Monday, February 16, 2009
Emily Dickinson's Alleged Letter and My Evening at Powell's City of Books
I spent a very fun evening yesterday in downtown Portland, thanks to Emily Dickinson. Allegedly.
There was Mexican food, a gargantuan bookstore, several hilarious women authors, and a rousing singalong to an original composition in which the chorus rejected the notion of a serious relationship with the declaration "I'm in a whore phase."
The singalong was led by the impossibly slender, guitar-playing, ethereal-voiced McKinley of Dirty Martini and Gracie and the Atom fame.
A dear friend and I journeyed to the wilds of Powell's City of Books, the biggest, bestest bookstore ever for a celebration of Come to Your Senses Day. First we had tasty food at Cha! Cha! Cha! a few blocks north on Glisan. There were a few too many raw onions in the meal, so we both vowed not to try to pick up any men when we got to the bookstore. Not that there were many men at the reading.
Come to Your Senses Day is a newly revived holiday allegedly inspired by a letter written by Emily Dickinson to her friend in 1847, in which she wrote "What was I thinking? How could I have been so taken with a man so full of himself? There ought to be a respite day. A day in which one can come to one's senses..." A librarian allegedly stumbled upon the letter and recruited friends to secretly celebrate this holiday. Allegedly, Dorothy Parker picked up on the idea in the mid-1930's and designated February 15th the official date to celebrate the sentiment. The reason I keep throwing in the allegedly is that I'm not so sure that this all happened, or if it is a clever marketing ploy to create a history to promote the book.
The book in question is a compilation of first person essays entitled What Was I Thinking?: 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories. The host of our local beloved Live Wire! radio show, vivacious redhead allegedly, anyway Courtenay Hameister, wrote one of the pieces and favoured us with a reading of her very funny tale of a former lover she called "Judgey McSexalot." Quite honestly, Courtenay is such a talented comedian, she could make you laugh if she read a few pages of the phone book. But her story was good. In a sad, what-were-you-thinking-letting-this-guy-make-you-miserable sort of way. So was Michele Gendelman's story. She wrote of an incredibly stingy ex-husband. Local NYT bestselling author Chelsea Cain, clad in black leather and red lipstick, shared a tale of lust and Hershey's chocolate syrup. I'm not sure her essay was actually in the book. McKinley read her own story and treated us to a seriously poignant song about a former lover who was a pathological liar.
Then it was time for the singalong. I'm not sure if McKinley wrote the lyrics or Courtenay wrote them. They were awfully funny. McKinley played guitar and Courtenay sang. Really well. She is usually so busy being witty that I hadn't realized what a great singing voice she has. I knew she'd been in a group called the Ditty Twisters years ago, but sadly, had never seen them perform. I totally wish they were still in business.
Emily might have been a tad surprised, but I am sure she would have gotten into the spirit of the thing, singing rousingly "I'm in a whore phase." Or maybe not. But my friend and I sure did, onion breath and all.