One of my favorite childhood pastimes was playing connect-the-dots. I took great pleasure in guiding my pencil from one numbered dot to the next to find out what would reveal itself to me on the page.
Writing is like that. So is life.
And this is a true story.
About two years ago, I was in Manhattan for a conference. It was Sunday, the last day, my travel day home, but after 72 hours in the airless rooms of the New York Hilton, my friend Nancy and I decided we’d escape and treat ourselves to brunch at Sarabeth’s. Being outside felt wonderful, despite the sticky August humidity. As we walked along Avenue of the Americas to the restaurant on Central Park South, I felt the exhilaration I always feel whenever I’m in the city: the rush of traffic, the clusters of strangers moving with and against me on the broad sidewalks, the glint of granite and marble and glass in the summer sunlight. All of this combines to make me feel as though I’m part of something important and larger than myself. The experience also, strangely, makes me feel grounded and secure; at the same time, I’m aware that at any moment, something unusual might happen that could change my course.
That morning, something did.
Nancy and I reached the restaurant and positioned ourselves to join the short queue that had formed outside the door. Out of the corner of my eye, two people emerged, one of them familiar to me. “Linda Lavin,” I said softly to Nancy. And then, for emphasis, to register my out-of-towner’s surprise at seeing a Famous Person, and to make sure Nancy heard me, I repeated, a bit loudly: “It’s Linda Lavin!” Not only Nancy heard me; so did Ms. Lavin, who looked over at me, probably thinking, tourists!
Thus engaged, I said the only thing I could say to justify my rube-like behavior: “We love you!” Linda Lavin smiled. She was wearing a baseball cap, which looked adorable on her, and she continued on her way.
You might think the story ends there, but it doesn’t.
Nancy and I enjoyed a delicious brunch, walked back to our hotel, picked up our baggage from the concierge and parted amidst the foot traffic of a sweltering day—she to hail a taxi for the airport, me to catch a cab to Penn Station.
Settled in Amtrak’s Quiet Car, heading south to Virginia on the Northeast Regional Line, I picked up my iPhone and sent out a tweet that went something like this:
“Spotted Linda Lavin outside Sarabeth’s in NYC…don’t you just love her?”
A moment passed, possibly two, and then, to my surprise, someone with the handle “mmaren” retweeted my tweet.
“Why would somone retweet this?” I wondered. And “who is “mmaren?” I clicked on his Twitter profile, and then on the hyperlink to his website.
A journalist. A filmmaker—something about a film in production. Husband of writer Dani Shapiro. I filed all this away, and tweeted out my thanks to him for the retweet. (For those who might be reading this hundreds of years into the future, tweeting is how people met one another in the early 21st century, without really meeting each other.)
Back and forth we tweeted, during which Mr. Maren followed me. Here’s a brief exchange:
I have since followed the development of Maren’s film, A Short History of Decay, with great interest, and I’m eager to see it. Throughout the past year, select film festivals have screened it, and Paladin is releasing it in April 2014. If you’d like to know more about it, here’s an interview, from the Hamptons International Film Festival, with Maren and two of the film’s actors:
I wrote at the beginning of this essay that my Linda Lavin sighting on that humid Sunday morning in 2012 set me on a different course; it was, in fact, a course strewn with dots that I connected, one after the other: my tweet about seeing her led to Michael Maren’s retweet, and my awareness of his film about Alzheimer’s—a topic of great interest to me. Our resulting exchanges led me to seek out more information about the writings of his wife, Dani Shapiro, whom at the time I had not read.
Now, after reading two of her novels; one of her memoirs, Slow Motion; and having nearly finished her newest book, the astonishing Still Writing (which I’m recommending to every writer I know), I have made a discovery. In Shapiro’s work I have found a kindred spirit and a literary soul-mate—as I read her I feel as though I’m filling pages of connect-the-dot workbooks, each one studded with epiphanies.
Here’s one of them: I would like to study with her. I’m at work on a manuscript, and in need of a mentor and guide. I find myself at the end of that long cluster of dots that emerged in Manhattan nearly two years ago, to this spot: I am first on the wait-list for Shapiro’s workshop in fiction and memoir at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.
I hope and pray I get in. Maybe, if I happen to see Linda Lavin somewhere in the Cleveland area, where I’m living now, I can take that as a good sign.