Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So on Sunday it was a bit chilly and windy, but that didn't stop us from heading out in the afternoon to see Edna O'Brien being interviewed by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne at the Dublin Book Festival. Mark really enjoyed Éilís Ní Dhuibhne's book the Dancers Dancing, and I think he was hoping it would be more of a conversation between the two writers than an interview. It was a free event, but as the room was extremely small, you had to sign up in advance. As our luck would have it, Mark got us in, and though I've never read either author, I was pleased to go.

The City Hall building's interior looked as you'd expect it to: ornate, with mosaics and statues, and chandeliers, etc. I took a couple of discrete photos:

We mulled around, looking at different publishers' displays, and then found the line for the Edna O'Brien event. There were about ten people in front of us, waiting at the foot of the stairs for the previous event going on in the room to finish up. No rush. We joined the line, shoulder to shoulder, and then some people got in behind us, and some behind them, etc. Not a huge crowd by any stretch, as the capacity of the room was only about 50 or so.

But then this group of three people suddenly wedged themselves into where we were standing, and instead of standing shoulder to shoulder, I was crowded into the wall, smooshed over to the side and kind of behind Mark. We couldn't talk comfortably, and we're like, "What just happened?" We looked over and the monster edging us over was a little woman not much taller than me. Mark initially went with his usual tactic, putting his messenger bag in her face, but that didn't help me and my intimate relationship with the wall, so I insisted that we switch places. I then stood next to the woman, so close that if she weren't so busy talking her two companions' ears off, I could have whispered sweet nothings in her ear.

So we did the only thing we could do, at that point. We held a conversation about how annoyed we were, right there. But being the "intellectuals" (read pseudo-intellectuals, if you must) that we are, we of course had to relate it to power dynamics, and throw a little post-colonial theory in there for good measure. At the start, we had stood there, in our spots, our feet planted on the floor, happy as clams. The woman edged us in, sure. But she could not have done so if we had not lost our footing at least somewhat willingly. Now, as it happens we were quite annoyed, but I think part of our annoyance, or at least I'll speak for myself here, was with ourselves, for giving up our comfort, our position. But still, one might say, to make a fuss in such a fancy building, that would be so undignified -- what's the harm of moving over for your neighbor?

Something about the incident left me feeling strangely victimised and angry. As we stood there, I hurled insults into the woman's ears, quietly, but well loud enough for her to hear them. But she didn't. She no more heard them than she was aware of the fact she had invaded our little comfortable zone of shoulder-to-shoulder happiness.

But the line started to move, and we stepped up, and reclaimed our place in line, ahead of the fancy cutting foreign lady and her Irish hangers on. And as we climbed the stairs we looked down to see that instead of giving her name to gain admittance to the event, she was yammering about how she wanted to be added to a stand-by list. "She wasn't even on the list!" I exclaimed.

As we entered the room, we considered ourselves lucky because the venue was truly intimate. It was filling quickly, and we figured our little nudgers wouldn't make it. We found a nice seat in the second row and watched the people entering. One older gentleman caught our eye because he looked like he must be a famous writer himself! We puzzled over who he might be, but came up with nothing. So, we imagined that he was someone fantastic. Then of course, in they entered: our line nudgers. The only remaining seats were staggered singles around the room. An unassuming man in glasses, a navy blue crew neck sweater, and a backpack, was going for an empty chair in front of us when guess who came up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder, and said that she had spotted the seat first (though he clearly had, and the proof was that he was about to sit in it when she stopped him). He paused, but being obviously not one for conflict, and a gentleman. But then we watched him floundering around the room in search of a free chair. As it happened, the only seat available was next to our "famous" old man. And then Mark and I watched with glee as the two of them struck up a conversation, and we imagined that in the end, he was much happier in the second seat.

So, what's with all this fuss about queues? Well, because people can really get pissed off over them. And in them, so much can be represented. The woman who cut our line was clearly wealthy, and while I know that "wealthy" obviously does not equal "rude," I think that she demonstrated a great deal of sophistication in sizing up our insignificance, and knew without being conscious of her own knowledge that she could take our space from us with our consent. All she consciously thought about was the fact that she wasn't on the list and she needed to get on the stand-by list as soon as possible. We were, as they say, the weakest link. And it really doesn't feel good to be the weakest link.

On Saturday, the man in the asian shop felt that he was trying to be made the weakest link. Only he refused to give up his space. He fought, and viciously! But he also made a fool of himself. And therein lies the rub.

Regarding the interview itself: Éilís Ní Dhuibhne is reputed to be a very talented writer, but she was not a talented interviewer. It's lucky for her that Edna O'Brien happens to be a compelling speaker, and the entire room hung on her every word (they really did - the microphone was horrible). She looks fantastic for her age (78), and something about her face and her mannerisms reminded me strikingly of my mother (an older version, of course). As a writer, I was inspired to hear what she had to say about writing and her process, and how she felt about the reception of her writing. I enjoyed it very much, and it fired me up to keep working on my novel.

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