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In the Tower Records documentary, someone is quoted as saying they know they've been successful when they walk past the store and see their record in the front window. Of course, Tower's out of business now…but the astonishment of six authors seeing their books in Barnes & Noble's window display is still something I don't believe any of us imagined. It still feels a bit surreal. #poetsofinstagram #writingcommunity #staystrong #wordporn #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #NorbAF #indie #indiepub #indiepoet #barnesandnoble #signedcopies #eliezertristanpublishing
Long time no see, folks! My bad…but it’s been a crazy couple of days and it’s time to fill y’all in on what’s been happenin’…
I tend to forget when I’m in this author blog that I’m also a Mental Health advocate. For some reason it never seems to get mentioned here, even though my publisher focuses on that. Let’s tie everything together today…buckle up, cuz it’s been a crazy ride.
On Friday, May 17th, Eliezer Tristan Publishing held a reading/book signing/Mental Health Seminar at a Barnes & Noble in Hartford, CT. A few of the presenters are from various parts of Connecticut; my publisher was coming from Portland, Oregon, another was coming from the Virginia area at the last minute, and I was taking a Greyhound in from the middle of New York state (I have to clarify it’s the state and not the city; an important distinction and you’ll find out why soon enough).
A couple days beforehand, our publisher determines she may need a small but possibly expensive miracle to make it. Commence widespread panic among the other attendees, spawning multiple Twitter conversations and separate Messenger threads about who’s gonna come in when and where, who’s gonna stay with who and where, and how we’re all supposed to pull this even off without her. I’m telling you this because it affected me directly…Sarah Fader (the CEO of ETP) and I were supposed to stay at an Air B&B barn in Fairfield (the first failure occurred when neither of us looked at a map to determine that Fairfield was nowhere close to where we were having the event and wasn’t near any of our online CT friends). This was a bit problematic.
Enter my new best friend ever, Stephanie Paige, who deserves a friggin’ Humanitarian Award of some sort for figuring half of our shit out. She was gonna pick me up at Union Station instead of me meeting up with Sarah, and was gonna let me stay with her for a night until we knew what was going on with more clarity.
Lemme tell ya, brothers and sisters: Clarity deserted us until the last fucking minute. Never rely on clarity, as that will fuck you in no way gently. You’re better off wingin’ it until it’s legit Go-Time!! and seeing what works and what doesn’t and adapting on the fly. I can’t tell you how many times the goalposts were moved before 7pm on Friday, and most of the time the goalposts we were kicking at were on a completely different field. To further illustrate, in all of the chaos and tweets and Messenger notifications, it was determined that Stephanie was going to meet me at Union Station. Sweet…one box checked; now let’s move on and get everyone else situated.
Now, by looking at a map (again, something we never considered doing), one can determine that Connecticut is a relatively small state. Why then, for the love of all things holy and sacred, does a tiny-ass fucking state like CT have not one, but two places travelers can be picked up that go by the identification of Union Station??
I was supposed to arrive around 7pm, but because New York motherfucking City is a disaster traffic-wise, I think I got in around 8. Not a problem; Stephanie was milling around the human rat puzzle known as IKEA. The IKEA in New Haven, right near Union Station. As I began rattling off places I was seeing while trippin’ down the freeway, it became abundantly clear that I was also heading toward Union Station…in Hartford. The Founding Fathers and City Planners in both Hartford and New Haven should be dug up from their graves so Stephanie and I can slap the shit outta ’em. So she’s going back home, and I’m gonna take a Lyft to her place. An unplanned expense.
I input all my info into the Lyft app and it quotes me $75. I take a deep breath, suck it up, and- holdupwaitaminute- I determine based on the app that I don’t think where I’m standing matches the address I’ve put in and what the map is telling me. I take a walk around the block, maybe 100 feet, to a bar on a corner with an address I know will be easier to find. Problem solved…and for some unknown reason, fate smiled down upon me and the price of the Lyft dropped down to $60. Fuck technology y’all…use your damn legs and save some of your hard-earned cash! That 100 feet of walking equals the price of my book! Thank me later when you’re telling me how much you enjoyed it.
Funny side note about the bar: When I walked in to ask for a proper address, right next to me was a man who looked familiar. He was a very good friend of mine about 20 years ago, and we had a ridiculous falling out over I don’t even know what the fuck, so I said his name. And I know he heard me, because I immediately recognized his mannerisms as he looked all around this tiny little bar everywhere but at me standing an arm’s length away. I walked out, chuckled to myself, and said “Fuck you, Chris Okal”. Of all the places to see someone though, right?
So anyway, I finally get to Stephanie’s place around 10-ish? And I’m not gonna lie (and this is what I love about true kick-ass cool people)…we picked up conversation like we’d known each other for, like, forever. No weirdness, stiffness, awkwardness. Just typical straight catchin’ up and figuring out what was goin’ on. After over probably an hour of talk we decided to go to bed (in separate rooms, mind you, ya filthpigs…that’s how rumors get started, and no one needs that). I went to put her WiFi password in my tablet, and right next to where I was standing, a paper caught my eye. A paper containing a typed-up list of several ways to legit get away with murder.
Turns out Stephanie is a True Crime fan and well, I’m here and she’s cool as hell, so I didn’t die and let’s just move on. This entry is already long enough and we’ve barely begun.
Meanwhile, Sarah has posted that she needs two grand to get a last-minute flight for her and her two small children. Before I go on, I need to stress that I love Sarah and she’s wonderful, so don’t misconstrue anything I say about her in a negative way. Every one of us is scrambling to retweet our pleas…it was like watching a fucking telethon on Twitter. Enter Tea Jay, who was instrumental in orchestrating donations to Sarah’s PayPal and ensuring her arrival at some point (and while you’re checking out Taylor [long for Tea], take a looksee at my guest post on her blog, Advice For Writers Who Want It, Or Don’t).
Sarah miraculously found not only a flight, but someone to watch her kids. We all laid our heads down for the night, eased by the knowledge our leader would indeed be present.
Then we woke up.
Stephanie managed to kick in a sizable chunk to the donation pot. I don’t remember what Sarah said when she called me around ten after eight in the morning, but all my sleepy ass knew was she was coming and renting a car. With going back to sleep not being an option, I laid in bed checking Twitter…and boom there’s Sarah, posing like a god damn 80’s rap star in front of this sick-ass vehicle. A bright-ass red Mini Cooper, all Bond…James Bondin’ on it like a pimp. I could not remember at first what kind of car it was; I just knew it was well beyond our pay grades and needs (and boy was I wrong, but you’ll find out why in a little bit…stick with me y’all). I, ummm, did not know how to break this to Stephanie. And then I did.
She thought it was a Fiat, which, hey, easy to mix up, right? All morning, “Red Fiat” was a term of endearment, an epitaph, and a functional source of several WTFs and confusion. Like, a red fucking ’93 Ford Tempo would’ve been sufficient. But hell no…let’s crash Hartford in mawfuggin’ style, yo. Combined with the fact that she flew into NYC (there’s that fuckin’ city again), let’s <insert my “moving the goalposts” metaphor here as well> and I’ll let you decide what to do with all of our eye-rolling wonderment about what exactly was going to happen in the ever-decreasing amount of time we were having. Was Sarah coming to Stephanie’s house? What time? What about everyone else? Sarah’s posting pics of her with her NYC friends in the pimpmobile rental. We still had to pick up Christa Marie somewhere…it’s all a jumbled blur of a blur at this point. One of the Union Stations in CT. Somehow we got her to take a shuttle or a train or a UFO or whatever to the only Union Station that matters, up in Hartford.
I don’t know if you’re confused, but I lived it and I’m still confused as fuck.
Anyway, Christa’s a sweet kid with a heart of gold. I think at one point Stephanie and I realized we’re old enough to have been her parents, and we’d have probably been shitty parents, but not nearly as bad as anything she’s lived through (but that’s her story to tell, and this is mine, so…whatevs, moving on). We scooped her up, said “Fuck it!” and told Sarah to just meet us at Barnes & Noble, and we chilled at Spot Coffee (holy shit, there’s a Spot in CT!! I thought that was a Buffalo thing!). That’s where Taylor was, and that’s where we told Katie to find us.
I think I forgot to mention that Christa finally corralled all of us into one group chat thing on Messenger, which did make things a little easier…until things began to settle and the steam started letting off some and the sarcasm began to bleed out of our confused brains and souls. We eventually found Sarah at B&N, and mad props to my man Rick for hooking us up with water, comfort and ease, high-fiving me for getting his REM reference about the “end of the world” (I feel fine) and a giant adult-sized cardboard standup of The Cat In The Hat, to replace Aaron (the designer of my postcards and some of the ETP covers). Barnes & Noble, you need to pay that man well and make him your straight-up Events Coordinator or some shit; whatever you corporate-speak it.
Personally, after Sarah read the children’s book she co-wrote with her son, Nobody (which you should all buy if you have kids, and if you’re a teacher or parent of kids with special needs, hit me up and I’ll tell you how to get a copy), I read four poems from 100: “Over, under, around, and through.”, “Sinspiration”, something else because my Post-It page tabs have betrayed me in my travels and I can’t remember shit anymore, and “Black Joker”. All were received well, with chants for an encore. With everything else going on, I had no idea what I was going to read, let alone pick something else. To me, it wasn’t my event and it wasn’t about me…it was a Connecticut thing and it was meant to shine the light on these other wonderful authors, with their blogs turned into books and them just being more local to the area than me. I have my own CT stories, but that’s neither here nor there.
As for all of us, we’ve known of each other for quite awhile; some more than others and some through different events, but not this particular group, all together at the same time. Once the eyes of the crowd and the onlookers were upon us, you’d have thought we were sitcom stars holding a panel for the beginning of our 8th season…our rapport was flawless and fun and so easygoing. The way we all got along and got on and meshed with each other, there’s no way you could tell there was so much chaos and behind-the-scenes fuckery it took to get us all in the same place.
These people…I have all the respect in the world for them, and to have finally met and interacted with them, they’re amazing. We all came from different backgrounds with various Mental Health diagnoses, which maybe is our common denominator I guess, but this is my family. I love them all, I’m super proud of them, and I love that I can fuck around with them and be me and they can be themselves and we can (most importantly) share our stories and help people with our words and voices. We fought so damn hard for ourselves, and we still fight every day, but now we can bring the fight to the masses. I miss them, I miss going through what we all had to go through to be together, and I can’t wait to see them again. I know that the next time I’m feeling shitty about life or writing or just myself, I practically have a virtual library on the side of things I can look at and reminisce over and think fondly of and say “Hey, we all did that, together, because we’re amazing fucking people”. I mean that, from the bottom of my heart (when it’s not dead and soulless). And I hope over time you can enjoy them all as much as I have.
Thanks to everyone who came to listen, learn, and love, and thanks to @TheSarahFader @eliezertristanp @SPaigeWrites @shegoeso @helloteajay @HeyChristaMarie @CulturalSavage and @BNBuzz. Y'all are absolutely heroes. ❤
— Norb Aikin (@fivesixer) May 18, 2019
My biggest regret is that we didn’t get our hands on one of the B&N event posters. With all that extra empty green space on them, it hit me well after I’d finally gotten home that it would’ve been a great memento for Sarah if we’d all signed it and gave it to her. She brought us all together; without her, there’s no way I’d know that Stephanie and I are alike in so many ways, or that Christa is so sweet and earnest and like many of us at her age (OMG we’re ollllllld now), or that Taylor and her hubby Jonesy and their boy Jack are so much more fucking adorable in person, or that Katie is a stupid-great amount of fun and everything I thought she’d be and more based on reading her book (which, by the way, again…read everyone’s books, because you can learn so much about how the regular people in your lives function with various mental illnesses you’d never otherwise know they have). But back to the posters…that would’ve been so cool and amazing. Fader, we all love you.
With that, I’d like to draw this long-ass first part to a close, because it’s way too much and yet there’s still more. Preview: In Part 2, I’ll talk about what transpired after the gig, and the god damn mess that was my journey back to Cortland…from the dope #barnaf in Fairfield w/Fader, to the bus station journey in CT, sitting in NYC for a legit ungodly amount of time, and then eventually getting home at five-o-stupid-a-fucking-m after a shitty bus ride. When Seuss wrote Oh, The Places You’ll Go, I don’t think he ever envisioned any sort of traffic at all that wasn’t cartoonish. I’ve been to some places…and I won’t go back until they put a dome over them. But enough about that. Let’s jam to some “catching up” beats before I have a great home-cooked sandwich, alright? Aiiiiiight.
- The Dave Clark Five, “Catch Us If You Can”
- Elliott Smith, “Let’s Get Lost”
- The Get Up Kids, “I’ll Catch You”
- Blur, “Avoid The Traffic”
- Pearl Jam, “I Believe In Miracles (live)” (Ramones cover)
- The Beach Boys, “Catch A Wave”
- New Found Glory, “You’ve Got A Friend In Pennsylvania”
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “We Call Upon The Author”
- Public Enemy, “SOC MED Digital Heroin”
- Busta Rhymes, “Do That Thing”
- Wilco, “It’s Just That Simple”
- Ours, “Medication”
Ok, that’s about all I have the patience for today. Sorry the playlist went a little skewed…music happens and if you don’t like it then you don’t like me. Stay tuned for Part 2, which’ll prolly come tomorrow afternoon and will be all kinds of differently entertaining than this might’ve been, if it was. In the meantime, rest up and stay kind to each other. You don’t know who’s going through what anymore…hell, I can barely keep up with myself some days. Peace, be on the lookout in your city for Christa Christa and the
Full Force Cult Jam opening at corpse bride weddings for the Sarcastic Assholes as we perform our multi-platinum clusterfuck class-sick “Pour Some Moonshine On Me”, and this place is trying to close so let’s get outta here before they kick us out…just, uhhhh, I guess the apples are free, so take one on the way out. If they’re real.