I’m sitting in the departure lounge at JFK thinking how glad I am I came to New York to receive in person my Christopher medallion for UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH (that’s the award, pictured to the right).
I spent part of the morning of the awards ceremony with Sarah Landis, my Hyperion/VOICE editor, admiring the amazing view of the Empire State Building from Hyperion Books’ new digs in Lower Manhattan. It’s nice to see the publisher’s enthusiasm for THE FOUR SEASONS remains high, and that sales are holding steady.
Later I went uptown to see my agent, Meg Ruley. The Jane Rotrosen Agency’s digs are the opposite of the sleek, ultramodern Hyperion offices. Jane remodeled a multi-story townhome she bought many years ago (smart lady!) into a home for the agency, and a home it truly is. They’ve kept the cozy look, with a comfortable parlor filled with clients’ books, a backyard garden, and a creaky staircase with flowered wallpaper. The only thing that says not to expect a corseted matron to sweep in from an Edith Wharton or Henry James novel and ring the maid for tea is the posters of agency best-sellers covering the walls and stairwell. In every little cranny and back room of the house-turned-business, some of the nicest people in New York (including Meg herself) are hard at work helping their clients succeed. I am truly fortunate to be among them.
Meg and I went from there to the Whitney Museum to see the current exhibition featuring works by Jenny Holzer. Holzer is best known for scrolling neon marquees featuring her own aphorisms and quotations from others. The focus of this show was the occupation of Iraq, using statements from civilian and military officials, US soldiers, and Iraqis to portray the toll of war on human life and character. Since one is forced to read at the relentless pace of the marquees – slower than normal reading speed but too fast to absorb nuanced meanings – the overall effect is of being caught up in a wash of language that is both confrontational and elusive. It left me speechless, an amusing irony not just since Holzer’s foundation is words, but because as a writer I am not usually at a loss for them.
I walked back to my hotel through Central Park in springtime. The petting zoo was full of kids in winter coats they have not yet shed, but which now flop open with no more than a t-shirt underneath. For New Yorkers I imagine that’s as much a sign of spring as flowering trees and daffodils.
The Christopher Awards ceremony that evening touched me deeply. In the beautiful McGraw-Hill auditorium, I watched clips of the winning films and television specials with my companion for the evening, author Susanne Dunlap (LISZT’S KISS, EMILIE’S VOICE, THE MUSICIAN’S DAUGHTER). Michael Bart and his wife, Bonnie, were there as well, since we jointly received the award for UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH–Michael for his years of research and me for my writing. Congratulations to you again, Michael, and to Bonnie as well.
Afterwards, Susanne and I partied with Oscar the Grouch, who said he didn’t see why he had to leave his comfortable garbage can just because the Sesame Street Group received the lifetime achievement award that night. Muppeteer Carroll Spinney, who had Oscar on his arm, confided to me when his little green friend wasn’t listening that he doesn’t think Oscar is really all that grouchy, since he knows how much Carroll loves him.
Susanne and I stayed until the clean-up crew ripped out the tablecloth under our empty wine glasses (well, not exactly, but they looked like they might). By then the pianist was accompanying Carroll, who was singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and “The Rainbow Connection” with Mousketeer-era people like me -all of us Sesame Streeters through our children and grandchildren.
With only about two dozen remaining guests, the room was quiet enough for a few last conversations, some of the best of the evening. I spent a little time with Father Dennis Cleary, the new director of The Christophers, which gave me the chance to tell him in person how thrilled I was that the themes I had tried to convey in UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH had been recognized by the awards committee. There’s a consistent message in all my novels as well as this book, that our decisions are what define us as people, and that principled choices enable us to become more than we might imagine possible.
I finished my stay in New York with a visit the following morning to the Frick Collection for what’s becoming a tradition for me and another author friend Stephanie Cowell (MARRYING MOZART and THE GREEN DRESS). We’ve been meeting at a different art museum each time I’m in New York, and we stroll around catching up with each other between stops to admire the paintings. Stephanie is a lifelong New Yorker, and she showed me a Rembrandt self-portrait, done in middle age, that has been a force in her life for many years – a heady blend of saint, sage, and bodhisattva, whose eyes hold her accountable for herself since her last visit.
As we left the museum, I was holding a rolled up poster of the Rembrandt, since I don’t think I’ll be at the Frick often enough for him to work that spiritual magic on me in person. After a quick stop at a deli, we took our lunch to Central Park and sat in the spring light talking about our books, both published and in progress, and about using our blessings well. The evening before, Father Cleary had ended by thanking the honorees for our creative expression, and offering a prayer that we all might continue to use our talents and skills to make future Christopher-worthy contributions as writers and filmmakers. I intend to do my best to live up to that challenge.
Time to board the plane for home. A very nice thought indeed.