An aspiring author meets an expert, beloved one at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany. They are permanently linked through a beautiful blue necklace. . . .
Originally Posted on the Mystery/Crime Blog Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room.
In Part 1, we left off where my friend Pat said, “You have to go up to her [Anne Perry] and tell her she got your necklace!” And I heard myself say, “I would never do that!”
Walking toward the next session, I spotted Anne Perry casually standing over a trashcan, eating one of those bagels. Unprepossessing as the image was, being in the same circumstances as the rest of us made her seem approachable—unfortunately for her. Again, I watched myself walk toward her and heard things come out of my mouth that some unseen ventriloquist with a bad sense of humor made me say: “Hello! Did you happen to just buy a beautiful sparkly blue necklace at the jewelry stall?” “Yes, I did. Did you want it?” “Well, I was thinking of buying it yesterday, but I told myself I’d wait ‘til today, and if it was still there I’d purchase it.” “Oh, I’m so sorry—but not enough to exchange it.”
Her friendly yet frank response had actually charmed me, but I now knew what “being mortified” felt like. “Oh, no, I didn’t mean that! The vendor offered to make me another one. Now we’ll have a psychic connection.” Twit! But did I stop?
“Let’s walk,” she said. “Are you going to the next session?” “Yes, I’m looking for Meeting Room 6.” “So am I. I’m on a panel.” As if I didn’t know. And so we walked—in the wrong direction—as I chattered on about her books and characters, making mistake after goofy mistake as I mixed them all up and she gently corrected me. I could no more stop myself from spouting gibberish than I could avoid sounding like my mother in the presence of my son.
We parted so she could speak and I could listen (which is what I wish I had been doing all along). She repeated some of her comments from the previous evening, but I would have listened to the same remarks multiple times if I could self-correct the earlier conversation—at least in my mind. In take two, I would make myself sound authoritative and confident, someone Anne Perry would remember for her prescience and insight—not someone who coveted her blue sparkly necklace and made inane comments about her books.
I consoled myself with the knowledge that she’d probably had many hundreds of similar encounters and that her gaze was ever fixed on that far horizon, not on me. She would never have registered me as an individual, but that was OK. Just listening to her eloquent commentary made me want to be a better person—and a writer.
Anne Perry, even though she had endured a dark episode in her own early past (or possibly because of it), is a penetrating yet compassionate observer of human existence. She articulates with ease matters of the heart, mind, and soul, and she does it with kindness, even gentleness, despite her imposing presence—tall, forthright, unabashed. She has no children, she says with what may be a tinge of regret. Yet I sense her to be a tender, if firm, mother to her brainchildren, and I can imagine her caring deeply for the people in her life. She stated that the whole purpose of her five-part WWI series can be summed up in a single sentence: “I will not leave you.”
The day after I returned home, my husband and I went for a leisurely walk in nearby Ken Lockwood Gorge. A narrow arm of the Raritan River flows through the wooded, rocky area, and the bank running alongside is flat and easy to stroll on, as well as tree lined. It is difficult to imagine a more serene setting. I watched the water gently moving over, under, and around the rocks on this beautiful day—no tension, no struggle, no indecision. The crystalline water reminded me of the necklace—not in color, but in clarity. Clarity, I realized, is the gift your mind gives to your spirit when the stream of consciousness flows unerringly around perceived obstacles.
Decisions I had deferred for lack of clarity now demanded to be made. It was hard, because selecting one thing means letting go of another. Recognizing this natural rhythm of life, however, makes the transition between the world you live in pre-decision and the one you inhabit post-decision short lived and relatively peaceful. By the day of my birthday, I had begun the post-decision transition from anxiety to acceptance after making some hard choices, even as I knew I was on the road to another pre-decision period about more challenging matters. This steady movement based on decisive action, though, is a precious gift and was my best birthday present, one nobody else could have given me. Letting old things burn away leaves clean spaces for new ones to germinate.
One of my to-dos in honor of having made it through another year was to head back to the Frenchtown shop to see whether the kitchen accessories I had passed up a week earlier were waiting for me. There they were. Now here they are. But they are not material possessions to me, any more than the necklace would be when I got it. They are physical manifestations of aspects of myself that I wasn’t completely aware of. What lives deep inside is reflected outside yourself once you achieve clarity. So it follows that making decisions would be much easier . . . I hoped.
A few days later, Chris emailed: “Forgot to ask. I had made two versions of the necklace, 20″ and 18″—the one you and Anne Perry looked at was 18″. Is this what you wanted?” She’d forgotten about the measuring tape, but that was OK: “Yes, 18″, beautiful blue mixed with pewter. Just like Anne Perry’s.”
I went with the 18-incher because I wanted a twin of Anne Perry’s necklace, which had almost been mine. After the email exchange, I searched for some Anne Perry factoids to supplement my musings and came upon an interview she had done for the New Zealand version of 60 Minutes. I stopped open-mouthed when the interviewer, as a follow-up to Anne’s statement about hope, asked her about why she thinks American audiences are more “optimistic”: “I think if they see something somebody has possession of that they want, they . . . think, ‘How can I acquire one of those? How did you get it, so what can I do?’ There’s a generosity of spirit and an optimism that I hope they never lose.”
So necklace envy proves I’m a typical go-getter American (!)—one with a generous spirit, if not an optimistic nature—even though I had seen the object of our desire first. But perhaps my wanting the same necklace Anne Perry chose was a sign of optimism, of the hope that we had something even more important in common than a blue bauble: a love of writing. Well, maybe. But this would require decisions—and decisions are so hard. In the same interview, Anne Perry explained that this is because we need to be put to the test, pushed to the limit, before we know what we really want:
I have a little exercise that I make my main characters go through. Imagine that you are standing at the edge of the world, at the end of the world; volcanic darkness is coming; there is the abyss. It’s just you and Satan, nobody else left. And he says to you, “What do you really believe? If you tell me the truth, I have no power over you. If you lie, you’re going over the edge. And you are never coming back.” . . . Then you discover what your deepest core values are.
The lesson of the necklace for me is recognizing that clarity is the basis of all good decisions. Those watery-hard, brilliant beads were meant for me after all, and somehow I knew it. When the necklace arrived, I put it on and had a photo taken as I was thinking: To capture the essence of what it means to be human; to articulate it so that others can benefit from it; to entertain, elucidate, and educate with kindness and generosity . . . these are marvelous qualities for a writer. I’m not Anne Perry; but I can let her inspire me. And I, too, want to be a writer.
There, I’ve said it, even though some Anne Perry hope would be an asset at my age. I will imagine the picture of me wearing the “blue sparkly,” as Chris calls it, on a book jacket. And I can at least imagine Anne Perry wearing her own blue sparkly on a future book jacket of hers. I can further dream that each of us is as content as the other that our work has manifested itself in its highest form, each of us having achieved the best version of herself through making sound decisions based on clarity—mixed with a little courage.
One of Anne Perry’s favorite quotes, from Henry Ford, sums up the essence of decision-making, no matter the choice—from purchasing a necklace to changing a career:
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t . . . you’re right.
Might as well think I can—in the spirit of American optimism as seen through the eyes of Anne Perry, who I’d like to believe is now wearing our necklace.