Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Stay Up (Practically) All Night Reading the Johnny Weir Memoir so I Can Tell You About our Signing on Tuesday, January 18th, 5 PM.

Today is the day that Johnny Weir's book, Welcome to my World is released. Weir is going on a bus tour and we are lucky enough to be one of the stops. I'm going to get the details out of the way first:
a. The signing starts at 5 PM. Weir is on a tight schedule and must be at his next event in Madison by 8. I suspect he will be out of the store by between 6 and 6:30 PM.
b. Copies of the book Welcome to my World only. No souvenirs, no other stuff with his name on it. He will not sign your Nook, Kindle, or Ipad.
c. No posed photos. You make take pictures while in the line.
d. No personalization or special signing requests.

Sometimes the author has extra time, or the line isn't as long as we expected. If 50 people show up, rules will likely be broken. But if there are 300 people, understand that if you demand special treatment, someone else won't get their book signed. We apologize in advance if he needs to leave early.* And don't tell me that you are his biggest fan in the world--according to the book, that honor is held by a woman that Galina (coach #2) claimed was a Russian prostitute.

Now, onto the book. I'm not the most knowledgeable person about figure skating, but Weir is one of those celebrities whose fame has transcended the sport. The book covers the years he started stating through his appearance (and sixth place finish) at the 2010 Olympics.

Johnny wasn't the kind of guy pushed into the sport by his parents, but he did have the loving support of a mom and dad that were willing to invest in his talents. Before his late introduction to skating (and realization that he was naturally talented), he was competing in equestrian events.

Weir went through all the usual setbacks that bedevil athletes--regular moves to ensure the best training, a change of coaches, injuries, emotional crises. And he's certainly not the first male figure skater to be gay. But his choice to be both outrageous in his style and costumes, and yet choose to not come out publicly led to battles with both the U.S. Figure Skating Association (which likes its gay figure skaters closeted and masculine) and mainstream gay media and organizations (he turned down a coming-out cover story in the Advocate after his first Olympics).

Oh, except the fans--no battles there. He has lots of fans, and perhaps his most enthusiastic are the Russians and the Japanese.

While putting together our ballet event with Jennifer Homans on February 3rd (for Apollo's Angels), we discussed how choosing to be a ballet dancer gives your career an expiration date, so even when you're young, you have to figure out what you're likely to do next. Same for figure skating. Weir is 26 and he needs to figure out the next step. There's a bit of sadness to the story, as he dedicates his years to the ultimate pursuit of the goal, and at 26 must now rethink it all.

Yes, I read the book, and one thing I was happily surprised about was that this is not a big-margined fluff piece that you can read in an hour. There's a lot of meat in here, giving lots of insights into why he made the decisions he did. There is some remorse for some of his bad calls (at least one faking of sickness) and some analysis for why some routines worked and others didn't (the one piece outfits are two Russian, nobody wants to see a ballet skated about Jesus...or maybe brown is a bad color for the ice). Yes, there is much gossip, but it's also quite touching, and actually pretty demure, as these things go.

(Addendum to the original post. It has struck me of the irony that Weir had problems with the committee over his perception as a role model. In fact, what Welcome to my World shows is that despite his innate talent, he worked incredibly hard for his successes, and then, when he thought he might be plateauing, he found another coach that would make him work even harder. If that isn't a lesson to young people, I don't know what is.)

So show up reasonably early, and be prepared to wait a bit, as it's possible his bus will be delayed from Chicago. We'll fit as many people as we can in the store, but the line will eventually head outside. If it's cold, bundle up! Remember, the signing for Johnny Weir's Welcome to my World is 5 pm, Tuesday, January 18th. And if you don't regularly read this blog, our address is 2559 N. Downer (at Webster), six blocks south of UWM and two blocks north of Columbia St. Mary's Hospital. We're on the 30 and 21 routes, and a reasonably short walk from the 15, if you don't want to transfer. There's a parking garage across the street and plenty of street spts at that time. If you have trouble parking, you'll have more luck going south and east than north and west. Oh, and we have two very nice and reasonably priced restaurants on the block, Cafe Hollander and Via. And many more places to eat are less than a five minute car ride away.

*I'll never forget the anger of that crowd at Schwartz who was left hanging when Brett Favre left to sign memorabilia somewhere else. Note that we didn't end the signing, his people did. The crowd didn't blame the sports reporter who wasted our signing time with an impromptu interview; they blamed us. Why, I don't know. And of course some of the angriest people were the ones who showed up late. I'm just going to say that this was one of my two or three worst event experiences of my career, and I don't want to repeat it. So be nice!

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