The Interest in a John Hancock

So it occurred to me when John Green’s new novel came out for pre-order today that I share a strange yet trivial fascination with autographs that most people have.

His latest book comes out in almost a year, but I pre-ordered it on Amazon. He promised via the internets to sign every single book that’s pre-ordered (yikes, Nerdfighters will give him carpal tunnel), and I was thinking to myself, “I like books. I like John Green. His book is on sale for $10. I should like it to be autographed.”

And I didn’t know why I should like it to be autographed. So I sat down and noodled it out and came to the conclusion, at least for John, that I liked having a little piece of him to keep with me. The man is just as important to me as the works he produces, so keeping some sort of token of his affection (most people say they love their fans–nobody loves their fans quite like the Greens) that can’t quite match my affection, but it can get pretty close.

I have a number of autographs. As mentioned before, I’m a patron of Dragon*Con. I go to see the famous people. Not to gawk or to take their pictures, but just to listen to them. There are two kinds of celebrities who attend conventions–ones who make connections and ones who make money. I like to think that I have only made the conscious effort to meet the ones who like to make connections. Those are the nerdy ones. The ones who would probably line up to see Carrie Fisher right with me. I like to have tokens of our mutual affection, and I suppose the easiest way is to have them sign something. It’s an easy enough memento.

Most of my autographs come with nice little stories.

Nathan Fillion was completely adorable. I couldn’t think of anything non-foot-in-mouth to say, but for a moment, I had his attention and he knew my name and he smiled at me and thanked me. And I don’t know why that’s important to the grand scheme of things, but it was important to me. How often do you actually have the courage to walk up to somebody you admire and tell them just that? How often do you get to hear them thank you? I’m too socially inept to do this to people I encounter on a regular basis anyway. So once a year I get up the balls to talk to famous people.

I did get to make a joke to Alan Tudyk. I don’t remember what it was. I remember it was really really stupid and he laughed anyway but all I wanted to do was headdesk because I was saying something stupid. I appreciated the laughter, genuine or no. It’s such a strange situation to be in, queuing up just to talk to another human being. The ones who put you at ease, who try not to work it as an assembly line, those are the ones worth looking for.

I was so flustered to meet Alan Ruck–who I discovered just as I discovered my love of theatre, and my mom had tickets to see him in the Producers and she went without me and I was so upset that she got to see him and I didn’t that I always wanted to see him–that I knocked like half the photos off the table he was at. Luckily it was just Taylor and I and we weren’t holding anybody up. But I scrambled to pick everything up and I was apologizing profusely and he was like, “Dude, it’s okay, chill,” and he bent down to help me even though the D*C person was like, “Stop touching stuff.” And then he asked me if I wanted my picture with him, and I was like, “Uh yes please” because 1) pictures in the Walk of Fame were expressly forbidden and 2) you had to pay extra to get a picture with someone and he was offering me a free one. So that was nice. He was so good-natured, it made me feel like my admiration for him was justified.

I don’t remember much of meeting Sean Maher, and I remember telling Matthew Lewis to feel better because he had mentioned in a panel earlier that day that he felt horribly sick but wouldn’t miss out on meeting his fans, and James Marsters told me about how happy he was to go to conventions because he fully believed in “letting your freak flag fly.”

My dad used to live in Greensboro, NC for a bit–I was not at all in favor of his move, but the silver lining to that was that Orson Scott Card (writer of the excellent Ender’s Game/Shadow series, and probably other stuff, but that’s all I’ve been able to get into) also lived there and he always did signings in local bookstores. So when “Empire” came out (I… haven’t read it. Still. It’s been like 5 years.) my dad got his autograph and talked to OSC about me. Which seemed crazy. They just had this whole dialogue about me. Dad mistakenly told him I wanted to be a writer for a living (egh) so OSC probably gave him sage advice to pass onto me, which I either never received or for the life of me can’t remember. OSC wrote, “Welcome to my nightmare” above his signature. Either it was a meaningful dedication to the nightmarish profession that is professional authoring, or it had significance to the plot of the book. I like to think of it as the former. It’s funnier that way.

Not too long after that, OSC came out with a mini-book, a Christmas-themed short taking place in the Enderverse. So again I dutifully sent my dad his way come book signing time, but this time with a special request–to get two copies, one for me and the other for my very favorite teacher from all of the public schools in all of the worlds, my 9th grade lit teacher. Doc had introduced me to the Ender series, taught me how to write like a college student even though I was a freshman (I write better than I do on this blog, I promise, I work in my university’s writing center and everything), and did all sorts of other inspiring work that was difficult as hell.

He was the kind of guy that was outwardly curmudgeonly (I had him the first year that House was on, and I swear to Joss Whedon, David Shore must know Doc, because they’re kind of photocopies) and walked around being cool and insulting and difficult as hell, but at the end of the day, he’d write you kick ass rec letters and the most inspiring and nearly cry-inducing, ego-boosting yearbook messages, and you hated his classes while you took them and only after you finished them did you actually appreciate how amazing and beneficial the whole thing was. We even wrote our final papers for him based off Dead Poets Society and just as the bell rang, my class got up on our wobbly round tables (very dangerous, I might had) and Oh Captain, My Captain’d him. For which he yelled at us to get down, but you could see that he was kind of affected. He was smiling.

So anyway I got him an autographed copy of this little book and gave it to him, making him the first teacher I ever gave a present to (I have since only given presents to two other professors in college who have literally changed my life, as I’ve always felt that presents were kind of crossing a weird professional line, but I don’t really care about that for these three people). And he appreciated it. And I hope he still has it. It’s been about 4 years. I don’t know. But I told my dad to tell OSC about Doc and how amazing he was, which hopefully Dad did do, so while Dad’s getting an autograph, both the signer and the signee are feeling some sort of appreciation for each other–a physical token of affection.

At Braves games, the club auctions off autographed things for charity, which we always try to get one thing about once a year. Unfortunately, as soon as we seem to win someone’s autograph, they get traded or they retire or whatever. The only hold out is Brian McCann, which we got the first year he played. We don’t dare try for a Chipper Jones. In this particular year, 2004 or so, my favorite player was Marcus Giles. So I urged Mom to bid for a signed hat. We bid quite often, but we rarely win. This particular one we did, and I was so incredibly pumped, but by the time we made it to the place where we could pick the hat up, the kiosk was shut down. Color me devastated. So Mom had to go through this whole phone tag thing with the Braves charity organization–she wanted to donate something and she might as well get a token from one of our favorites. It was this ridiculous comedy of errors trying to get the thing to us, but they didn’t end up being able to mail it, so we just decided to go to another game and schedule a time to pick it up. So Mom goes to the thing and makes the swap and she shows me the hat once before stuffing it in the plastic bag it came in and wouldn’t let me look into the plastic bag, and I thought that was particularly odd, but I forgot about it within like 20 minutes.

Fastforward six months to December. I’ve pretty much completely forgotten all about the bag thing. And I unwrap my Christmas present–a square shaped item. It’s an autographed baseball from Marcus Giles. Mom says, “This present has a story to it.” The guy who my mom was dealing with in the charity organization (this whole thing took like a month to sort out, mind) was telling this crazy comedy of errors story to Marcus himself about this mom who just wanted to get the hat to her daughter. I honestly would have told her to forget all about the hat if I had known how much trouble she had to go through. And Marcus, upon hearing this story, grabs a baseball and signs it for me, hands it to the guy and tells him he should give it to us with the hat as a token of appreciation for her diligence in trying to secure his autograph and only wanting to do so if it meant she could donate to their charity. So that day at the park, Mom had to hide the ball because she knew she wanted to present it at this time. And I unwrapped it and listened to the story and kind of cried a little because it was just a tiny act of kindness that made the world a bit of a brighter place.

So I don’t know what the deal is with autographs. There are some people who just collect them, probably intending on selling them or just wearing them as badges of experience. Been there, met them, did that. I’m just too hopelessly nostalgic and too obsessed with stories to let these photos written on with Sharpies by other human beings who may not be wholly important to people 500 years from now. They’re important to me now. They’re stories for me now. They’re little mementos from times I got to meet people who are instrumental to who I am and what I have become.

We’re a celebrity culture now, I guess, which isn’t all that bad as everybody cracks it up to be. These people are my 21st Century equivalent of getting to meet Shakespeare in his time. Would people know his works would stand the test of time? Certainly not. Did they think that would ever be a possibility? Hell no. Am I saying that Nathan Fillion is as important as William Shakespeare? Kind of. Deal with it.