Dave Sim's blogandmail - "Live" from Salt Lake City #3 (10/28/06)
THE BLOG & MAIL LIVE
FROM SALT LAKE CITY
Here we are in the next day after the LAST DAY READING. You know, I don't think until I walked into the auditorium that I actually thought anyone would show up for it: and there they were: a handful of people. I mean, the auditorium wasn't remotely full, but as compared with the only thing I had to compare it to: the turnout for the Scripture Readings at the Registry -- which is really just me, Sandeep, Trevor, Chris from the Food Bank and either one other person or two other people (the purpose is really just Trevor's recordings at this point and whatever he can sell them for on eBay to donate to the Food Bank) – it was an actual audience. It was going to be very long, I knew that already, but that was directly analogous to the Scripture Readings as well. Three hours of Scripture is a lot of Scripture. The difference that I had overlooked was that this was a Book Festival where Ger and I were just the second cartoonists to be invited (Batton and Jackie had been the first last year) so, finally, at 6:30 after I had been reading for two and a half hours Mimi slipped me a note "Dave – It's 6:26". Now when someone slips you a note like that it means it's time to get off the stage but I'm also in the middle of reading and trying to pay attention to that. Mentally calculating, okay they have someone else coming in at seven (actually eight). I can just keep reading and live with the consequences of whatever happens. The problem with that was that there were no consequences for me. If I didn't get invited back it would just be one more place on a very long list that I would never get invited back to. But for Alan and Mimi and Night Flight it could be a disastrous setback in their effort to make a place for comics at this Book Festival. So, there I was reading and trying to figure out how much trouble we were all in and I decided, okay, I have to just skip ahead and try to read as much of it as I can. Tried that and thought, "Can't do that. It's Power Point – now Mimi is wondering where I am and what I'm reading doesn't match the images on the screen". So I just stopped and said, I'm afraid we've gone overtime and we'll have to stop here, if anyone's interested I'll finish the reading at the signing table. And then Mimi directed everyone to the exits and I went to the signing table and, of course, only eight or so of the people were still there. I mean, that was one of the things that I was aware of. As I was reading, over the course of the two and a half hours, the entire thing was punctuated with the sound of people leaving. The two heavy fire doors at the top of the auditorium opening and closing -- sometimes noisily sometimes not so noisily. People coming in as well – late arrivals, I guessed, but basically just a steady exodus. I assumed that of the twenty or so people who were there gradually they would all leave and when I came to the end it would just be me and Mimi on the stage. Maybe two other people politely applauding and (the unmistakable core reality) wondering if they can now get a head sketch in their copy of High Society. Made the mistake of waiting too long for Mimi to get her laptop set up so that people could still see the slides. By that time we were really down to maybe five or six people. What I SHOULD have done, in retrospect was to just give everyone a copy of THE LAST DAY (we had overstocked Night Flight for the event) to follow along in. Anyway, three-and-a-half hours later I staggered to the end and Mimi and a couple of people applauded. And then it was time to sign some nice young fellow's copy of Spawn 10 and the First Comics volume 3 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and then the usual collection of trade paperbacks, sketches in sketch books. Another couple of hours. Once everyone was sure that I wasn't reading anymore they started trickling back in.
I've developed a thick layer of insulation between myself and the world of which I hadn't been previously aware. Came home very forcefully there on the stage, as it had the night before when I kept reading as Ger and Alan arrived at the house and the sound of conversation was deafening. I do what I have to do and close everything else off. I'm aware of it, but it's "outside the insulation", it was particularly pronounced after the Ramadan fast where all is scripture and self-deprivation. On stage, I was neatly divided within myself, part of me just reading the first 40 pages of THE LAST DAY, critiquing it and wondering at it simultaneously ("That could have been phrased better: oh, hey, THAT part was good where did I come up with that?") and part of me wondering also at this new element, an audience. Touched really. Like all those people who would sit politely at George Harrison's concerts aching for the Ravi Shankar part to be over with but out of respect and affection for Harrison, bearing up under it. Matt and Paula -- 25 hours on the road from Wisconsin -- running on one two-hour nap sometime in the last full calendar day and now subjected to two and a half hours of dense biblical prose and interminable scientific footnotes. There really should be a whole new section of the UN Human Rights Code or the Geneva Convention that would prohibit people from being subjected to that. But there they were right up to the point where I pulled the plug and, mercifully, Matt was able to drive Paula back to the hotel where she could finally get some sleep. But mostly I was wondering at this thick layer of spiritual tissue between the two. The part of me assessing my own work and attempting to critique it and seeing nuances of what I was driving at – Biblical references I wanted to check again and sit and mull over – it's protected from the world (I assume by prayer and fasting and isolation) and keeps the demarcations between Real and Unreal sharply maintained. Ultimately, the audience was unreal and, ultimately, I never lost sight of that even as I was appreciative of what they were going through, speculating on what motivated them to get up and leave after an hour and a half instead of an hour. Two hours instead of an hour and a half.
And it progressed from there when I was reading at the table. Bystanders wandering past on the way to the washroom, some teenagers talking noisily, probably wondering who this crazy man reading this crazy stuff was all about. But it would have been a passing thought, a momentary state of existence no sooner there on their radar screen than it was gone. Mere minutes from the end, the final three hours plus and a fire door slammed shut BANG very close by so that I saw Mimi jump. It's just another personal challenge one among many on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. God's adversary trying to throw me off. No go. Except for the premature pulling of the plug. Win or loss on my part? I finished the reading but I didn't finish it on the stage. Had I stepped down from my post, a position God expected me to hold? Was it a critical core moment that meant I had thrown away the last five years worth of effort that had been building toward it? Had I been bluffed by the note into overvaluing the negative impact on Night Flight, letting that take the place of my duty to God? Arguably, arguably. But what I was reading only contained bits of scripture – primarily it was just my very human commentaries. Staying on the stage I could arguably have been overvaluing that, giving in to base vanity and raising myself up above my place. A slight buzzing sensation in my head that persisted after I was done reading and somewhere remote from there Cerebus creator Dave Sim was on auto-pilot. Shaking hands, smiling, making small talk, answering questions, getting his copy of Archie #570 autographed by all of the Night Flight staffers who were still around and who had appeared there. Unreal. Unreal in the sense that the person had – and has – very little to do with who I am, now. So there's a weird oscillation that takes place over and across the insulation. Who I am goes to sleep and who I was "struts and frets his hour upon the stage". And then suddenly someone asks me a question about the Bible or the Koran or fasting and I'm instantly awake. Then someone hands me a copy of Cerebus No.7 or 12 or 18 to sign and I go back to sleep as the actor dredges something up from the time period, some trace memory of the Dave Sim who was in answer to a question I've been asked dozens or hundreds of times before. "Best Wishes to Andy at The City Library '06 Dave Sim and" over to Ger "Best Wishes Steve & Amy Salt Lake City 27 October 06 Dave Sim and" over to Ger.
And then out for dinner. And there it's all portrayal and insulation. The Real Me absolutely appalled. Do people talk about nothing else but sex and bodily functions and blaspheme against God and scripture? Well, obviously they do. But coming off of the Ramadan fast it's really like going to eat somewhere and everyone just sits there and throws mud and feces at you. And we all laugh and laugh.
And that's when I realize that the layer of insulating material absolutely surrounds me. Nothing sticks. Back to the hotel, ritual ablutions, change of clothes, down on my knees and back to my relationship with God. Up at dawn, ritual ablutions, change of clothes, down on my knees, back to my relationship with God. I wonder how many of us there are, really. How many people are in their fully insulated escape pods.
And the whole thing resonates, as did the collapsed end of the reading last night with the ending on the Prologue to the LAST DAY. Two in every hundred. I channel surf the television in my hotel room. Sex, sex, materialism, rape, threatened rape,sex, blasphemy, infidelity, violence, homicide, harlotry, sex, sex, paganism, sex, adultery, insurrection, torture, gruesome violence, mutilation, sex, sex, paganism, homicide, drugs, drunkenness, materialism.
I really hope it's just the contrast with my newly ended Ramadan fast. I really hope it hasn't gotten that much worse since the last time I channel-surfed in another hotel room back in April or May – only six months ago. But the hope is insulated from all that by a thick, thick, THICK wall of celibacy, continence, prayer, fasting and Scripture, almsgiving, acknowledgement of God's sovereignty. It does seem very clear that if things aren't necessarily getting as profoundly worse as they seem to be, they show no signs of getting better.
Two in every hundred here in the on-going bonfire of the vanities.
Talk to you all later when I'm back in Kitchener.