I smile ingratiatingly at the elderly woman.
"More water?" she asks as though it comes directly from her body and I am desiccating her one Dixie cup as a time. "Maybe some for your girlfriend, this time, hm?" she chides as though I had been neglecting Amber in my rehydration.
"Yes, please," I say, holding out the paper cup that has been drained twice already. I think it a bit silly that we have to bother with this formality, since it is only ice water and I could easily pour it from the pitcher myself. She should concern herself with the patrons eying the complimentary wine. When I tried initially to serve myself water, she snapped at me that I was trying steal her job, one which I am certain is volunteer and hardly glamorous. She is not, after all, one of the artists being displayed.
Amber, Daniel, and I came straight from a craft fair at a church a few towns away, one where Amber sold only a few items owing to foot traffic in the low dozens. I sold one book, to Dave and Nikki who live down the street, and otherwise baked in the sun. This was not the sort of crowd that best appreciates books about insubstantial girls fighting vampires and other mythical beasties.
The day has been long and short on nourishment. The table at Polly M. Law's opening "Ritual Gestures Performed at the Appointed Hour" is laid out with chutney, rice chips, hummus, grapes, blackberries, and almonds. The gallery stood no chance of my temperance and I am too famished to pretend otherwise.
I see Polly, knowing her better by her nervousness toward the keen patrons than Daniel's brief description of her going into the Woodstock Artistsí Association and Museum today. I knew her only through her art and mentally pictured her as painfully thin thirty-something with dyed black hair above her shoulders. Aside from being female, little of that is description is accurate.
Since I saw one of her pieces via Daniel, I have been a fan. She creates slightly morbid, three-dimensional paper craft women and angels. In her words from her site, "My work is paper dolls with deep personal issues. My subjects range from the toxic legacy of child abuse, commentary on the dichotomies of self women have historically faced, to the utter joy of language and how ideas become not only words but also pictures." I wish I could have her create covers for my books, a statement I have written to her more than once. Glancing at the descriptions and prices today, I am certain I could not afford to commission her without becoming far more popular and buttering up my publisher for a year solid.
After I look over her displayed pieces - far more intricate and arresting in person than online - I approach her to introduce myself.
"Hi, you're Thomm," she says before I can.
"Uh... yes, I am. And you're Polly. Photographs don't do justice to your work," I say.
"Thank you," she says.
We look at one another for a long moment, hoping the other person might say something substantive to give us reason to keep talking. There is so much I could say to her in admiration of her work, but we both stall as someone else approaches her to wish compliments. I wander away to find more grapes.
Daniel intercepts my food gathering. "What did you and Polly talk about?"
"Not much. I told her I liked her art then I came over here."
"You artists," he chides, since he is right to expect more from us. The only artists I have less to say to than ones whose art I do not like is ones whose art I do, but don't feel comfortable enough to discover the right vocabulary in this gallery. "You are wonderful," I wanted to say. "You created breathing art from paper, buttons, and shells. With the same raw materials, I do not think I could create anything this beautiful. I love you a little for that."
On occasion, authors want me to review their self-published (read as: typically under-edited, derivative) books and I can't bring myself to even bother to acknowledge the request most of the time - and I am hardly adulatory when I do. The only two writers whose work I will critique in detail are those whom I like as people outside their art, who I know can take honest criticism without getting defensive. (Also, neither of them write in my narrow genre, so helping them does not seem like aiding the competition.)
Michael Mammano, about whom I have written elsewhere, weaves adolescent and gay angst and intrigue in a way that is definitely marketable. At the preceding craft fair, I had made eleven pages of fairly adulatory notes about his unfinished comic novel of Craigslist prostitution, a project he had set aside to create his Crossroads Series. Prior to that, I critiqued the first few chapters of Angela Lovell's also comedic memoir of her brief marriage to a devout Mormon. I am a fan of both of them, though my connections in the publishing industry would not help them. All I can provide them is my opinion on what they have written.
If we are not friends of some sort, I know I would not have been so inclined. Critiquing anyone I don't know makes me wince and I only have so many hours in the day in which to read. (Also, I declared to Amber that I have to read an unrelated book in between critiquing sessions so I do not burn out. Currently, my brain scrub is David Wong's John Dies at the End, since she also declared I ought to read more in my genre.)
Daniel says that Polly reacts to this publicity much as I seem to, the rough demeanor of "I am glad you like my work and all, but it would prefer if you would like with while I am in the other room. Ideally with earplugs in so none of my senses are aware of your liking." That is not an option. One cannot have an opening or reading if one is not present. These events come with the territory of professional creativity.
At best, we can just hope that the venues are not stingy with the complimentary wine, to dull our anxiety at facing praise.
Soon in Xenology: Male friendships. Lake George. Burlesque. Melanie.