There’s a short list of people on this earth that I consider to be a personal celebrity. Over the years, I’ve encountered A-list actors, B-list performers, and various other singers, voice actors, dancers, politicians, childhood heroes, and even the odd and occasional circus act.
Last night, I attended An Evening with Neil Gaiman, a culmination of the past four years of my life. Before COVID, Neil hosted an author talk fairly regularly at a local theater, and the year I decided to finally attend, the whole world shut down with no promise of reopening. I spent every week since then refreshing his website, hoping to see an update, until last October when he announced a new national tour. I bought the tickets at that moment with no hesitation.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize An Evening with Neil Gaiman fell on Mother’s Day which led to a fun and lively conversation with my mom earlier that week. More so than that, I also realized I had given my mom a pair of tickets to the Swan Lake matinee that same day. It took a couple of hours of extreme panic before noticing both events were at the same venue, and therefore possible to attend both.
A couple of friends picked me up for dinner after I wished my mom goodbye, and we anxiously waited for the doors to open at 6 p.m., determined to arrive as soon as possible to grab a couple autographed books.
Despite being one of the first 20 people in line, we waited for the better part of an hour and a half at the merch table. But you know what? It was worth it. I ended up buying eight books, six more than I originally intended. We made our way to our seats and I sat incredibly still for two and a half hours, new books in my lap.
I like to think Neil had to walk through the Swan Lake set to get to his center stage podium, and it’s hard to imagine anything more fitting than that. He looked exactly as I expected him to, a photocopy of the Simpsons version of himself. Then it was just him, the podium, and a room full of eager listeners for the better part of two hours.
Honestly, I struggle to remember the specifics of the evening. I believe there are moments in life where the brain becomes so flooded with serotonin that there isn’t space to form new memories, and that must have been what happened to me. He read a few of his stories, answered a few questions, and we parted knowing each other a little better. What I remember most was how sore I was the next morning after clutching my pile of books for hours.
I think Ocean at the End of the Lane showed me what fiction could be. I was a sophomore in high school when I read it for the first time, and it’s possible it changed my trajectory in life. I learned that words can be art, that the line between fiction and literary fiction is up for interpretation, and that a simple story can move mountains if you let it fester.
October in the Chair shattered any expectations I had for short stories from that point on. It buried itself deep into my brain and has stayed there all these years. Neil Gaiman’s writing is the perfect blend of horror, fantasy, art, and magic. Although I have no evidence to support this theory, Gaiman must be a sorcerer, or a hypnotist at the very least. I feel like I’m falling into his words and they hold my eyes hostage, begging me to keep reading.
Sitting in the audience and listening to him read his short stories and poems was a healing experience, one I wish to experience over and over again.I left the theater that evening with the knowledge that I had checked a major item off my bucket list. The satisfaction of realizing a personal hero is as wonderful as you imagined is a rare gift I’m lucky to have shared with the audience that night.
It should go unsaid that no matter my place in life, I will always find the time to spend an evening with Neil Gaiman.