#194: End of the Tour

Me in the store, pointing to a stack of books.
Books Inc Opera Plaza, San Francisco, CA

The tour wrapped up Friday evening but I’m staying a few extra days here in San Francisco – to relax, recover, and hang out with friends. I’m just now sitting in front of a blank page for the first time all week.

Everything I wrote to you in my previous letter I feel even more strongly about this week. It’s been so incredible to meet booksellers, librarians, teachers, and students – especially students. I’ve had groups of kids as old as eighth grade and as young as third. What’s different about this week – with more flights, events, and movement – is that I’ve lived by the schedule set by my publicists. The physical printouts of the schedule were even a source of comfort; I’d take them out of my backpack and know where I was going next, when I needed to be there, who I was supposed to meet. In each city I had a media escort, too – someone local publishers’ hire to chaperone authors and drive them to and from events. That’s not to say there weren’t surprises, weather scares, and small changes of plans along the way. But we got through it. And as exhausting as the tour was in some ways, it was energizing in others.

Yesterday some friends and I took the ferry from San Francisco to Angel Island, which from 1910 to 1940 served as the main port of entry for immigrants coming to America via the Pacific – a kind of west-coast Ellis Island. But due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the island became, effectively, a detention center for Chinese immigrants, who were sometimes held for weeks or months, even years. Inside the immigration station building there’s a particularly pungent upstairs room with many of the triple-bunked beds still preserved. The detainees who’d slept in them a century ago, who’d waited for the day they’d finally be released from this limbo between two nations, would, in their isolation, frustration, anticipation, carve poems on the walls:

In the quiet of night, I heard, faintly, the whistling of wind.
The forms and shadows saddened me; upon
seeing the landscape, I composed a poem.
The floating clouds, the fog, darken the sky.
The moon shines faintly as the insects chirp.
Grief and bitterness entwined are heaven sent.
The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.

Maybe not the most relaxing thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. But I think about how very different my life and experience has been that I am able even to visit this place as a tourist. And yet also how fragile this promise is – how fragile it’s proving to be for so many in the world right now.

We took the last ferry back – my friends and I – and walked along the water to their apartment in Mission Bay, where I’m writing to you from now. Wednesday I fly home to Detroit.