I prefer recorded music to live, printed words to live readings, and movies to stage plays. I don’t need to be splashed with the drummer’s sweat to enjoy the music, or to shiver on a cold, wet stadium seat while barely being able to see the players on the field.
I hate standing around and I mostly ignore celebrities. Black Friday sale lines? Queueing at midnight to wait for the 8 a.m. release of the new iGadget? No, thanks. I’m not even going to waste my precious time at conventions by waiting to have a material piece of fandom inscribed by a grumpy artist. Neither will I stand on a street corner hoping to catch a glimpse of a famous person driving by in probably dark-tinted windows.
Nonetheless, I took a vacation day from work on Friday, and willingly stood in line for over five hours to have 40 seconds with author Neil Gaiman. Over two thousand people in this town of 152,000 felt the same way, and the line wove around the independent bookstore that was hosting the event, then stretched across several city blocks. The man himself spent eleven hours signing, saw every single fan come through, and from what I heard, was gentle, cordial and even enthusiastic to everyone.
Several people I know declared that they would never do this thing, and I might easily have said the same thing on other similar occasions. Even that evening, still reeling from the afterglow of the euphoria of the experience, I struggled to justify the time and exhaustion to my wife. (She, by the way, was entirely supportive of my adventure.)
What made this different?
A huge part of it was the community. Just knowing I was one of over two thousand people in my town who love this man’s creative work so much, being embedded in that community, was a rush. It helped that I stood with friends to pass the time. I had brought books for him to sign which I could have read while I was waiting, but didn’t need to. These huge masses of fans were readers, a social class that’s often composed of introverts. Saying it was a hugely social event for introverts sounds silly, but there it was.
It helped that the weather was unseasonably warm. I wasn’t terribly uncomfortable. Even so, I probably would have been out there even if the elements hadn’t cooperated.
I also felt a desire to show support for this incredibly creative man whose work has affected this many lives, to send a message to him that his life’s work is valued. Yes, we do that by buying his books, too, but it is somehow different to show him that smile in person, to look him in the eye as you try to communicate how profoundly the words he penned have been your companions through so many years and seasons of your life.
I can only imagine my own reaction to an event in my honor like this. (A friend took a photo of Mr. Gaiman walking up to the bookstore after seeing the line of hundreds of people several blocks long. His jaw is hanging low at the unexpected sight.)
If nothing else, consider it a feedback loop: Artist creates stuff that inspires people, people express admiration, artist is inspired to create more. Win/win! (Again, the material gain for the artist could work here, but this is a separate feedback loop.)
Ultimately, I can’t give you a Darwinian reason why I did this thing. Looking at it from a time investment, it probably doesn’t make logical sense. I don’t care. It fulfilled me. The live experience for me will forever increase my enjoyment of his works. I have no regrets.
Would I do it again?
What do you think?
Dan R. Herrick is a technologist by trade, a raconteur by disposition, and a practical strategist. He lives in the foothills of Colorado, with a roughly equal number of children and cats, and a wife who tolerates and supports his storytelling habit. Dan works at a public university, wrangling computing technology and its caretakers into some semblance of order. He writes both fiction and nonfiction because he cannot decide which is more interesting. Connect with Dan at about.me/danheretic.