Sunday, May 18, 2008

My five minutes with Donald Miller

Yes, the Donald Miller of Blue Like Jazz notoriety. The angsty evangelical who came of age spiritually in the Hawthorne district here in Portland.

He was the keynoter at the annual conference of the Evangelical Press Association conference (also here in Portland this year), at which I was not a keynoter, only a presenter of a couple workshops on writing and editing. I did not attend Miller’s rambling address (as those who did attend later described it), because I had already had my moment with Donald Miller.

It was a couple years ago that I heard about Anne Lamott coming to Powells for a reading and book signing. Her Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith had just been released. I was already a Lamott groupie, enchanted as I am by her subjects, her prose, her perspective, her dreads. So I arrived at Powells, locked up my bike along Couch St., went upstairs—and found the room SRO. Oh well, I thought, it’s not like I haven’t seen her, heard her read, enjoyed her commentary on herself, her son, faith, Dubya. So I headed for the coffee room.

A while later I packed up and started through the store for the exit and my bike—but via the reading room, where I figured the crowd would have thinned out and I could rest my eyes on Lamott for a moment. For some reason, her diminutive self is a restful object for my eyes. Sure enough, a mere half dozen devotees remained, patiently, in the book-signing line, so I planted myself on a stray chair at the back and just watched Lamott interact with her admirers. She looked fatigued, but was gracious to each person. Especially to the person she was listening to at the moment. Something about correspondence between publishers, and he was chagrinned about a misunderstanding, and she said Not at all, I was happy to get the advance copy, and although I’m a little tired, if you can wait a few minutes till I’m finished here, we can talk more.

So he turned from the table to wait, saw me sitting by myself at the back taking it all in, and as he walked toward me I realized that I knew this face: it was on the cover of Willamette Week, which had recently featured a profile of Donald Miller, whose Blue Like Jazz is conspicuously set in Portland.

He spoke first. “Are you with her?” he asked, his with clearly conveying partner, and his eyes confirming the intent of his question. Admiringly confirming, it seemed to me.

Stop, O Beating Heart. Me and Anne Lamott. Anne Lamott and I.

“No,” I said. I may have laughed, too. “Just watching.”

“Oh,” he said.

“So whatever possessed Thomas Nelson to publish your book?” I asked him. “It’s hardly your, um, typical evangelically approved book.”

“Dunno.” Donald Miller smiled a little smile. “They offered me the most money, and I had rent to pay.”

By then the final person in line had snagged Lamott’s signature on the title page of Plan B, and Miller told me See ya, and joined her at the table to resume where they had left off.

Why would I want to hear Donald Miller ramble when he has already asked me—personally, unambiguously, and admiringly—if I was with Anne Lamott?


At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Astin Mills said...

Authors have such a unique perspective when commenting on fellow writers!

For example: in 'Blue Like Jazz' Donald Miller was offended/frustrated at perceived hypocrisy by DJD during a similar Powell's reading room moment. This is the only point in his book in which I found myself a bit...defensive perhaps? New to his work and still fresh to the genre, I had just recently read DJD's same essay and had discovered uplifting and thoughtful prose that made me want to go ply some untried waters with my fly rod. I didn't see hypocrisy as Donald Miller did.
While I could see where he was coming from...I saw him as making a point from a limited perspective...a personal opinion. I felt myself defending DJDs essay rather than letting Miller make his point.

As a fellow author, you have incredible authority to criticize, rate, or describe your fellow authors. What you say...or don't say...carries authority and garners attention.

Your bias towards Anne Lamott is beautiful! What you say...and mostly what you don't say about Donald Miller is intriguing. And I might be reading into it more than you originally intended.


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