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.


Frisky Librarian said...

Sounds like a fun night out.

I don't care if the story about Come to Your Senses Day isn't actually true. I like it. And I must have that book.

Dave King said...

I'm with Frisky Librarian; it sounds like a must read. And what a fab' evening!

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

What fun! I'm so sorry I missed out, playing nursemaid and migraineur.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Frisky Librarian and Dave - a great book and great night, indeed. :-)

Lisa - This might be a fun one for us to take the kids to:
All in a Day is a lovely book that illuminates all the possibilities a day offers -- the opportunities and chances that won't ever come again -- and also delivers a gentle message of good stewardship of our planet. Newbery Medal winner Cynthia Rylant's poetic text, alongside Nikki McClure's stunning, meticulously crafted cut-paper art, makes this picture book not only timeless but appealing to readers of all ages.

Monday, March 2nd @ 7:30pm Powell's City of Books on Burnside

Kathryn Magendie said...

I just saw a one-woman show about Emily Dickenson - Christy Bishop (here in our little hart theater) did a wonderful job.

The evening sounds fun!

When I was in Portland this past summer, I went to Powell Books - WOW!! I'd love to do a book signing there one day!

phd in yogurtry said...

"I'm in a whore phase" .. hilarious! I'd sure like to have been there -- sounds like so much fun.

And as for the Bad Boyfriend Stories? Oy, I could certainly write a chapter, or two, or three...... I'm definately going to follow your links and have me a looksie. But right now I'm slated for bed.

Lisa said...

You guys have all the fun! I swear, I'm going to tell MathMan that it's time to move again.

Chicago, middle of nowhere Georgia, Portland........

I must have been a nomad in another life.

Holly Forrest said...

Kathryn - the Bishop show sounds wonderful. You'd better be willing to stay in Portland for a couple of days when you come to Powell's for your reading. I would love to show you the Columbia Gorge and Mt. St. Helens. I'm always sad when artists and authors just blow in and out without seeing our spectacular nature sights.

PhD - I wish you'd been here too. We would have had a great time together.

Lisa - you sound like me - Chicago to upstate NY to eastern Oregon to upstate NY to Vancouver. Nomads unite!