Guest Post by J. Peder Zane: NBCC at 35

by Jane Ciabattari | Oct-11-2009

J. Peder Zane served on the NBCC Board from 2005-07. He lives in Raleigh, N.C., where he is co-authoring a book with Professor Adrian Bejan titled “Life is Flow: The Scientific Principle Behind Evolution and the Oneness of Nature.”

Speak memory – of truth beyond mere facts; of the experience, yes that was it, when everything fell into place!

Scratch that.

Is the tape rolling? Ok. Ahem.

It was the power and the glory – the chance to not just move out of history or into history but to make history – that inspired me to run for the NBCC Board. To each and every voter who made Zane ’05 a success (that would be Tom, Fred, Joan and Ethel) well, you know.

I remember my first meeting in New York like it was the day after tomorrow. As I stepped off the NBCC’s Cessna – Capt. Stubing is the unsung hero of our organization – and saw the bright lights of the big city, I knew I wasn’t in Mayberry anymore.

After settling into my Plaza suite – what a mini-bar! – a yellow limo whisked me to my first meeting (I’m not allowed to disclose the location, but I can say that Dick Cheney has a very provocative take on Arno Schmidt).

There I saw a constellation of literary stars so sparkling that I was afraid to remove my Blu Blockers: John Freeman with his George Michael stubble; Steve Wasserman in his $100 socks, and Reamy Jansen, who was old school before it was cool. To my left, were Kera Bolonik, Rebecca Skloot, Steve Weinberg, and Geeta Sharman-Jensen – to my right, well, actually, during my stint on the Board I never found anyone there.

Only Dorothy Parker (and Ben Schwarz) seemed to be missing. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Elizabeth Taylor shimmered into the room – her pictures do her justice.

What followed were three rapturous years of intercourse so stimulating that I often wished I’d brought a change of clothes to meetings. Donna Seaman on Lydia Millet; Art Winslow on David Mitchell; David Orr on Troy Jollimore – this, I realized, is the love that dares to speak its name.

The only thing more powerful than the Board’s passion was its integrity. As Thomas Pynchon learned the hard way, no amount of personal politicking or pleading, sweet talk or swag-bags could influence its deliberations. “Next time,” I told him, as he refilled my flute with Cristal, “write a better book.”

It wasn’t all peaches and cream. Disagreements often erupted – Ali v. Jones, Tyson v. MacCulloch, Robinson v. Mitchell! Voices were raised; egos were bruised. From time to time we even got testy. Oh yes, we were a fiery lot.

Why, I remember one time when John Freeman and I almost became unpleasant with one another. He was one side, I on the other. Both were filled with passionate intensity. It got so heated we almost switched from nine letter words to those with only four; French phrases were invoked. Then Board President Rebecca Miller intervened. “What happened here?” she asked. Quickly assessing the situation, she cut that final brownie in two pieces – and then ate both of them. One day I will understand the lesson she taught John that day.

Such moments of wisdom fell like book sales during my tenure on the Board. But, unlike the works of William Vollmann, all good things must come to end.

And so it was with a heavy heart that I boarded the NBCC plane for my final return trip to Raleigh. As the steward Tony handed me the bottle of 30 Year Old Glenfiddich with a knowing wink, I focused not on what I was losing, but all I had gained (life lessons I will detail in my upcoming, Kindle-exclusive, “One Page At A Time”).

Taking a final glance down at the city of dreams, I heard a screaming come across the sky. “No need to panic,” Capt. Stubing assured, pointing to a man on the wing. “It’s just Pynchon. That guy doesn’t know when to stop.”

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