Two weekends ago, I went to my first literary conference. It was a last minute decision as I deliberated back and forth whether I wanted to pay the three hundred and fifty buck fee I could ill afford to part with, plus pay for lodging and drinks and food and drinks and gas and drinks…you get the idea. There were a couple of reasons I had never gone to one of these conferences before. First of all, as big as my mouth is, it seems to become filled with cotton when I’m in the critical situation of having my work judged by committee. I love to write, but the business of writing, not so fond of much. I’ve also had this weird snapshot in my head of what a typical attendee of a writer’s conference looks like. Here goes. Remember Roger and Virginia Klarvin, the characters Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch played in the late nineties on SNL? They were these college professors who spoke in this affected manner, called each other “my lovah,” and couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Roger of the full beard and thick, gray, “Masterpiece Theatre” meets “Grizzly Adams” sweater, and Virginia of the long, stringy graying hair with teenager-like bangs crowning her middle-aged forehead. I swear, this is what I thought I’d be confronted with as they spoke of the philosophy of words and of writing. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a few Klarvin look-alikes running around, but there was a pretty cool variety of people. And instead of being intimidated by people’s work, I was really inspired. And I even read some of my own and survived the comments, both complimentary and critical.
My decision to attend came from my new 2010 motto…”Tom Jonesing it.” What does the Welsh singer of “It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and “She’s A Lady” have to do with my writing? Not so much. But I get inspiration from the strangest of places. My poor friends have heard the story so often, they take off running when they see me coming, so I’ll try to make it short.
Went up to Vegas last month with my friend Nat Johnson to support another friend who was producing a one-man show at the MGM Grand. Well, also performing there…none other than Mr. Jones himself. Tickets – a hundred bucks, so we put it out into the universe that we would score some free of charge. Five hours later, we stumble into a bar and find ourselves sitting at a table next to Tom and his band mates. When you work in entertainment, you often lose whatever awe you might have had when it comes to entertainers, but not in this instance. So Nat and I sit there staring at the drink menu trying to figure out how to approach the man without making complete idiots of ourselves. Nat, who’s got balls bigger than a T-Rex’s; Natalee, who has no problem approaching anyone and talking to them about anything; Natalee who’s done stand-up at the Comedy Store and Laugh Factory in front of hundreds of skeptical faces actually had fear in her eyes, and no amount of coaxing could get her to approach the “Sugar Daddy" himself. Finally, after a damn it all to hell moment, I gulped down my drink, announced I was gonna “Tom Jones it” and pounced. (I didn’t really pounce. Just thought it sounded like a good word. A more accurate description would probably be “I treaded both softly and hesitantly”). But the results of my sudden bravery: hanging out with Tom and his band till 4 in the morn and scoring tickets from them to the next night’s show, where we sat in the center of the theatre at the wives and girlfriends table.
Tom Jones revels in being on stage, and the joy is transferred to anyone who has a chance to experience him. But even more priceless than those tickets was being able to talk to Tom and his musicians about how doing what they love, how not allowing anything to shift them from the path of their passion has given them a life filled with immeasurable joy and accomplishment.
Tom Jones strikes me as someone who throws caution to the wind and goes after what he wants; someone who, like Sinatra sang, does it his way.
None of this would have taken place had I not grown some balls and said something as simple as “hello,” to “The Jones.” And I walked away from that weekend thinking that whenever I have a strong thought, despite potential doubt or fear, I’m just gonna “Tom Jones it.” I Tom Jones’d that conference and now feel a renewed excitement for my work. Balls to the wall in 2010. Tom Jonesing it all the way.