Gone Baby Gonzo
The sun is setting and it's getting cold as fuck in Scotland. Never trust the morning; always wear a jacket in Scotland. There's this curly haired kid walking around here that I keep thinking is Neil Gaiman, but he's just some douche that is not Neil Gaiman. I shouldn't say that. I have no idea if he is a douche or not. I bet he's very nice, but he just happens to be lying with his hair. He's a Hair Liar.
As the evening went on and the grayish Scottish skies turned to blackish, the old people haunting the Edinburgh International Book Festival seemed to recede back to their ghost-filled Scottish homes, giving birth to a crowd of enthusiastic youngsters like myself.
Monet vs. Manet
The next event I attended was in the biggest small arena tent at the festival. Entitled "Making Art Make Sense," it was hosted by William Gompertz, whose name sounds like something Dr. Seuss would come up with. William Gompertz wore shoes made of Klompertz. And so on. Gompertz has taken on the massive task of trying to suck all the pretentiousness out of modern art. Fuckin' yikes, man. That is not something I'd be up for. Such an honorable endeavor.
Gompertz began with a masterfully told tale of his road-to-Damascus-moment that led to him sitting in front of a painting in Amsterdam for two hours as he fell in love with art. And apparently he didn't even need to be on drugs. Maybe he was. He didn't really say. After going to through a demonstration trying to see if people knew shit about art (spoiler alert: they didn't), Gompertz decided to read an excerpt from his book.
This is where Gonzo steps in. Tyler Gonzo. That's what Gonzo journalism is, you step in and you make yourself part of the story. And so I did. I stepped on stage in front of what I'm guessing was like 500 people, but I've never been good at counting things. I always lose those games with the jelly beans in the jar, but probably everyone loses those games.
After stepping on stage without any idea of what I was going to be doing, I was told that I was now an actor. I was instructed to act out (with two Scottish mates as my leading ladies) the scenes Gompertz was reading from his book. Now an actor, I did what all actors do: I acted like an idiot and put on a good show. I'm happy to say that taste for idiocy and self-deprecating madness does translate to the Scots.
In the closing portions of his short hour (Gompertz could've gone on forever about modern art and I would've listened), he said something that's stuck with me. He showed us Malevich's Black Square and asked if it was art. Most people said no. In truth, I was skeptical. Gompertz went on to say that art is about belief. Anything you say is art is art. It's up to us to simply believe and find the meaning in it because that's all art is, communication. Everything seems to be this way. The people who don't believe in love rarely find themselves captivated by it, even when things seem to look like love from all other angles. Ideas give power to things. Ideas and belief bring things into reality.
Oceans and Memory Lane
The main event of the day, the primetime slot, was given to Neil Gaiman and Charles Fernyhough. I haven't been to many of these panel things, but oh man, I'm sure they get boring. I've been to literary readings that were boring as fuck, but truthfully I only went for the babes. The amount of things I've done in my life for the babe is heinous. At these panels, sometimes people can ask the same motherfucking rambling questions and are keen to know, "Where do you get your ideas from?" Like they're waiting for writers to respond, "I get my ideas from a secret grotto in the alley on Woodburn Street." And then the stupid person who asked the question would go there, get some ideas, then get rich as a writer too. Or so they'd hope.
Gaiman was generously introduced as "the most beloved living writer," and he didn't disappoint. Reading from The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman started with a passage from near the beginning for us yuppies that hadn't read the book yet. So many times people forget the performance aspect of a literary reading. They go up on a stage or a podium and just read their shit like they're reading it at home to their cat, but it's not like that. When you are reading something aloud, it's no longer just about the writing or the words. You are performing. And goddammit, Neil Gaiman can perform. You can feel the delicate hand of perfect construction with every sentence he reads. It feels like his whole book is memorized, like he's just holding it in front of himself and gazing down for show.
"Everything went fractal," Gaiman kept saying, referring to the fractal nature of memory. I love memory. I am massively interested in memory. Much of the panel was about Encoding Specificity, something I went into great detail about during a recent review of Batman Inc. Fractal memories. When writing that piece, I couldn't hold onto all the pieces, every stone you turn over has a thousand underneath. Every memory was linked to another and another and I wanted to include them all, but I couldn't in such a small space. Luckily for us, Neil Gaiman isn't so limited by the attention spans of Internet-goers.
Memory haunts us. We're haunted by the lives we used to live because we can't live those lives again. And trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice is foolishness; all who try are doomed to fail. My mother recently told me a story about trying to show Daddy Ray's farm to my father. Daddy Ray was my great-grandfather because only your great-grandfather can be called something like Daddy Ray. I never met him, but I heard he was rad.
When they went to see the farm, it wasn't run down. It wasn't beat up or dilapidated by time. It wasn't passed on to someone new. It was a highway. It was gone, like it had never been at all. A dream. And my mother cried. Her memories, shat on. The beautiful sepia inside her mind had become infected by the overpowering neon glow of real life.
My mother (Neil also told a similar story) had been seeking Encoding Specificity. She went back to that place to remember, but it was all wrong. The trigger for her memories was gone, infected by the self-replicating virus of time itself. I've been experiencing this a lot as of late, the plague of memory triggers. Being in Germany, in Europe, I've been strangely disconnected from my childhood memories. I used to think about my childhood often, constantly using it as a beacon for poems or whatever because my life as a child is just another life I can't have back, another that haunts me. So I write about it. I work through it to stay sane.
Talking with Gods
After the panel had expired, I loitered around and talked to Charles Fernyhough, the m
oderator from the panel. His eyes lit up when I mentioned Encoding Specificity in my question to Neil, so I had to talk with him more about it. Smart dude.
After more loitering, I met some cool people. I've completely forgotten all their names. I met a kid looking to start a comics magazine later this fall. Especially cool was meeting two dudes shooting a documentary on Neil Gaiman. Though it's a ways off, I'm excited for when it comes out. Patrick and his cameraman (sorry man, I totally forget your name) are the people behind Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods and Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts. I haven't seen the one on Ellis, but Talking with Gods is particularly brilliant, capturing the spaciness of Morrison, while maintaining his spiritual perspective and never making any of it look silly. Seriously, if you like Morrison, watch this. I've seen it like four times.
After more loitering, I saw Neil Gaiman stick his hand in a bucket to prevent it from seizing up after signing so many books. Dude is a champ. I was studying his expressions like a fiend from start to finish, looking, searching, spying for a drop in his mood from the near endless line (though he's done much longer) of eager book signees. Throughout it all, his smile never faded.
Neil Gaiman may have signed the books of 600 people, but he also gave each of these people a small bit of conversation and a smile. Eventually all books get burned, but that memory will last a lifetime. Won't it? Each second of that smile, each wrinkle in his face, will be fractured, split into a thousand seconds where each and every person remembers an exchange with their favorite author. And in that moment, they'll be back in time. And they'll be happy.