Tuesday, October 02, 2007

a few hours

I am at Barnes & Noble, the first in line to have two books signed by their author, Orhan Pamuk when he visited our campus yesterday. He won the Nobel for literature last year. I’ve been waiting for this since June, when his visit was planned. (I posted about him previously here and here.)

The lady organizing the signing line comes to me and asks if I’ve brought the books from home. “Yes,” I say. So she gives me a yellow card to place at the title page in each book.

Then another woman comes and asks if I want him to sign the books to me personally. “Yes,” I say. So she has me write “Ruth” big and legibly on a post-it note on the same page.

During the 15 minutes I wait for Pamuk to come to the table piled with books I strike up a conversation with the young woman in line behind me. She is wearing a Muslim head covering. Since the novel of Pamuk’s I’m reading, “Snow,” is about women who wear headscarves in Turkey, I am intrigued.

The woman in the head scarf, Maweza is a Pakistani undergraduate student at my university. She is full of excitement, like me, and we try to act like calm women instead of giddy school girls (hey, I’m a 51-year-old school girl sometimes) as we wait for the Nobel-prize-winning author to appear. I ask if I can photograph her, but she declines.

Maweza ate lunch with Mr. Pamuk earlier, with lots of other students and faculty members. (Why didn’t anyone ask me?) She tells me about the time with him, how he talked about translators. (His books have been translated into 55 languages.) We talk about her native language, Urdu, and her love of Urdu poetry. I tell her about my friend rauf, and how when his friends write comments in Urdu on his blog, I think it looks and sounds beautiful. She and I really hit it off.

At last here he comes up the escalator, sits down at the table piled with books, and I hear him say to one of the staff that he won’t be signing personal names, there isn’t time. He will just sign his own name.

“Oh, ok,” I think.

Little side note. Ever since June, when I heard about Pamuk coming to campus, I’ve been practicing what I’d say to him when I met him, in Turkish.

So it was finally here. My moment to impress the 2006 Nobel prize winner for literature. I will welcome him in Turkish, and he will say, “Oh! You speak Turkish! What wonderful Turkish you speak! Imagine that, an American who speaks Turkish in this small university town. Did you live in Turkey? What? Istanbul! My city! How wonderful! How long? We have so much in common!” Etc.Etc.

At last, I walk to the table, he smiles, I welcome him in Turkish. He signs his name twice, once in each book. I say thank you in Turkish. I walk away.

Wham-bam thank you ma’am!

Maweza is next, he signs her book. She walks over to me where I’m snapping pictures, we stand around for a few minutes. Our mouths a little open, our faces a little stunned. We admit we are disappointed. I had been pretty big-hearted in line, saying, “you know, this isn’t the real Orhan Pamuk, we can’t know him, he only reveals himself to us in his books.” I was quite magnanimous then. But now, I think he’s an elitist snob.


I meet Inge outside the auditorium and she tells me about her book signing experience with Pamuk. (We missed each other by a few minutes.) It was wonderful. She thought he was perfectly charming and thinks she’s in love with him.

I screw up my face. I tell her my story. But we’re mature people. We allow for the other’s perspective. We’re good friends that way.


Orhan Pamuk is introduced by my previous boss, Dr. O. What an honor and all that.


Orhan Pamuk begins his hour-long talk. He reads from his latest book of essays titled “Other Colours: Essays and a Story.”

He stutters in English. He reads the English translation haltingly. Oh, what is happening? He’s talking about his Istanbul (my Istanbul) and the melancholy of a city heartbreakingly beautiful in its decay. I’m sitting forward over my legs. He screws up his face in a smile. He’s talking about his time with his daughter when she is 7, how they play a game of crossing the room without touching the floor (tables, chairs and pillows only). I am being disarmed one faltering sentence at a time. I’m laughing. I’m aghast, hand over my mouth. He’s talking about writing 9 hours a day and having a half page of good writing to show for it. He's talking about the smell of paper, the smell of ink. He’s laughing at himself. He’s honest, completely honest. I can see it and hear it. He’s talking about Balzac. Balzac! Tolstoy. Dostoevsky. But he isn’t stuffy. He’s goofy. He’s not a snob. He reads every day and takes his joy from novels. He can't wait to read the next writer coming out of Venezuela, China. He’s just a guy, a guy who writes. He writes every day and feels deprived if he can’t. He’s in love with writing.

He’s just a guy.

He’s just a writer.


I’m inspired, utterly.


Loring Wirbel said...

This sounds very similar to the story of waiting in line four hours at Printers Inc. in Palo Alto (another indy book store that may be on the verge of going away) to have Laurie Anderson sign "The Nerve Bible." There you are, have a nice day, NEXT! What the hell was I expecting? That she would reveal her entire strategy for writing The United States Symphony? They're just human beings, and when they're lining folks up for autographs, it's just another supermarket express lane.

Anonymous said...

Book collectors value a book more when it is signed (name only) by the author on the title page.

I value a book more when it has been personalized by friends that have published.

I think your family will value your signed copy because of what you shared today.

Ruth said...

Loring, it must be a dreadful part of the book deal, signing books. And you don't have to look very far about Pamuk to find out he is happy when he's sitting alone in a room, writing. It doesn't take too much imagination to understand that he doesn't get a kick out of meeting strangers ogling him and drooling over his fame and writing talent.

Why is it so hard to not have expectations. I tried not to. But I was won over in the end.

Ruth said...

Anon., that's a nice way to look at it. It's funny now I think about it, I don't care that much about the signature anyway. I don't plan to sell the books, so I don't care about monetary value. I do like looking at his name there. There is just something about the handwriting of a person. And he writes his books in longhand, very organic, hand linked to the heart.

freefalling said...

I can just imagine you playing out that scene in your mind, of the meeting with Orhan Pamuk - I would have done the same thing!
My dad has a saying he uses quite often which makes a lot of sense but which I absolutely hate and kinda like at the same time:-
"Expect nothing and you won't be disappointed. Everything after that is a surprise".
Some of the most memorable times of my life, were when I went into a situation totally oblivious and received the most wonderful, unexpected experiences.

Rauf said...

Ruth, please allow them to be a little different.
by the way there's a great deal of vanity in his signature. Please check Inge's book and see if ending of N and P are the same.

Don't know if he has shoulder pain, but not willing to write the name of the admirer is pretty silly.

Ruth said...

Freefalling, thank you for helping me feel like less of a dork.

Your dad's saying is good. My mom said something too: "You can't be disillusioned if you don't have illusions."

Ruth said...

rauf, you warned me not to have expectations. It's not a big deal now. Writing about it here on my blog I was able to put it in perspective. As Loring wrote, this is part of the book deal, and they must hate it.

Anonymous said...

Sports players get paid big money to play games that they learned as children. Does that mean that they shouldn't play in front of fans that pay money to see them? They are their own best advertisement.

I would think that writing a book, talking about it, and making nice for the customers that are purchasing their product is in the same catagory.

I still think it is a strange practice (author signings) to have a stranger write your name in their book. Why? Does it make those who pick up your copy and fan the pages believe that you know the author?

However, I do love the excitement and thrill of enjoying a book written by a particular author and being able to stand in line with others who feel the same. Books and thoughts are meant to be shared with others. And even more fun, is when you walk away with a signed copy of something that you treasure.

Ruth said...

Haha! Anon., that's a great point. Why did I want him to write "Ruth" there? I guess I was hoping for the most minimal connection, just him knowing my name, even for a split second. Oh yes, it would have been very nice if he'd written a whole long paragraph to me and told me what a great person I am just by looking at me for two seconds. Heehee.

What a goofy thing it is to be human sometimes. I can't always keep the rational me ahead of the irrational me.

lesleyanne said...

it must have been such a disppointment! but i'm glad you were able to separate yourself from the situation, and really look at it from his point of view, as well as your own.
such a great story. i remember being very interested in that book, My Name is Red. but i never read it. maybe i picked it up a couple times. i just enjoy the title.
awesome that you're inspired when you thought you wouldn't be.
i love you.

Raw Kale said...

Isn't it just amazing how profound it is that he can write one book, and everyone who reads it suddenly feels intimately connected with him? This nonphysical connection you have with him is very powerful, while the physical connection seems insubstantial. This really mystifies me and makes me wonder about the importance we place on our physical reality.

Loring Wirbel said...

Raw Kale, I think people just concentrate on the physical as an existential shorthand, since it involves easy to validate external physical facts. Everybody poops. But a lot of people experience different types and definitions of other-plane empathic mind-sharing or whatever.

Raw Kale said...

Yes, I like the potential we have to communicate in this silent manner.

Aunt Ruth, who knows what incredible feeling Pamuk walked away with because of your presence!!! I always like to think that we have that kind of impact on people. The random acts of kindness that we do without someone ever knowing it was us.

Rauf said...

Ruth, i would tap the grave of Steinbeck, wake him up and ask him to sign his book.
i am sorry i disturbed you Sir, were you busy ?
Oh no i was not doing anything just lying there.
Would you kindly sign a copy of your book for me Sir ?
Sure with pleasure.
What is your name ?
rauf sir,
what a funny name
does this pen write ? looks like a pen alright but i see no nib.
It is a roller pen sir,
do you want me to sign a copy for your mother and grand mother ?
only they would read my book, not your daughter.
They do not speak English sir.

oh its so noisy here what is all that noise ?
Its a bulldozer behind you and the noise of the traffic Sir.
its so hard to breath here. i would go back to my comfort.
Good idea, Wish i could join you Sir. thank you so much Sir.

Ruth and Ra Chel, Besides my personal experience, Steinbeck took me to the bone marrow of poverty with his powerful observation.

Ruth said...

Sweet Lesley, I was only disappointed because I set myself up for it. But I don't regret the whole thing one little bit. I am so lucky to get the lesson again that how I see people might have little to do with who they are, it's about me. I remember hearing someone say that when 8 pall bearers carry a casket of a friend, they are carrying 8 people, because for each man, the person in the casket is different. My mind creates a lot of filters for the world I perceive.

I love you too.

Ruth said...

RK, this experience makes me question all my perceptions, all the stuff in my head. What is reality? I can misperceive physical AND other-dimensional reality, all of it is filtered through my own mind and spirit. I grew up with evangelists and Christian leaders who claimed to know the voice of God. Who is going to argue with that? And if one contradicts another, what's to be done? So, thanks to experiences like this one, I'm learning to simplify what's in my head and not read too much into anything. But that is NOT easy for me. I'm the most analytical person I know. But gradually I'm watching that habit change.

Ruth said...

Loring, thanks for the laugh. You make a good point. And I think humans have forgotten how to use all their senses to perceive the world, including what we have called the 6th sense, whatever that is. What we feel intuitively sometimes is BASED on physical facts, but filtered through our own sense of the world that is internal and shaped by our idealogies and beliefs. I'm not to have too many of the latter, but I can't help it, I have beliefs, whether they are institutional or not.

Ruth said...

I mean to write: "I'm trying not to have too many of the latter . . ."

Ruth said...

rauf, thank you for the smile.

But I disagree with the outcome. Regardless of bulldozer noise and polluted air, when he met you he would have begged you to go for a cup of coffee.

Steinbeck, Picasso, they showed us human suffering through their art. It shows me how important art is, that our realities are shaped by the perceptions of others, like Gandhi, even Pamuk. What insight a good artist gives us into the human condition and exchange! I was a young girl when I read "Grapes of Wrath" and will never forget the final image of the book. I was shocked, and yet I knew it was true in the deepest sense, and that I would have done the same as that woman, in her place.

Ginnie said...

Back in 1994 I went to a book-signing of Jimmy Carter's Always a Reckoning--his book of poetry. I bought it for Mom and Dad and gave it to them for Christmas, signed.

I stood in line and do not remember anything else, except his huge smile...and when I walked up to the table, I couldn't believe how hairy his hands and wrists were (I almost gagged). But as I reached across to touch the back of his hairy hand, I asked if I could touch him?! He looked up at me and said that was the sweetest thing he had ever heard.

I don't even care about his signature now...the book I got back after both Mom and Dad died. I just carry that remembrance of his smile and those few choice words.

And BTW, his granddaughter, Sarah, who illustrated his poems and was only 16, walked in with him. She had purple hair. And after HE signed the book, she signed it as well. That was all I ever needed to know about that man after that. It brings tears of joy to me even today after all these years.

Don't ask me if I had expectations because I don't remember anything else.

Ruth said...

Boots, that story is the perfect addition to this post. It brings tears of joy to me too, I can feel the experience in your short, simple description. Thank you. Thank you. Thank him.

Manda said...

Ruth, I loved reading this post! I laughed along with you and my mouth hung open, too, even though I haven't read any of Pamuk's work. The responses were equally enjoyable to read. Especially when you pointed out the following: "how I see people might have little to do with who they are, it's about me." I am going to ponder that today some.

Ruth said...

Dear Manda, I love seeing you here. You and I have so much in common, esp. with our English degrees. We really should talk about these things sometime. I've come to believe, in my job, that the English degree is the very best one. It's not based on data, you can develop an interpretation of a text, and then support it in the text. We developed the skill of seeing the world through various perspectives. I love it.

I love you!