Last night I was fortunate enough to hear Tom Robbins read from his new book Tibetan Peach Pie, at Town Hall here in Seattle. The event sold out months ago. I worked selling his books so that I could have a front row seat and finally meet him. I would have worked for free. Tom Robbins is one of my favorite humans. Ever. Definitely one of my favorite Toms. (Having already met Tom Waits, Robbins was the final Tom on my list.)
There were a few hundred people in attendance. The 82-year-old author read stories from his life and from his latest, and probably his last book. The hall was silent and respectful as he spoke. Heads nodded in agreement and understanding, and faces were plastered with smiles. These were my people. We all came out to sit in the glow of the man who had written our collective favorite books. Robbins wore exactly what you would expect – standard dark sunglasses, jacket, green sneakers and blue jeans. Nothing about his presence said, “I’m 82 years old!”. He was funny, charming, flirtatious and cool. Just like you’d expect.
He spoke at length about Seattle and its past. Smart guy. Seattleites love to talk about Seattle. One woman asked, Do you think Seattle has lost its soul? She had to repeat the question a few times. Robbins paused before saying he didn’t think Seattle was ever a very soulful city. It has a lot of heart, but soul? Not so much. If anyone else had said that?They would have been drawn and quartered. But it was Tom Robbins. Little Tommy Rotten. He gets to say what he wants.
He talked a little bit about his process. He doesn’t do multiple drafts. Just one. (That’s what I do! I rarely tell folks that because it isn’t normal. But nothing about being a writer is normal. Normal people don’t lock themselves away with blank pages and agonize over them for hours on end.) Robbins says he tries to write about two pages a day, correcting and changing as he writes. ‘When it’s done, it’s done.” He said. Amen.
There were a lot of aspiring, struggling, or otherwise stumbling writers in the audience. One young lady in a Cat T-shirt asked, When did you stop being afraid of your writing? Robbins walked away from his podium and approached Cat Shirt. I guess he didn’t hear her, or he found the question so ridiculous he had to get a good look at who was asking. Cat Shirt repeated the question, touched his green shoes, and backed away almost blushing. Tom Robbins returned to the mic and told the audience he had never been afraid of his writing. Why would someone be afraid of their own writing? Afraid? Silly.
He said he only has a vague idea when he begins a novel. He knows the effects he wants to leave the reader with, but not much more than that. He does a lot of research, educates himself, takes what he knows and sets out to write… like a canoe on open water. Let’s see where this baby takes us! He said that John Irving works the other way. Irving doesn’t begin a novel until he has every detail in place, until he knows everything that will happen down to the final line. Two great writers. Two completely different ways of writing. (I loved hearing that! John Irving wrote my other favorite novel, A Prayer For Owen Meany.) As a writer I think it is important to understand that there is no right or wrong way to write. You can read as many books about writing as you want, but it won’t teach you how to write. All you can do is read. And write. Every day.
“It’s all cosmic theatre,” he said. Tom Robbins has indeed lived an imaginative life. His life and his books have influenced my life choices. I told him that when I finally got to meet him. I’ve been waiting close to thirty years to say thank you to the man who changed the way I see the world and the way I see language. I read Still Life with Woodpecker and it changed everything. Language suddenly came alive for me and I was hungry for it. I didn’t know books like that existed. Books filled with outlaws and women who said fuck. Books with talking inanimate objects and recipes for homemade bombs.
Tom Robbins opened my eyes to a new way of living and a new way of thinking. He wrote books about people who didn’t just accept society as it was and lived life on their own terms. He wrote books about the falsity of religion and the transitory nature of love. He wrote books that spoke to me and for that I am forever grateful.
“Who knows how to make love stay?
1. Tell love you are going to Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.
2. Tell love you want a memento of it and obtain a lock of its hair. Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides. Face southwest. Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic language. Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a moustache on your face. Find love. Tell it you are someone new. It will stay.
3. Wake love up in the middle of the night. Tell it the world is on fire. Dash to the bedroom window and pee out of it. Casually return to bed and assure love that everything is going to be all right. Fall asleep. Love will be there in the morning.”
Thanks again, Tom Robbins. I love ya.