I began my promotion of Deliver Us from Me-Ville this week with a trip to Indiana, where Thursday night I gave the baccalaureate address to a group of graduating high schoolers and Friday morning I appeared on the Harvest Show. I enjoyed both events, but I learned something about myself along the way: I am my most comfortable when I'm surrounded by friends and family.
I don't think that's an enormous epiphany; probably most of my friends and family could have told me that about myself. But it comes into stark relief when you're having makeup applied to your face by a perfect stranger, or when you're standing in front of a room full of people and you've only met two of them. Every offhand joke or comment was not so much an improvisation as it was a shot in the dark, and every bullet point was not so much a declaration as it was a conjecture.
Public speaking is necessarily unidirectional, I think. I tried on my way home to imagine a conversation involving one moderator and five hundred or more participants, but I couldn't quite imagine it. Perhaps I was too busy imagining a world without tollways and toll authorities, but I digress, which brings me to another point: public speaking doesn't nicely accommodate digression. The offhand comment takes the public speaker off script, and getting back on script in a timely manner becomes supremely important. There are cookies to be eaten, there is punch to be drunk.
The TV interview was more natural for me, despite the makeup and the dress-up, in part because of the give and take in the interview but also because just before we went on air the host remembered that we had met before, that I had appeared on the show to promote the first book. We had a good, brief chat about summer superhero movies that broke the ice and eased us into discussion about Me-Ville.
I look for friends wherever I go--either old friends to serve as a secure base in an unfamiliar environment, or new friends to ease the tension of social protocol. It's not surprising to me, then, that the song Friends has such ongoing appeal, that it may well have been performed at the commencement ceremony of these kids' parents twenty-some years ago even as it was performed last night. "A lifetime's not too long," the saying goes, "to live as friends."
On the way home I listened to Dennis Miller on his radio program, engaging in unrelenting, fast-paced banter with callers and guests, busily one-upping one another with arcane cultural references. Part of the show was a reflection on an interview earlier in the week Miller conducted with his old friend Norm McDonald, who took Miller's place as news anchor on Saturday Night Live. Miller commented that "it took me a while to figure out Norm's rhythm"--which is, I suppose, a pretty good assessment of the value of friendships that are approaching forever.
My thanks to Damon and Mandy, to Kelly and Stefan and Chuck and Mindy and Dave, for making me feel welcome and easing my anxiety about being in unfamiliar environments without pre-established secure bases. I hope you don't mind if I start calling you friends.