I have Julia Glass’s garbage can!!!! (Imagine me gleefully jumping up and down, clapping my hands with excitement.)
Wait, what? I can just hear you say.
Legit question. Let me explain.
Those of you who have been loyal YARN readers since the beginning know I was lucky enough to get to go to all the awesome festivities for the National Book Awards in 2011 when YARN won an Innovations in Reading Prize. The first big event was the 5 Under 35 party in an ultra-hip indie bookstore in the hippest nabe in my old borough Brooklyn, where five writers under the age of, you know, thirty-five, are honored for their books of exceptional promise, and each one is chosen by previous National Book Award honorees. That was the night John Corey Whaley made huge news for YA by being the first YA novelist to receive such an honor.
It was also night that John Waters gave a whip-smart, pithy introductory speech, and delivered some writing advice that I have been obsessing over ever since: “Get your idol’s trash can, and you will never have writer’s block.” His idol had been Patrick White, and a long time ago Waters had proclaimed in the press that he really wanted White’s trash can so that he could wad up and chuck all his bad ideas into the same repository that his idol did. In his will, White left Waters the trash can. And the rest is Hairspray—(ahem!) I mean history.
I figured if it worked for John Waters, it would work for me. I’m not especially prone to writer’s block, but I loved the talismanic idea behind having my idol’s trash can, as if having it in my office near my brain and computer as they are linked together in those symbiotic creative hours, would ward off any bad writing juju that might come my way.
As it happened, my idol was in the audience that very night. Julia Glass, author of the NBA winning Three Junes, was present that night because she’d chosen The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane to be one of the aforementioned five.
I’ve read all of her books. Which is a major thing for me, because I am a super slow reader. Finishing any book is a major act of support for me, but I was so taken by the characters and prose in Three Junes, I knew right away that this was a writer I had to soak up, to absorb all the lessons her writing had to teach me. It wasn’t just that her book was great—which it was, a dazzling feat of mutli-layered, multi-voiced narrative, with gorgeous sentences, and a page-turning story of historical significance—it was that the characters got inside me in a way that few others ever had. Fenno MacLeod in particular became completely real to me, and I came to think of him as an actual person who lived in New York City, and this thought made me happy. It made me even happier to see him reappear in one of Glass’s subsequent novels, and watch him fall in love with the kind of complicated, interesting, wonderful man he truly deserved.
Julia Glass is the only novelist whose entire oeuvre I have read.
So when the official talking and honor-giving was finished that November night in 2011, I screwed up my courage and went over to Julia, stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Kerri Majors, and I want your trash can.”
Thankfully, she laughed.
And we talked a little.
Then we traded a few emails, and while I’m not exactly sure why, our plans to have lunch sort of fizzled (it turned out she lived only an hour away from me so lunch was entirely doable). She politely demurred on my request for her trash can, but hey, that was cool, because at least I had her email—and she knew who I was!
Fast forward three years to a sign I see at my local library: Julia Glass is coming to read from her latest novel!
And you know what? She actually remembered me when I (re-)introduced myself as the crazy lady who’d asked for her trash can at the 5 Under 35.
A month and four horrible snow storms later, and we finally met for that lunch. Much to my surprise, she brought her trash can (pictured here). And since a lot had happened in three years, I was able to give her something, too: A copy of my first book.
Turns out she’s a slow reader as well—one of the many things I discovered as we ate our twin fish taco salads (if you’ve ever read all the luscious food in her novels, you’d know why I was inclined to order “what she’s having.”) She’s also not especially prone to writer’s block. I hope that by inheriting her trash can, I will continue on my uninhibited writing streak just as she has (though I’d never dare hope for the same results).
But seriously. I’m not really that superstitious. For me, the trash can is much more a reminder of the generosity of writers—of the many ways we climb outside our own demanding heads to give of ourselves to each other, especially idols to those just starting out, in order to keep each other on the path, as far away from the entrance to the writer’s hell, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,”* as we can. Every writer’s hell is different: for some, it’s writer’s block. For others, depression. Others, fear. The list goes on.
It’s also a reminder that dreams sometimes do come true on this long road of the writing life. No, I don’t mean the garbage can. I mean getting to meet my idol—three times! And the third time, actually getting to have lunch with her.
Having Julia Glass’s trash can makes me feel steadier. And luckier. And for that, I am more grateful than I can say.
*The quote is from Dante’s Inferno and is the forboding warning written on the gates to Hell. Dante, a heartier soul than I am, enters—just to take a peak. Me? I’m good, thanks.