Carrie Fisher read from her latest novel, The Best Awful, at Barnes and Noble Santa Monica last Thursday evening.
Yep. Carrie Princess Leia Fisher.
Carrie Your Worshipfulness Fisher.
Carrie Fisher, daughter of movie musical star, Debbie Reynolds. Carrie Fisher, who played Meg Ryan's best friend in that movie. Carrie Fisher, who did the Hollywood drug thing and the rehab thing and wrote a book about it (which got adapted into a movie). Carrie Fisher, whose breakdowns became best sellers. Carrie Fisher who could be called the Dorothy Parker of Hollywood.
Uhm. I wouldn't go that far.
Carrie Fisher has a new best seller out called, The Best Awful. How do you criticize that title? You can't. It's self aware of its own extreme contradiction. You would become an unhip oxymoron if you question it. Aren't you aware of its (and the author's) self-awareness????
Naturally, this flying circus landed in Santa Monica, and naturally, I had to go. It's Princess Leia, and I hoped to get a column out of the experience.
Princess Leia was my childhood mass media fantasy feminist role model. She held her own in a strange world of men, droids, space ships, and laser guns. The galaxy was vast, airless, and scary, but she pushed forward with courage and her hair always in place. It was kind of inspirational.
To further this idea, here are fifteen things, I learned from Princess Leia.
1. Always back up my work. (She puts the plans to the Death Star in the memory systems of R2D2, thus setting off the chain of events of the first Star Wars movie)
2. Never wear your hair like it's a pair of earmuffs. It looks stupid in any galaxy.
3. Never wear white in a garbage chute.
4. Never threaten to kiss a wookiee.
5. Guys are turned on if you tell them your hands are dirty.
6. Threepio's offswitch is at the back of his neck.
7. Just cause a guy gives you nice clothes and says ‘you truly belong with us among the clouds', DON'T TRUST HIM.
8. If you tell him you love him and he says ‘I know', you two definitely have something there.
9. If you dress like a bounty hunter, you'll probably make it into Jabba's palace. If you wear a gold bikini, you'll probably get to stay for the after party.
10. Share your cookies, and the ewoks will be your friends.
11. Brunettes can get laid.
12. If he says ‘I love you', just tell him you know.
13. If he kisses you like he's your brother, he probably is.
14. ‘Hold me' works.
15. The boyfriend will buy the brother excuse every time.
I could go on, but the subject of this piece is Carrie Fisher who is a real person. Princess Leia is a fictional character. Princess Leia is not real. I am a serious writer. I should not wear earmuffs to Carrie Fisher's reading. Serious writers do not wear earmuffs when it's seventy degrees outside. I am worldly, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, but gosh golly gee, I'm gonna see Carrie Fisher in person.
With some time to kill before the celebration of Carrie Fisher's latest breakdown, I ducked into Monsoon across the street and had a nice Turi Vodka martini. It was a little heavy on the vermouth, but still, quite lovely. I was gliding. Not just walking. Monswooning.
I wandered into the Banana Republic to look at pretty things. While I looked at sparkly sweaters, Nico sang ‘I'll Be Your Mirror' in the background.
‘Nico in Banana Republic???' I declared aloud and walked out. I half expected someone to ask me who or what Nico was---but that would have been tragic, and it didn't happen.
I'll be your mirror Reflect what you are, in case you don't know I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset The light on your door to show that you're home
But this piece is not about Nico or the Velvet Underground. It's about Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher, yes, right, got it.
The reading started late because Carrie Fisher was held up in traffic due to a protest at the Federal Building. While we sat and waited, several photographers checked their credentials with a guy in orange pants. I talked to a boy next to me with a face like a cherub. When I told him about all the things Princess Leia taught me, he was amused and did not change seats.
Orange Pants then took the mike and reminded us that we were there to see an author and not Princess Leia and that she would only be signing her books. Damn, I was hoping she would sign the Big Book of Bad Ass Shots I was looking through. I never realized how many shots are ‘Flamin'.
While talking, Orange Pants tried to poke a straw into a clear plastic cup of iced soda. This was quite difficult for him, and everyone in the room paid close attention as he tried and tried and tried, but the straw would not go through. He finally turned the cup over to Store Assistant Dan who managed to straw the cup after several attempts. Am I the only one who sees the sexual metaphor in this?
Finally Carrie Fisher appeared followed by two security guys in suits with ear pieces. Applause. Applause. I wondered if the security guys were there to protect her from us or us from her.
There she was. Carrie Fisher! Novelist! And! And! And. . . .she wore an orange top (what's with all the orange) and had a funky handbag with Chinese style embroidery on it (cool bag). And. . .and. . .she looked like my mother. Pause.
Honest. Carrie Fisher stands just like my mother stands. Whoah. That's wacky. However, Carrie Fisher wears more black eyeliner than my mother does. Phew!
Carrie Fisher turned the pages of her book and asked if we wanted to hear something from the beginning or the middle.
‘The Middle! The Middle!' several people shouted, so naturally she obliged.
If you're going to tell a story well, it's a good idea to start at the beginning---not the middle---the beginning. But alas, I was outnumbered in Santa Monica.
Carrie Fisher sipped her diet coke through the straw and declared it delicious. Then she started reading. She read her prose with not just emphasis, but overemphasis as if trying to emphasize every painstakingly written word, every adverb, every metaphor.
Photographers clicked, clicked, clicked. After all, if this reading wasn't photographed, would it really have happened. To quote Russell Crowe, ‘the photograph kills, and your fame will destroy you.'
‘But what is the matter?' you might ask.
‘Between who?' I might say.
‘I mean the matter that she reads.' You say.
‘Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams.'
But seriously folks, all crowe-ing hamlets aside, as far as I could tell in all the emphasizing, the setting was a tattoo parlor on Sunset Boulevard. The main character, Suzanne, totally slams into a girl wanting a tongue piercing with this whole monologue on giving good head and how one shouldn't need a pierced tongue in the first place. And on and on.
Personally, I thought it would be cool for the girl to pick up the stainless steel stud, flick it at the has-been Hollywood actress off her meds, and say ‘bite this bitch'. I wanted to stand up for the tongue-pierced girl. Let her pierce away.
After reading her pages and sipping more diet coke, Carrie Fisher opened the floor to questions. [pb] The first question was about sources of inspiration, and Carrie Fisher simply answered ‘rehab'. Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah! Wait. Is that really funny or just brutally honest, and people don't know how to take it, so they laugh?
When asked why she returned to the character of Suzanne (from Postcards from the Edge) in the new book, Carrie Fisher answered (and I quote from my notes): ‘I got so tired of making up a new character.'
Wait a minute. She didn't just say that. Or did she? Isn't ‘making shit up' part of the novelist job description? I think it comes after ‘you gotta write a lot of words'. Okay, to be fair, many novelists go back to certain characters in different books. The characters become familiar motifs used to explore different ideas and scenarios. Yeah, good answer, clap, good answer.
After that question and answer, other Carrie Fisher quotes float around in my notes like balloons let go by children at amusement parks:
‘I'm tired of myself. I don't want to be writing about me anymore.'
‘I like writing characters that think I'm an idiot.'
‘It's very easy to write the character of my mother because she lives next door.'
‘One's life does not fall out like an entertainment.'
At some point in the Q&A, I moved from befuddled observer to blushing participant. Answering a question about her favorite authors, Carrie Fisher ran down a list of contemporary and classic heavies and ended on Dorothy Parker, the Brontes, and Jane Austen. ‘The original chick lit' she called them.
I raised my hand and was immediately called on.
‘Following up on what you just said, what do you think of the term, chick lit?' I asked.
Carrie Fisher suddenly seemed a little on the defensive. This was a question about a word and an idea. This was not a question about her.
Thinking out loud, she circled around the word, mentioned Helen Fielding as a friend, and finally declared they're all ‘just books'. If books are just books, then why are some of them banned. Why are poets exiled and killed? But the positive nurturing side of me had one more question.
‘If you couldn't call it chick lit, what would you call it?' I asked.
I was feeding her. I was setting her up. I was giving her a punchline. All she had to do was deliver, and the crowd would love her more.
‘I don't know. . . .BITCHLIT!' she said looking me straight in the eye. I smiled. Bra-fucking-O.
For the record, the best answer I came up with after several hours of deep thought was Cuntalingus. [pb] A few more questions, then the Q&A was over.
I wrote down the final quote which a thin girl sitting next to me helped me complete. It is also in the new book on page 262:
‘If my life wasn't funny, then it'd just be true, and that would be unacceptable.'
I think life is more fluid (and more tedious) than any if/then phrase. It's a tragic comedy that just keeps going on and on and on. Then we drop dead.
Act 3 of the Carrie Fisher Reading commenced with fans lining up to get their books signed. I stayed seated. I was tired and my feet ached. Besides, I wanted to observe more of this person who had turned her life into art and was now dancing with a chorus of strangers.
I chatted with the thin girl. During the Q&A, she had asked a question about writing with meds vs writing without meds. Like Carrie Fisher, the girl was a survivor of mental illness and took meds for it on a daily basis. She told me about living in a society where she would be insane if she didn't take her meds. She spoke plainly, but in the plain speaking was a kind of singing that you don't hear too often. When strangers sing to you like that, you gotta give them your ear because you're getting something straight. It happens rarely, but it's worth it. When she was done singing, she got up and left.
My attention turned back to the autograph line. The room became loud again. Have you ever noticed that famous people sign autographs by moving their elbows and not their wrists? I guess it cut backs on the tendonitis.
There were two assistants milling around. Two assistants and two security guys. It could be just like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers only minus five.
There was First Assistant, mid thirties, vintage wrap dress and heels. She was taking pictures of the fans with their cameras or phones. She was efficient and running the show. In Hollywood, the show is never running their own show. There's always someone behind the show running the show.
The Second Assistant (or Assistant Assistant) was younger, in jeans, and holding a large envelope for the purpose of collecting business cards, requests, and love notes. The Assistant Assistant was organized, professional, and totally ready to get out of there and go party somewhere else. After all, it was Thursday night.
A woman stood on line holding a stack of seven hardcover books. She seemed to be on a quest. She was definitely a fan. She looked like someone who spent several hours a day posting on internet discussion boards. Perhaps, she had promised books to her friends all over the country.
The line continued. The Cherub, who had sat next to me, posed for a picture and called Carrie Fisher an amazing woman. A fan boy managed to slip in a Princess Leia picture between two books, but it was all fine.
A guy in a sweatshirt had an interesting dialogue:
Sweatshirt: I want to ask you a question you've never been asked before. What do you like for breakfast?
CF: Uhm, well, those protein bars, and when I'm in hotels, waffles.
Sweatshirt: See now, I bet you'll never forget me.
The Sweatshirt guy smiled broadly while his picture got taken.
What can one person give a fan? A picture? An autograph? What do they want? What do I want? A story? An epiphany? I watched Carrie Fisher pose with fan after fan. For a few seconds each time, she smiled a pure, joyous, magical smile. She could do that. She was a pro. And those seconds of fake joy were sorta true. And that was acceptable.
An old man sat down in the row behind me. He asked me if I worked for her. I told him no. He told me that he had worked on her films and wanted to sign a guest book. I told him to just get on line and say hi. Oh no, he couldn't do that. I turned away from him. Okayyyyy.
A lady walked away from Carrie Fisher with her books signed. At that point, she noticed the hardcover edition on a rack on the wall.
‘Oh darn! I didn't know they had it in hard cover. I would've gotten the hard cover if I had known.'
The lady was bummed. Really bummed.
‘Excuse me, did Carrie Fisher personalize your paperback or just sign her name?' I asked the lady without getting up.
‘She just signed her name.' The lady said.
‘If you want, I could take the paperback and then you could get back on line with the hard cover and have her sign that.' I said.
‘Okay. Thanks.' She said as if all her problems had been solved. She gave me the signed paperback, grabbed a hardcover edition, and got back on the line which was shorter.
Sure, I had just spent fourteen bucks, but Christmas was only eleven months away. Or the book might just be pretty good. Whatever. I should just accept that I had done a nice thing. It was a small thing, but it was a nice thing. I'm a nice person. Sometimes I amaze even myself.
Another old guy sat down near me. I don't know what I was doing to attract the old guys, but I took it as a sign that it was time to leave.
‘Did you get your book signed?' he asked.
‘Yes I did---without even leaving my seat.' I said.
‘How did you do that?' he asked.
‘Jedi Mind Trick.' I said.
On the following Saturday, I spent 17 hours on airplanes going nowhere thanks to the blizzards on the east coast. I spent some of that quality airplane time eating cookies and reading The Best Awful.
The book is about a Hollywood actress who goes off her medication and has major mental breakdown. It made for pretty good airplane reading. At its worst, it's an ego love fest that tries too hard to be appealing. At its best, it's touching mother-daughter-grandmother story. It might make a pretty good movie someday.