also hadn’t been allowed to bring food or drink in and, for something this long, these elements were crucial. This rule was relaxed as the Hall’s bar and store closed down for the night and we were allowed to go out and get some food: which is what I inevitably did and it made all the difference in the world.
And he just kept signing. He kept signing. Sometimes he hugged someone and I could see him talking, but mostly he just kept signing. Then at one point he had to take a break. What I didn’t know, then, was that he had injured his finger–a fingernail was apparently coming off–and he went to walk, probably go to the washroom, and get a band-aid. And he came back.
And he kept signing.
Eventually various rows were called up and I started humming a song under my breath–Scissor Sisters’ “I Can’t Decide” which I suddenly remembered right out of the blue and it made me start to feel happy along with the food I had from before–and I prepared. I saw that representatives were using peoples’ cameras to take pictures of those people and our friend the author. I kept coming closer in that line, out of the lobby, into the auditorium again, near the stairs, thanking one of the really tired volunteer representatives there, going up the stairs and slowly realizing that he and I were no longer separated by writing, or a screen, or row of seats and stage, or stairs, or even … people after a while …
To be honest, as I came closer to him I wasn’t thinking about the fact that this was the man whose book radically influenced my writing style as it is now. I wasn’t thinking about how I wrote my Master’s Thesis on his work alongside Alan Moore and Herodotus, or the many books I’d read of his, or the sightings of him with Amanda Palmer, or any of that. I just kept focused on what I came there to do.
He was looking down at the books–my books–that one of the representatives handed him. He was signing them. A part of me couldn’t believe that he was actually there. Like this was all some kind of illusion. I was also, in the back of my mind, hoping that I would not miss the last subway car on the Bloor-Danforth line back from Broadview to Bloor Station. And he was sitting right in front of me.
I more recited what I wanted to say in a brief oratory manner than anything in the way of conversation. I told him that my friends and my Message Board told me to say hello to him. And then I told him the other most important thing: “I’m really glad that I finally got to meet you.”
I think at this point he looked up, or so my pictures–that a representative was really good enough to take–seemed to indicate. I actually made eye-contact. He thanked me and he said that he hadn’t been on the Board in a while or around there. I’m not sure what he meant, but I had nothing to really add to that. But he told me, saying my name, to tell everyone hello from him and that he sends his regards.
As I was leaving and he went back to his singing, I turned around and said one more thing. I told him, “Dream well.”
I think he actually said, “Thank you, Matthew,” and the representatives around him seemed to smile and laugh at what I said. In retrospect, it is rather redundant to tell the Prince of Stories, in his own words, to “dream well.” But I couldn’t resist. I had to have something else to write about.
Then I rushed out of the Music Hall, down the sidewalk, across the street, into Broadview Station, where the train was taking five minutes to get there, and I got out–got to Bloor before 1:30, and had to run to the other side side upstairs to get the Northbound train … for it to go out of service at Eglinton and take a shuttle bus home to where my Dad was waiting for me at Finch.
Much later, I realized that the personalization in my Ocean book read, “Dream, Matthew.” He’d said the same thing for one of my other friends and I suspect for many more. I didn’t really care, however: just that he took that time to do it despite the exhaustion and the long hours and the many more hours to come even as I am writing this. I also saw something else. The representative that took my picture actually took more than one. And suddenly, I just felt so … tired. I came and did what I had to do, what I had been looking forward to for so long, on perhaps what is going to be his last Signing Tour ever and now all that would be waiting for me is a host of responsibilities until Fan Expo when I can meet up with my friend Angela O’Hara.
I sat on that Shuttle bus going past the old place on Eglinton where my friends used to live and I thought about all the times I’d ridden this bus–this shuttle–at this time and how I was here by myself and just how strong I had been today. These past two days I had overridden my own anxiety. I continued on. Even before I came to the Music Hall, when I was still at home, I looked at myself in the mirror and I realized that I felt … beautiful again.
And all the annoyance and irritation and panic was totally worth this day. Because this day, that happened a day or so ago, I got to meet Neil Gaiman for the first and last time. And whatever else happens, I will still continue to dream.