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26 December 2007

Q is for quivering

Telephone"Try to keep your soul young and quivering right up to old age." - George Sand

In 2008, I'm going to quiver more right here at home.

Oh, my. Talking with the former poet laureate of the United States is a fine (if nerve wracking and completely terrifying and rattling) way to start one’s day. I’ve been suffering from a bad case of esprit d’escalier all day today. “Oh, man, that’s what I should have asked him. Or that’s what I should have said to make him laugh.” As it was, I didn’t have an agenda to interview him or make him laugh or impress him, and so we just were two people having a conversation that was bewildering to both of us.

Billy Collins is not only a fine poet, but a wonderful conversationalist. Funny, charming, with that voice I like so much. I, truthfully, was a blithering idiot during our 35 minute and 24-second call. Not that I’m counting.

“Is your husband trying to show the rest of us husbands up?” he asked when we started talking. “Most of us gave our wives a scented candle or a sweater with a cat on it for Christmas…” “Blather, blather, blurg,” I responded.

I thanked him approximately 413 times in my nervousness. “I’m not sure how my husband talked you into this,” I offered. “Well, I admire him for doing this,” he replied. “Anybody who would go to this much trouble deserves a positive response. I figured he must be in the dog house or he wouldn’t have tried so hard, so I wanted to help him out…,” he laughed.

I tried my best not to seem like a Billy Collins Stalker. I could just imagine him rummaging around on his desk for the “Trace this Call” button. I felt like I was twelve and he was Bobby Sherman. Or I was 18 and he was Ian Anderson. Or I was 48 and he was Billy Collins.

We talked about William Gaddis: “I’ll confess,” he said, “I’ve never been able to finish one of his books. There’s a whole club of us who haven’t read him; we meet every Wednesday.” “Well, they do take some work,” I admitted. “I did my dissertation on The Recognitions.” “I guess you finished it, then,” he said with a laugh. 

I told him the particulars of first hearing one of his poems--Litany.

It is still one of my favorite poems by him. I was in Monroe, North Carolina, at the family farm of a friend. There were three of us, three women friends, sitting in the covered open-air living space between two wings of the house late into the night. A storm swirled around us, lightning and aggressive rain, pelting the tin roof above us so furiously that we had to scream to be heard. “I WANT TO READ YOU A POEM,” my friend Gay screamed. “IT’S CALLED LITANY.” And so she screamed the poem at the two of us in her fabulous Southern accent. “YOU ARE THE BREAD AND THE KNIFE,” she started, "THE CRYSTAL GOBLET AND THE WINE."

He liked the story. “It’s a good poem to be screamed in a Southern accent,” he said, laughing. I didn’t mention that Mr Brilliant also made me a bracelet for Christmas that reads, “You are the bread and the knife.” 

I introduced him to dorodango. I’m sure he put me on his holiday card list just on the basis of that call. No doubt I’ll get an invitation to his birthday party in March.

As I hung up the phone, I was thrilled. One might even say I was quivering. And yet… is it really the Billy Collinses of the world I should be aquiver over? As much as I kid about adoring Billy Collins and Johnny Depp, I don’t think so.

No, my human survival units aren’t B.C. and J.D. or Robert Duvall or Philip Glass or Laurie Anderson or any of the myriad of people whose work I admire. I don’t see them making me earl grey lavender tea in the morning just like I like it. My friend Lloyd Lewan once talked to me about what he calls “human survival units,” those few people who will drop everything and come to our bedside when we’re dying. Lloyd has met world leaders like Nelson Mandela, “but those aren’t the people who will be with me,” he acknowledged. So it’s nice to meet them, but it’s important to remember our real human survival units. Mine don’t include stars or poet laureates or composers. They include the people around me every day—those are the people who make me quiver, tremble with delight.

I imagine Billy Collins sat down for dinner tonight and recounted an odd conversation he had today with a woman from Asheville who blather blather blurged at him about mud balls and grapefruit spoons. I was the lucky one, though. I sat down for dinner with Mr Brilliant, Emma, and Tess. We talked about learning to ride a scooter and ate pasta with Rao’s marinara sauce and some of that cranberry sauce I love so much. It was delightfully quiver-worthy.

Intentions: Don’t reserve quivering for stars and poets and composers. Look right around you for the people who make you quiver by their everyday encounters with you. Don’t reserve star status for Billy Collins—extend it to your friends, your kids, your partners, your coworkers. Revere them instead. Stop reading People magazine. Adore the people right around you. Extend star status to the people who love you the most--your human survival units.

From the last alphabet challenge: Q is for quiddity


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Lovely, Patti.

One hell of a story, Patti.

It made me re-read my favorite Billy poem "Nostalgia."

Perfect message. I haven't bought one in years, but can't resist looking at the covers of "People" et al, while standing in the supermarket checkout line (and regularly chide myself for it).

BTW, does this mean you'll turn down an opportunity to talk to Johnny Depp for 35 minutes and 24 seconds? ;-)

It's good to hear you survived the conversation, Patti, even as you relived and enlivened it the rest of the day! Perhaps you could doctor the transcript and send it to Billy?

When I first heard of Mr Brilliant's amazing tribute to you through the literary and sports worlds he brought right up to the phone for you to enjoy, I was of a mind with Billy: he was making all us other husbands look bad. Then I realized the truth. Comparing Mr Brilliant to other husbands is like wondering if that 7th-grader on the basketball court is a match for Michael Jordan in his prime.

In some cases, you have to acknowledge that you are not even in the same league, and leave the best on the pedestal!

Thanks, also, for your words about the worthiness of those who love us each most. I'm not Mr Brilliant, but my delightful wife often points out that I am the perfect husband...for her. It doesn't matter nearly as much how imperfect your edges are if they fit exactly together with someone else's imperfect edges to make the perfect fit.

Marilyn - ah, yes, it was a perfect recognition...

Joy - I really love that poem, too!

Betsy - Oh, my. I think I would need to talk to him just to be polite, don't you?!?

Rick - you are so, so right. We all have our imperfect edges that bump up against the imperfect edges of others. Sometimes, there is a magnificent fit. It's even better when we realize that...

Excellent post. I truly believe that is some of the best insight I've ready on a blog here lately. I believe it's truly important to give credence to those who make our lives worth living. Why waste time chasing after the life-news and mystique of so-called celebrities when we have the most amazing people living with or around us who deserve to be celebrated themselves?

Thanks for your honest, heart-felt insight.

I loved hearing the story of your wonderful phone call, Patti. I haven't ever spoken to anyone famous, but I can relate to reliving those important conversations - such as a job interview where I spend the remainder of the day going over the entire event in my mind.

I don't think many of us ever receive the gift of an experience anymore, like you did with your phone call. It's a gift that won't run out of batteries, or get lost, or get worn out. Once I got the gift of a tandem parachute skydive for my 35th birthday. I guess it's probably somewhat the same? It's definitely something that I'll always remember.

Rick's comment was right on regarding imperfect edges too!

First, congratulations on the conversation with Billy Collins. Even if you did "blather, blurg" (which I doubt), what an experience! I'm coming to believe gifts of experience are indeed the best sort. Mr. Brilliant is clearly . . . brilliant.

I like your perspective around focusing admiration and wonder on the people around us, day in and day out. Your words will help drive a shift in our family's conversation, starting with dinner tonight.

I am quivering with delight after reading this. Blather, blather , blurg... I don't believe, as articulate as you are, that those words exists in your spoken vocabulary. Mr Brilliant has indeed set the bar high now for us husbands... oh well, it was with Billy Collins so he gets some forgiveness there.

Ronnie - thank you so much for your note and kind words! I'm glad this post resonated with you...celebrity culture is so pervasive in our society, and I'm guilty of having participated in it with my People magazine reading. No more--going cold turkey!

Jillian - Wow! Scary! And I think you're right--how many more *things* do we all need? Creating experiences for people is so much more meaningful. My friend Lora created an advent calendar of experiences for her partner, David, this season - and I think that was the inspiration for Mr Brilliant to create experiences for me... great idea, don't you think? Every morning in December, David awoke to open a little drawer in an Advent calendar with an experience inside it: have lunch with a friend, see a show together at the art museum, etc. I thought that was a brilliant idea (and I'm stealing it for next year!!)

Sharon - I'm so glad this post caused a shift in your dinnertime conversation! How did that go?

Steve - ah, but Mr Billy Collins brings out the blather blather blurg in me, as you well know!

Billy Collins has heard my name? Ohmygod.

soooo coool... I wrote a letter of admiration to my filmmaker hero (and all around hero) Derek Jarman when at uni. Some time later I went down to the post boxes at my hall of residence and found a parcel from Derek one of his books inscribed. I was utterly thrilled and all of a quiver.

Wow, Patti! Mr. Brilliant is awesome . . .dreams really do come true. What you've said rings true; we need to reserve the best for our human survival units; they are the ones that really matter!

We have great husbands, we two. I got a light for our piano; I had recently begun to play it again, but there was no illumination for the books I need to make it sing (if badly).

It's fun to give people gifts that make them so happy. I once was going to meet a hero of my mom's (Willis Reed, former New York Knick basketball player, teammate of her other favorite, Bill Bradley), and she asked me to give him her undying love. I choked that time, but was given another opportunity a few years later, and realized I wasn't acting like a jerk but fulfilling a request that would thrill my mom. So I gave him her love. I also gave it to Bill Bradley when I ran into him in the produce section at a local grocery store late one evening a few days after he left the presidential race. And did both things before she died in '05.

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