Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tea with Natalie

I just got back from Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, aka MoFo's, on Madison's eponymous Willy St. "The second I got off the plane here I felt better," Nat said, and as we drove slowly down Willy, "and now I feel 'uman again." She doesn't say "Human," rather, 'uman. East Coast accent still holding strong.

The call came this afternoon, as I drove down 73 South to come home from teaching creative writing to JHS kids. We had fun all morning - exquisite corpses, Mad Libs - playing with storytelling while sneaking in what last minute lessons - grammar and use of detail - I could while not having them notice we were doing anything more than having fun. I'll grade their final papers over the next couple of weeks, then off to the next class.

So I had Fiona Apple blasting, windows down, 70degree wind coming in, and I barely heard my phone ring. Barely. I picked it up, even though I was going 70 and had to reach for my ipod at the same time to turn off Fiona. "Hello? Miriam? It's Natalie Goldberg."

I had offered my number anywhere I could find a connection to her - not having her direct email or phone - earlier last week, since I knew she was coming to town. I imagined she'd have handlers - folks to take her places, interviews, etc, but just in case she needed some "'uman" contact, I put it out there. I'll be her lackey! And her buddy! Whatever she needs. I've been a teacher on the road and it isn't easy.

Turns out she was calling me to see if there was a natural foods store near her hotel, downtown Madison. Well, Mifflin St Grocery Coop closed, so that leaves Whole Foods or Willy St Coop. "How about I come get you and we go there?" "Yeah! Then we'll get time to hang out."

After a couple of delays (her plane got redirected), and after I had Dylan's birthday dinner with him ("Tell your partner THANK YOU for letting me have you on his birthday," said Nat when I dropped her off later), I picked her up at the hotel and took her the long way around, showing off our lakes in the setting sun. She was at bliss, sat back in her seat, asked a million questions and smiled the whole way. "I've been here before but I never even guessed there was anything outside of the downtown area," she mused, and then "I can tell this is a great place to live."

We talked about Shambhala and her issues with Chogyam Trungpa while we wrestled open string cheese. Debated black bean hummus or regular. Plenty of OJ and Kombucha. So hard to be on the road. On the way back, we began to talk about dead parents - mine gone now many years, hers just a few, despite her being almost twice my age, and she asked me if I wanted to get coffee. She loved Mother Fool's of course, and while I was paying she snuck two chairs out the side door and we watched the rest of the sun and felt the warm breeze as we drank and chatted.

I was frankly shocked not to run into anyone on a Tuesday night in Madison on Willy St. And glad. Glad that somehow just the two of us had that time, no one to meet (she'll meet plenty of you tomorrow at her reading!), no one else she had to talk to. Just the two of us. She's estatic that I am teaching (without prompting she said "I'll send the folks who ask me to come teach to you, ok?") and in love with life. You could tell none of the people who served her knew who she was. For me, it was like I was walking around with - I dunno, Tammy Baldwin or (I'm struggling to think of similarly famous figures who would be totally recognizable to people in other circles - a big sports star, say, or not a rock star, but maybe Ani or Dar Williams or something. Part of me was like "Um, don't you know who this is?" and the other part, the bigger part, was like "How nice for her, that she can just be, you know, 'uman for one night. Only I know 'who she is' and that barely matters in comparison to who she *is* as a 'uman."

Thanks for the tea and company, Natalie.

Tomorrow I'll tool her around town so she can get a better taste. Of Madison, that is.

If you don't know already, please come hear her read/get her new book/get it signed at Borders West ("Why did they put me at Border's?" "Canterbury closed." "That's a shame.") at 7pm tomorrow night, 3/18/09.


  1. oh man! if i hadn't been sick today i probably would have been cashiering at the co-op when you two came through. i would have loved to meet her! i'm glad you had a good day. :) unfortunately i can't make it to her reading tomorrow. :(

  2. Ack! Well, listen to WHA at 1pm today to hear her...Hope you are feeling better!

  3. Beautifully written piece, Miriam, and I am so envious!!! I'm glad Natalie got a taste of Madison through your eyes, though. You have pretty eyes. :) Let's get together soon!

  4. Thanks, Lisa Marie. And I still hope to do a retreat with you sometime...Also am angling to get Natalie back to do one here. She's expensive but we'll see what we can do! Um, we meaning me. : )