What’s in a name?

I don’t really understand the desire to collect autographs, though I have some myself. When I was a teen and in love with the entire Edmonton Oilers hockey team, I got autographs of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, Jari Kurri, Andy Moog, Grant Fuhr, and many other stars of the Stanley Cup winning era. They’re not just scraps of paper with their names scrawled on them, though – they’re names scrawled on their pictures in the Official Edmonton Oilers 1984-85 Guide. Somehow that makes them more special: they’re in a book. They’re substantial.

Except now I don’t know what to do with the book. I can’t get rid of it because it once meant a lot to me, but now that I’m a level-headed, non-hockey-watching adult, it doesn’t. I suppose I’ll wait to see if my nephew or one of my friends’ kids grow up to care about hockey history. And I’ll feel ancient and sad if they end up saying “Wayne who?”

A tiny bit of my disinclination to collect autographs is lack of opportunity. Even though I live in a prime spot for runaway Hollywood productions, I don’t run into a lot of stars in my cave. But it’s more than that. A couple of years ago, I saw William H. Macy and a pre-Desperate Housewives but post-Sports Night Felicity Huffman shopping in Chinatown, and though I had to whisper to my companion what a big fan I was of each of theirs, I wouldn’t have dreamed of bothering them. Part of me loves the allure of celebrity and values the opportunity to let people know their talents are admired, but a large portion of my brain realizes that acting talent does not make them superior human beings, or their privacy any less valuable, or their names on a piece of paper any more interesting.

So I’m both excited and embarrassed that I got Salman Rushdie’s autograph tonight. It’s in a book, too – his latest, Shalimar the Clown, which I picked up at a reading and talk he gave in Vancouver. It somehow seems more right to cherish the scrawl of a writer, whose talent lies in his intellect and wit, especially when it’s gracing those intelligent and witty words. But it’s still no more than a false connection to someone I admire – words on a page that are proof I met him, ever so briefly, but offer no more meaning to an encounter that had none. There’s not even a “To Diane” or “Best wishes” to indicate that there was a human being on the receiving end of the scribble.

Still, it makes me smile to think he christened the book for me, and is a great incentive not to drop this one in the bathtub. So even though I don’t understand my desire to have it, I’m going to appreciate it anyway. As one of my favourite authors wrote in his novel Shame: “The inconsistency doesn’t matter; I myself manage to hold large numbers of wholly irreconcilable views simultaneously, without the least difficulty. I do not think others are less versatile.”

(Check this post for slightly more about Rushdie’s talk than what his handwriting looks like.)

“What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little.”
Lord Byron
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