Thursday, February 17, 2011

What I did in New York, with a digression into fitness and daydreaming a long way from the ball

I just had two days in New York. I'm typing this on the plane home.

On the first day I went, with my agent Merrilee and my friend Anna Schuleit (an amazing artist) to see Sarah Jones at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Sarah -- or rather, two of her characters -- interviewed me on stage.

I love what Sarah does, especially because I am a writer who has quite often had dozens of characters running around in my head at the same time. (The ones I always liked were the ones who did the most work themselves. I always loved Delirium, for example, because I only ever had to give her a straight line, and then shut up and listen.) Sarah's got a bunch of characters running around in her head, and she can hand over not just words on a page but her whole body to them and see what they do and say and think. Some of her material is scripted, but a lot of it, the best stuff, was seat-of-her-pants improvisational stuff, answering questions for the audience, and interviewing me.

The Nuyorican is TINY -- it seats about 200 people, and each of her shows there have been sold out. The final one of these experimental shows is on February 28th. Her guest interview subject will be DJ Spooky. I wish I could be there.

Sarah's website is

It's already sold out, although there are a handful of standing room tickets still available. Your best bet is to keep an eye out on Sarah's website and see if she's going to transfer the show somewhere bigger. I hope she does.

(I met Sarah, and Anna, and for that matter Paul Miller AKA DJ Spooky, at the mysterious Campfire retreat I went to last year. I made so many great new friends there.)

Yesterday began with me doing something I don't do, which is, I walked across the street from the hotel to the New York Health and Racquet Club which served as its fitness centre. Then I did 45 minutes on the elliptical, while listening to Bleak House.

The whole weight-loss and now fitness thing came about because I started researching ways to stay in as good shape as I can for as long as I can. I watched my grandfathers become sick old men. My father died suddenly at 75, but was incredibly fit and healthy, without a day's illness, until then. And I realised I didn't want to go like my grandparents did. So I did what I do when I want to understand something, and I started reading.

And everything I read said, You lose the weight and you get exercise. Vigorous exercise for at least half an hour a day is best. Which made sense: my dad jogged or swam every day until he died.

I'm not an exercise person. At school, there were the kids who were "good at games", and there were the kids who were "bad at games". I was solidly in the Bad at Games side of things. When kids lined up to pick teams, at the end there would normally be a really fat kid, or a kid with bottle-thick glasses, or a kid with a leg-brace, and me, and I'd still be picked last. I didn't mind, really, because that normally meant that I got placed a long way away from the action, and would have plenty of time to make up stories in my head, although occasionally I'd be so far away in my head that I'd be rudely slapped back to reality by being hit in the face by a hard wet leathery football.

One of the many things I liked about being an adult and, you know, not at school any more was not having to ever exercise vigorously.

(I'm pretty sure my total and complete lack of interest or rudimentary competence in any sport was hugely disappointing to my dad, who had boxed for the army, played rugby at county level, all that. And I'm grateful that I never suspected how disappointed he must have been until years later, when I had children of my own, and I saw how much joy and pride he took in my son Mike becoming a twelve-year old ice-hockey player.)

But I really like being alive. And I like being alive with a pretty decent quality of life. I'm fifty and, considering that I'm a sedentary writer who takes to exercise naturally like a duck takes to petrol, I'm in really good shape. But I could see that I might not continue to be. My annual medical check-up numbers were moving in the wrong direction. I was starting to feel creakier and older: and while getting older is one of the privileges of life on earth, and one I really like, I decided the time had come to do something about it. I don't ever want to do stupid stuff to pretend to be young, by dying my hair or whatever. (About ten years ago, irritated with being described as "boyish" in every interview, I had a white streak put in my hair. But then I decided that was silly and let it grow out.) I feel like I've earned every white hair and every wrinkle. They make me happy.

But I want to be in as good shape as I can be for the last half or third or whatever of my life. As much as I have control over it, anyway.

Losing weight, looking after myself, eating better and smarter, and exercising, is working so far. All the medical numbers that were creeping into the orange are back now in the green.

Which is also why I've just blogged this at such length. It's like putting a marker in the sand, telling people I'm doing this. Telling the world.

...and I got onto it because I was talking about yesterday. Right. So, morning, exercise. Lunch, and afternoon meeting about an astonishingly cool book that I'm going to be doing that'll probably come out in 2014, and which hasn't yet been announced, so I can't talk about it yet.

(I just stopped composing the blog entry and wrote a love-letter to my wife, who is currently in New Zealand, and whom I miss very much. I'll see her on the 13th of March, at the end of her Goes Down Under tour, and am now counting the days. There. Now I am back.)

In the evening, I went to the theatre.

Elyse Marshall has been my publicist at Harper Childrens for the last two and a half years -- since The Graveyard Book was published. She's been unfailingly nice, generous, easy, sensible, competent, trustworthy and a quick learner. I have worked with many excellent book publicists over the years, and Elyse was the best of all of them.

And now she's leaving: she's been offered a better job by Penguin, and is going to take it, and my loss and Harper Childrens' loss is Penguin's gain and the gain of their authors.

So I got my own back on her for leaving last night by scaring her silly.

She liked it, though. And it wasn't just about the fear.

I'd wanted to see PLAY DEAD since it opened. Teller (the smaller, quieter half of Penn and Teller) is a friend of mine. I also admire his writing and love his sense of the dramatic. He cowrote PLAY DEAD with Todd Robbins, who stars in it.

It's a spook show.

It's a spook show in a tiny Greenwich Village theatre, where a man in a white suit -- well, it's white at the start of the show, anyway -- gets up in front of an audience and scares the willies out of them. Sometimes the lights go out. Magic happens, and illusion. Blood is spilled.

(I myself got hauled up from the audience and put on stage with a transparent ouija board, and a transparent plastic planchette, and I put my finger on the planchette and I saw it move to spell out things it could not possibly have known.)

It's an excellent evening of pure theatre (85 minutes long, no intermission). I think it would be an excellent show to see with a loved one or a good friend. You will probably find yourself being hugged or clung to at some point in the evening, if you are not the one doing the clinging and the hugging...

And Elyse pretty much forgave me her initial dread and dismay, because she loved the show so much (it's visceral, but its also entertaining, educational and very, very funny).

The only downside was a party of ladies who hadn't quite got the idea that while the person on stage is talking, you're meant to stop talking.

Here's a YouTube video of Todd Robbins talking about the show.

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