J.B. Blackford

Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.

A Night with Neil Gaiman Is Worth a Bucket of Snot

This blog is almost two weeks late. I wanted to write about Neil Gaiman’s one-stop Pittsburgh “tour” as soon as possible, but I took a gamble: I went out to see him on a cold night with enough of a tickle in my throat and a throb in my head to suggest I was getting sick. The next day I succumbed to a  full-blown sinus infection, but every lozenge, cup of tea, and mucus-stifled breath was worth it — in fact, I’d even go so far as to say that I would do it again.  To me, hearing Neil Gaiman speak is worth a whole load of snot. (And I mean that in the best, most endearing way possible).

Summarizing the night isn’t the purpose of this blog, but I will say these few things:

1) At the risk of not being as “slick” as it could be after several cities’ worth of preparation, this evening of anecdotes, Q&A, and readings became riveting in its real, in-the-moment development. This was not rehearsed, predetermined, scripted — it was fans being treated to an experience with an author whom they most likely consider demiurge-status; it was a formal space made intimate by Gaiman’s self-effacing habit of rambling on and around a point, like a group of friends listening to the best storyteller of the bunch.

2) Getting to hear unpublished material, much like a favorite band playing a new song, is the joy of every devoted fan, and you find yourself even more ebullient when the new song (or in this case a passage of the not-yet-published The Ocean at the End of the Lane) is absolutely enthralling and in the same vein of material that the artist captured you with in the first place.

3) Not many thing make me shut off my phone, but Neil Gaiman warrants a full shut-down, not just a silencing.

Of course the details of the night hold much more than just these sentiments, but what struck me most boldly and clearly during that hour and a half is that, for me, Neil Gaiman epitomizes the concept of a storyteller. From the almost believable to the slightly bizarre to the utterly outrageous, I accept whatever it is he comes up with. He is an artist who inspires countless others with his artistry: fan fiction, fan art, fan tattoos. Because he writes, he incites an infinite progression of creation. Or, as this fan aptly summarizes, he makes people feel like this: 

Art and artists, in whatever medium we find them, generate inspiration. It’s a shame we no longer live in an era of patronage where art is recognized as essential for its own sake, for the balance it brings to a world hosting horror and sadness, for its ability to exponentially perpetuate itself.  I came home Gaiman’s “lecture” (although it was really more of a chat) to churn out another 1,000 words of the story I’m working on, bridging a gap that I had previously not known how to connect. Hearing Gaiman tell stories that night — reading the stories he puts to the page — makes me want to write. Reading Rilke and Loy makes me want to write. Watching Philippe Petit balance on a tightrope in Man on Wire makes me want to write. Seeing the latest Carnegie Art Museum exhibit or Mattress Factory installation makes me want to write. Getting a new tattoo from ink-maestro Cristina Garcia makes me want to write.

There is no end or boundary to where inspiration can be found, and sometimes I think — like adventure — we have to go out and find it. 

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