(I am currently out of the country and have intermittent access to email, so please forgive the erratic posting.)
“Hi! My husband and I attended your birthday party last year, and we gave you a book about meteorology, and I was wondering if you got a chance to read it? My husband is a meteorologist in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, if that helps you remember?” The woman turned her voice up slightly at the end of every sentence. She had short, curly blonde hair, and her outfit leaned more towards affluent housewife than spiritual seeker. She smiled at David Lynch expectantly, clearly expecting him to be impressed by her knowledge of his interest in the weather.
“Well, no,” the director answered, smiling apologetically. “And I’ll tell you why. That’s because I haven’t been home – honestly, really haven’t been home – in six months. I’ve been promoting my movie, and I haven’t been back at my house in a long time.” The woman actually looked at him with some disappointment before retiring from the microphone. Although there had been a great deal of over-familiar address used in the Q & A sessions – the previous day’s question for Donovan that began with “Hello, brother,” was memorable – I couldn’t get used to the innocent expectation many of these people had that Lynch would remember them from a previous meeting or take them under his wing as collaborators.
It was the middle of Sunday, the final day of Lynch Weekend. The morning’s lectures had included a historical perspective on meditation from MUM’s executive vice president titled “From Lao Tzu to Einstein: Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness” and a short tutorial called “Ayurveda and Mind-Body Balance” delivered by Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D. Through a brief quiz Lonsdorf helped the audience determine their Ayurvedic type – my memory fails me, but I believe the types were dry, moist, and something else. The type dictated a particular self-care regime. The doctor shared anecdotes about the efficacy of Ayurvedic medicine as well. “I used to work with a very overweight lady, and she asked me for tips on how to lose weight. Well, I told her a lot of things she could do, and then when I saw her a little later, I asked her how it was going. ‘I don’t really care for a lot of it,’ she told me, ‘but I do like the hot water part.’ I had told her to drink hot water; it helps the digestion. Well, anyway, it happened that I was out of town and didn’t see her for number of months, and when I returned I went into the kitchen of the building. There was another woman in the room with me, like a girl really, and her back was turned to me. I had never seen her before: she was slim and had long braids. She turned around, and it was the overweight lady; she had lost about one hundred pounds.”
The story, like many I had heard during the weekend, was enchanting but slightly suspect. None of the Ayurvedic health suggestions were groundbreaking or outré – Lonsdorf spoke a great deal about going to bed early regularly, getting enough exercise, cutting down on fat and sugar, and drinking plenty of fluids. Couldn’t the overweight lady have suddenly taken up bicycling or gotten gastric bypass surgery? The possible reasons didn’t matter; what mattered was that she had drunk the hot water and then lost weight. When Bobby Roth took the podium back from Nancy Lonsdorf, he said proudly, “And Dr. Lonsdorf is just about to turn fifty, folks.” There was applause; indeed, with her soft blonde hair and slim body – covered in a figure-skimming tan suit just like Bobby Roth’s – Dr. Lonsdorf looked very young.
When the second Q&A with Lynch and Donovan began, I resolved to stand in line to ask a question. I had no idea what I would ask, but I felt strongly that I must take advantage of the opportunity to speak to David Lynch. One of my somewhat unfounded assumptions about Lynch Weekend was that the event would give me the chance to happen upon the director in a hallway or at the dessert table and speak with him in a leisurely fashion. One of the photographs from Lynch Weekend 2006 shows the director standing the center of a room surrounded by admirers as he smiles patiently and signs a DVD. I kept waiting for that same photo op to arrive, but it never did. Perhaps this was because I was very dependent on the bus that took me to and from my hotel – I could not linger in the hallway after an event but had to make haste towards the driveway, where a van driven by a member of the community was waiting.
For most of my life I have maintained the gauche activity of admiring celebrities. When I was four, largely through the influence of my parents, I began a lifelong interest in Madonna – a home movie from this period shows me singing and dancing enthusiastically along with the video for “Papa Don’t Preach.” In fifth grade I had a crush on Elijah Wood in Flipper and in sixth grade on the Ewan McGregor in Brassed Out (a Scottish film about a coal mining brass band that features a charmingly oily McGregor). The sparkling centerpiece of my idol worship commenced in 1998 with my great love generally for The Smashing Pumpkins and specifically for Billy Corgan. The band’s lead singer is a singularly devise figure – his nasal snarl and hairless pretension made immediate enemies of about half the populace – but to me at age thirteen he was a tantalizing mixture of mystic bard and rock god (a description, it occurs to me, that Donovan would probably like to apply to himself). I collected Pumpkins memorabilia through eBay auctions and obscure mailorder catalogues in the days before cohesive internet fandom and grappled with embittered thirty-year-old fans on Listessa, the SP mailing list. On October 17, 1998, the band – now reduced to Corgan, guitarist James Iha and bassist D’Arcy, having ejected drummer Jimmy Chamberlain for drug use – held a promotional signing for their new album with radio station Q101 at Navy Pier. I had a water polo game that same day, but my dad resolved to take me over to the event during our lunch break. As I walked into the room – hair wet, glasses fogging up – and spotted Corgan in the corner, I nearly fainted. The idea that I was mere feet from my man flabbergasted me, all the way through my stumbling, dumb-smile trip over to the table where the band sat. “Here you go,” the once and future king of my heart said to me, handing the CD back, and I mumbled “Thank you,” then had to go sit down*.
In the intervening years I like to think I have gotten better at meeting the people I admire. Living in New York has endowed me with the ability to pretend like I don’t notice celebrities immediately, but it has not taken away the impulse to run home and call everyone I know to tell them that I saw Josh Hartnett on Bowery and Bond Street and I don’t even like him but Josh Hartnett! In a situation like David Lynch Weekend, where I had actually paid for the privilege to share air with the object of my adoration, it seemed imperative to make the most of my proximity. But any idea of what to say to a famous person you admire seems highly boring, including doing something zany like jumping on stage or asking for a personal favor. Indeed, the sweetly naïve expectations of my co-attendees had begun to irritate me. The best questions were the ones about craft or decisions that prompted spontaneous reactions from Lynch, like the teacher who was worried about integrating TM into her school’s curriculum for fear it might be seen as a religious program. “Meditation isn’t religion,” Lynch answered. “There’s enough religion!”