What kind of blog would this be if I did not comment on the visit of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee to St. Paul? Her visit was sponsored by the Yarnery, where I teach, and Theresa manages and teaches. I have to say right off that generally I am skeptical about going to large events of any kind. I didn’t even go see Springsteen because the venue was too big. Also, I love to read, but writers often are not very good public speakers. So, I don’t usually attend readings. (Except for Molly Ivins.) Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy reading the Yarn Harlot. She is very funny and perceptive and a good writer. I just couldn’t understand why people would drive for many hours to hear her read or speak. However, Maura, who set up this whole deal and deserves 90% of the credit, asked me to be the MC and giver of door prizes. (Due to my shy and retiring nature, I’m sure.) OK, I can do that. And since my day job is around the corner from the Harlot’s hotel, I can be the handler/chauffeur. Fine. I pick her up, like her immediately, and off we go. (Stopping to take a picture of the sock with Peppermint Patty.) I drop Ms. Harlot at the shop and head over to the auditorium to help and get ready to be the warm up act. When I arrived at William Mitchell Law School I felt like a little folk singer who was hired to warm up for the Rolling Stones.
The crowd was huge. The line to get into the still closed auditorium was endless. The stares from the law school students were priceless. Man in black jacket has a stunned expression I missed when he turned around.
A little loopy even. The first door prize was a bag of Sockotta to be awarded as I saw fit. I did mother and daughter pairs. Huge laugh for Lisa(?) who stood and pointed to her obviously soon to be born daughter. A mother and son (Devin in striped shirt.) qualified too. I am certainly glad that there is no you tube of my inept pitching style as I began hurling yarn to the winners in the audience. (Yarn is soft. No one got hurt. I hope). And there were lots of excellent catchers. Hey, this is fun. Jess, knitting and voice teacher and vocalist extraordinaire, warmed up the audience with the French version of O Canada. (Hey, my mother was a Marcotte. We had to have both official languages.) Then everyone stood up and welcomed Steph with the English version. More fun.
I settled down backstage into a huge comfy leather chair (for moot court or something I suppose) and watched Steph and the audience. It was a little odd. Like being there but still being a little apart. I was supposed to watch the time and make sure things went smoothly.
Clearly, this is a woman who knew her audience, had great timing, and a wicked but quiet sense of humor. For some reason, as I watched and listened, I thought of Mark Twain. Don’t start throwing things at me. I am not comparing the Yarn Harlot to Mark Twain, saying they are equals or anything. Just stop, you Twainiacs. I have sharp sticks. (It’s how my mind works. O Canada in French -my Quebecois grandfather. The copy of Life on the Mississippi he received at HS graduation for having the highest grades in English. The same copy of Life on the Mississippi rebound and given to me for my HS graduation. So, Mark Twain. That’s how it happened. )
I thought of the experience people used to have when there were speaking tours — crowds turning out to hear people like Emmeline Pankhurst and Roald Amundsen. And Mark Twain. People would come out, make an evening of it, hang around with their friends, dine and drink, then go hear a speaker or humorist who they all loved. A sense of community was being nurtured. Here’s a quote on a Twain performance during an 1895 speaking tour :
“A CONTINUOUS LAUGH” was the headline of a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article that went on, “To tell the story of such a lecture is like trying to narrate a laugh. Those who heard it enjoyed it, and those who did not cannot conceive of it.”
From the Minneapolis Tribune 21 July, 1895. “This eminent humorist… promises to entertain a large audience. It is said, to make a good lecture, the first thing is to know what to leave out, the second thing what to put in, and the third when to leave off. Mark Twain knows all these and his greatest failing is that he leaves off all too soon. We think he has hardly begun when his hour of talking is passed and he bids us good night. “
I thought how most of those in the audience learned of this event via the internet, and check the Harlot each day via bloglines or google reader. But technology hasn’t replaced the gathering. It has encouraged a sense of community that knitters would not have without it, I think.
I had the fun job of entertaining the long line of knitters waiting to get their books signed. (Yes, alright, there was a little shopping involved, too. Fab scarf and look of serious concentration Catherine.)
My duties involved giving out chocolate and door prizes and chatting. I can do all of those things and had a great time with all. There were groups who were meeting up for the first time. There were mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, babies. One man said to me,”Wow, this is like a Star Trek convention!” and we discussed geek crossover concepts.
I loved the evening, and the Harlot. In addition to being damned funny, she was kind, gracious and patient.
She signed books until 11:00 at night, even though she’d been up since 4 am. We helped pack up the gifts she received so we could ship them home for her, pulling out the beer since she can’t take it on the plane nor could we ship it. She asked me to pick two for her to take back to the hotel. I’m not that fussy a beer drinker, so I’m pulling some out and hear a hiss from behind. (Not that one, it gives you the runs! ) Oh, ok. (Not that one, it’s terrible.) Oh, ok. I settled on Summit, a St. Paul beer, and another to remain nameless so each of you can imagine Stephanie kicking back with your bottle and trying to remember what city she was in.
Ms. Yarn Harlot knew what to leave out, what to put in, and when to leave off. OK, so I might not drive to Omaha to see her again, but I sure as heck would go to Minneapolis.