Sometimes writing can be the easiest thing in the world. You sit down and the words just come to you, almost as if you are transcribing a dictation from someone or somewhere else.
This is not one of those times. In fact it isn’t even close.
But at least according to Neil Gaiman, “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it is done. It is that easy, and that hard.”
So here I sit, tapping away at these keys putting down one word after another in attempt to tell you, as coincidence might have it, about the time I went to see Neil Gaiman speak.
You see, last Friday (April 17th, 2015) I went to see An Evening with Neil Gaiman at the University of Washington, and it was amazing; truly amazing. The entire evening was filled with pleasant surprises and exceeded all my expectations in every possible way; which is saying something – because they were pretty high to begin with.
I have been of fan of Gaiman’s work for many years, and over those years he has become one my favorite authors. His stories have a wonderful way of drawing you in and immersing you in worlds, which are simultaneously very real and entirely fantastic. But the thing I love best about Gaiman’s work is that you never know what you are going to get. Despite pressure from an industry that thrives on repeatable algorithms and formulaic story molds, Gaiman’s works remain distinct and unique spanning countless genres and numerous mediums.
In fact when asked, via one of the note cards that were distributed before the performance, how he would summarize all of his books into a single solitary genre he quite simply answered, “Books by me.”
An answer that was highly applauded and readily accepted by the enormous audience of 1,100 fans sitting shoulder to shoulder in the UW HUB Ballroom that night. Fans, I might add that were as widely varied and unique as Gaiman’s work, and yet whom all seemed to easily meld into one unified group, even if the only thing they had in common with each other was enjoyment of stories by Neil. Which is a pretty powerful thing really if you think about it. When is the last time you saw octogenarians, “goth” teens, business professionals, and college students, of every ethnicity and socio economic status imaginable all brought together, voluntarily for the same purpose?
In a world that is ever more dissected into distinct groups that define and separate us from one another, it is a refreshing surprise to find those wonderful things that still bring us together.
That is the power of art.
The evening as it was, despite having been planned, or perhaps it is better to say booked for weeks, if not months in advance, turned out to be a sort of impromptu conversation with the audience where Gaiman flipped through the rather hefty stack of cards with questions collected before the show and answered them. Like the author, and the audience, the questions were diverse and varied in their tone and content. So it should come as no surprise that so were the answers. And yet, the answers were surprising. Not because they were shocking or utterly unexpected but rather because they were so personal and honest, and as it turns out often quite humorous.
I am not sure why that was such a surprise to me, but it was; Neil Gaiman is actually quite funny. Yup, the man known for dark, and often quite scary stories, also knows how to make people laugh. He is also quite thoughtful, which became immediately clear from the first moments Gaiman was on stage.
At the start of the evening when Neil came to the podium he greeted the audience by declaring quietly into the mike, “there are quite a lot of you.” And then proceeded to ask if before we got started “some sort of techie person” could come up and move the two massive speakers that straddled either side of the stage back a few feet, so that the people on the far sides of the room could see him. It has been quite a long time since I have witnessed an artist take such an active role in his audience’s comfort and enjoyment of the show. The last time was almost twenty years ago, when Peter Gabriel stopped performing at a WOMAD concert in front of 100,000 people to make two idiots in the front row stop fighting. As a short person, who has often had to watch performances of this kind through the cracks in the crowd, this really went a long way with me.
This simple gesture of thoughtfulness greatly improved the experience of the evening’s performance for a large number of people, and was met with a huge round of applause by the entire audience and in the end set the tone for the entire evening .
Amongst the questions about process, inspiration, locations, progress and projects (both new and old), was an inquiry into whether or not David Bowie was aware of, and if he was, how he felt about the fact that Gaiman had based the character of Lucifer in Good Omens on Bowie. The answer, as it turns out, is that Gaiman has no idea, and has no interest in finding out. This is because, as Gaiman explained, after meeting quite a few famous people he looked up to and admired, he found that he all too often then had to replace his idealized mental images and impressions of what he thought (or rather hoped) they would be like, with the much less flattering memory of a reality that fell tremendously short of the ideal. So much so, that he now actively avoids meeting people who fall into this category. However, I disagree, at least in how it applies to Neil Gaiman. After the evening I spent listening and watching him speak, I am firmly convinced that I would not regret having the opportunity to meet him.
All photos of Neil Gaiman appearing on this page were taken by Stacy LeFevre, and are posted here with her permission. You can see more of her work here: http://www.flickr.com/doomful