Wednesday, July 29, 2009

square heads, shutter sisters and other diversions at blogher09

On Saturday, the last day of the Blogher09 conference, at the Storytelling and Blogging panel, in a roomful of women who were there to discuss writing and creativity, I took the microphone and talked about a woman with a square head. I spotted her at the People's Party on Thursday night as she threaded her way around little knots of people. She held a glass of white wine in her hand and her neck supported the most geometric face I have ever seen. Not just a square face, with the mouth and chin peculiarly squashed, as if her head had been built to order by a slightly careless designer - but a downright cubic head. I wanted to lift up her hair and search her skull to see if she had corners and right angles.

It was a mistake to mention her. I was trying to describe my ideas on storytelling, and the way in which I would approach the story of the BlogHer conference when it came time to hack my way through the experience. I drew some laughs from the room, but I knew that at least a few of my fellow attendees would visit my weblog later, and they would expect an appearance from the square-headed woman. She went from a stray detail to a great square rock in the stream of my story, turning the flow of my narrative to chaos and foam.

Damn you, square-headed woman. And damn me too, who wanted to impress a roomful of women.


I wake up at 3:30 am Thursday morning to fly to Chicago. On the Regina-Toronto leg of the flight, I start watching Sunshine Cleaning. The flight lands and I miss the last 20 minutes of the movie. On the Toronto-Chicago leg, my wife watches the movie and describes the ending for me. As the plane begins to drop down from 38,000 feet, the moment of my birthday passes. I am 38. Seven hours from now the square-headed woman is waiting for me.


On Sunday afternoon we finally leave the hotel and walk out into the city. Chicago is much as I remembered it from my last visit in summer 2004: downtown streets like dried river paths through art deco canyons, the air suffused with muggy heat, homeless people stepping in and out of notice as they ask for change or emerge from under bridges. Everyone has cameras riding on their hips. There seem to be more Irish pubs than ever.


Twenty years ago my parents are driving me out of the city, along a gravel road so thick with grasshoppers that we seem to be splashing through them. It is my 18th birthday and I am on my way to a creative writing school in the country. Next to me lies a heavy Smith-Corona typewriter with an erasing ribbon and a golf ball head. Within a few days I will realize that most of what I write is pretty terrible. The square-headed woman sips her glass of white wine and takes a drunken step into the party ballroom.


Saturday evening and I am the impromptu judge of a contest at the Shutter Sisters suite, standing in front of a crescent of women and holding a plastic glass of red wine. The square-headed woman is 48 hours in my past. Next to me Stephanie Roberts holds up a book of photographs. Jen Lemen stands on a chair and calls out questions. Shutters click. Two hands go up. Someone blurts an answer. I put down my glass of wine and point.


At the MamaPop party the DJ puts on the last song of the evening. Friday night has segued into Saturday morning. The bar has closed an hour before but people still crowd the room. As the first notes of Lean On Me sound, a few dancers slip their hands around each others' shoulders and form a circle, an uneven, swaying, drunken organism that swallows the entire floor in seconds. I insert myself between Schmutzie and Lena. My drink splashes over my wrist as the waves of force in the circle break against my body. The lights go up and we wander out in search of more drink, set stubbornly against the end of the night.


I walk out of the People's Party on Thursday night in search of Schmutzie, who has vanished somewhere in the press of 1,000 conference goers. Women sling swag bags over their shoulders and swig beer with their free hands. I spot Schmutzie by a pillar, talking with a tiny woman in glasses and soft slipper-like shoes. The woman catches my eye as I walk up and we move into a long, easy and grateful hug. I have waited years to meet Blackbird, and the moment is just as warm and unforced as I had always imagined. As we embrace, a woman with the squarest head I have ever seen threads past us and disappears into the crowd.


amy von hawkins said...

Oh, if only this post contained some glowing blue quantum nudity. Well done, sir.

palinode said...

Hah! I was thinking of Slaughterhouse-5 when I was writing it, but now I realize that I just got Watchmen on Blu-ray a few days ago. If you like, though, I could paint myself blue and stand around naked. I'm not quite as ripped as Doctor Manhattan, mind you.

Headless Mom said...

This is a lovely post about the weekend.

I was thrilled to meet you and see the unequaled Schmutzie again. *hat tip*

elfini said...

I agree - well done!

I might not have seen Frank Black, but I once met Kurt Vonnegut. He signed my book and then drew an asshole.

So it goes

Whit said...

I found it to be more of a rectangle.

Neil said...

Woman with Square Head --

blackbird said...

I'm awfully glad you didn't point her out to me - the square-headed woman. She'd have plagued me.

As for the meeting ~ the pleasure was mine.

Amy@Bitchin'WivesClub said...

Lovely post. Much more lyrical than my gushing of excitement and fun. :) I'm glad I missed the square-headed woman, as well. There was so much continuity from session to session that I would've been preoccupied by her the whole conference!

sweetsalty kate said...

Oh god I can't post now. This is too good. Do you know how good this is, this bit of writing? Yes you do. Deep deep deep deep deep down in your soul where your ego lives and disguises itself as a Really Nice Guy Who Has No Idea How Good He Is.

The cabin awaits you and the missus.

Marcel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Damn that was funny.


palinode said...

Headless Mom - It was a pleasure to meet you as well, although I have to say that you have more head than your name implies.

elfini - The Vonnegut pucker! He draws that in Breakfast of Champions, I think.

Whit - Damn. Now I have to go back and rewrite the entire thing.

palinode said...

Neil - Exactly. Throw some curly red hair on top of that and you've got our mysterious square-headed woman.

blackbird - Next year we will have to spend more time hanging out.

Amy - The square-headed woman fills up your brain until no more space is left for anything else.

palinode said...

sweetsalty kate - A HA HA HAHAAHAAAAH. I deliberately and most meanspiritedly wrote this to crush the spirits of all other bloggers. Especially you. Because you're talented and dedicated to your craft, and that will never do. You must DIE.


But in the event that you don't die, we will definitely come visit next summer.

Anonymous bhj - I was hoping some of the funny came through. Also, 'Anonymous BHJ' should be your rap name.

shot in the arm said...

Hey, I met you during the conference and also when FakePlasticFish & myself were getting cabs to her hostel and me to Union Station. It was great to check out your blog. Nice work :)