It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author of good fortune – or, let’s face it, no fortune at all – must be in want of an audience. And so I repaired once again, dear readers, to The DC Center for the LGBT Community’s OutWrite Book Festival in Washington, this time to read from my novel “The Penalty for Holding” – about a gay, biracial quarterback’s quest for love in the NFL. It is slated to be published next year by Less Than Three Press.
But this was also a busman’s holiday as well, as I had in mind visiting two exhibits I longed to see – “The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great,” at the National Geographic Museum through Oct. 10, and “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen and the Cult of Celebrity,” at the Folger Shakespeare Library through Nov. 6. What is it that the late Nora Ephron said: “Everything is copy”? Everywhere I went reminded me of what it means to be a writer.
First things first: I would never have made it to DC without the help of Robin Costello, office administrator at WAG, the magazine I edit, and the lovely and accommodating staff at The Dupont Circle Hotel. They salvaged a trip that had fallen through the cracks. If every writer needs a room of her own – thank you, Virginia Woolf – every traveling writer needs a hotel of her own, and The Dupont Circle Hotel, nestled in a handsome, historic district of embassies, galleries, bookstores and farmers’ markets, proved just that for me. Elegantly economical in style, with a superb menu and a companionable staff, the hotel quickly became a home away from home (pictured below).
Secure in my new temporary digs, I sallied forth on foot to the National Geographic, where a certain favorite conqueror awaited. “The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great” is a terrific companion to the recent PBS series – exquisitely mounted with just the right balance among interactive elements, stunning art and artifacts, stirring words and sensuous recreations, all of which reinforced the Greeks’ enduring effect on Western civilization. Should Washingtonians – who’ve flocked to the show – doubt it, they need only look outside at the federal government buildings in a variety of Greco-Roman styles.
Seeing Alexander in the last section of the show as a tender youth and heroic leader was like encountering a lover who keeps happening to you again and again.
I had to laugh: The deep-blue exhibit design includes borders of lime green – the colors of my blog and book series. Was it a sign?
The next day, before the festival, I visited one of those Greek-style temples to culture, the Folger Shakespeare Library. There women fluttered around “The Shirt,” the nickname for the linen shirt – one of several – that actor Colin Firth wore for the scene in the 1995 miniseries “Pride and Prejudice” in which Mr. Darcy plunges into the lake at his magnificent estate, Pemberley, in an effort to cool his ardor for Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her fine eyes. He emerges dripping, discombobulated and oh-so-erotic. Not since Aphrodite emerged from the sea has water done so much for sex.
Female exhibit-goers flitted, male security guards hovered uncomprehendingly and I was reminded of the great irony of writing: The visual sells it.
Cut to the OutWrite Festival, which was different than last year – different vendors, more in-house author interviews and more intimate readings. I was once again in tennis-ball green and deep blue, one with my brand, as an admirer noted. Thanks to the administrator of this blog, I had a folder monogrammed with “The Games Men Play” to take down email addresses for readers interested in the forthcoming “The Penalty for Holding.” Presto: A page filled up. Genius.
When it came time to read, I found I had less time than I had been led to believe. But then, I remembered another truth universally acknowledged: If writing is helped by the visual, that includes performance. That, after all, is how many experience Shakespeare and Austen.
So instead of panicking, I threw myself into my selection, my voice growing stronger with my conviction until the emotional final moment when I had to rein it in a bit. Afterward, a listener told me that she could “smell” Jakarta – a key setting in the novel – on me. I smiled at what I considered the highest compliment.
One last thought: My Washington sojourn included an impromptu visit to a different kind of writer – St. Matthew at the cathedral that bears his name. It was from this cathedral that President John F. Kenned was buried, and, as I looked around at its Italianate and Byzantine splendor, I couldn’t help but marvel at time, that other country that stills the footsteps of the past and renders them invisible.
I had arrived at Benediction – the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, in which Roman Catholics believe the body and blood of Jesus is fully present. We sang the medieval “Tantum Ergo” and the Germanic “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.” I said a Rosary and lit a candle before a replica of Michelangelo’s “Pietà.”
And I realized that it is only in such moments of spontaneity that you find true grace.