I went for the Neil Gaiman talk at the Victoria Theatre in conjunction with the Spore Writers' Fest today. I thought it is a talk, but it's a really Q&A session with a moderator asking a few questions and subsequently opening it up to the floor. All in all, it was about an hour. All the questions, from moderator and the floor, didn't allow the man to be very inspiring, but they sure give him space to be extremely charming. In the short time, he sure showed why he is a master-storyteller. Every question was answered with a casually engaging story, which Gaiman crafted them instantaneously to be funny - perfect for a thousand people who pulled themselves out of bed on a Sunday afternoon to listen to him. In fact, the literary superstar started by cutting in before any questions to thank all the attendees for coming out on a Sunday.
Most of the questions were simple, but Gaiman turned them into interesting ones with his story-telling answers. The last from the audience, which was so lame that I didn't even remember - provoked a comment from my friend Fang Wei who sarcastically whispered to me "Is Ris Lim in the house?" - was equally enthusiastically answered by Gaiman who turned it into something fun enough for everyone to enjoy. It brought to mind a talk i attended quite a while ago by Karim Rashid, and when someone from the audience asked about his design process, he impatiently replied "What kind of a question is that?" Given that he did shared his concepts about his works during the talk, but still...
But what was really impressive and gained my new-found respect for Gaiman is that, after the 1-hour session, me and Fang Wei decided to go for a drink nearby and 3 hours later and 6pm, I walked past The Arts House and Gaiman was still at the same table patiently signing all the autographs from his 1000 fans with a good 20 meter-queue still in sight. I walked near his table just to checked it out and he was bantering with every star-struck fan with absolutely no sign of losing his patience. That was the moment that convinced me that he is truly a writer and not one who loses his mind with all the fame and thinks he is a "star".
For every creative person who ever had an opportunity to share your thoughts and works with an audience who have supported you, you know how precious it is and you treasure every single moment of knowing these people who were reading or looking at your works - i mean, you will be curious who they are and what is it that they like about your works. It is such a rare opportunity. Recently, i was invited to give a talk about publishing in Hong Kong at a 7pm slot on a Friday night, and much to my surprise, i was greeted with a full house , cos i thought everyone would be hungry at that time and would be having their dinner. Of course it motivated me to give my best and try to keep them entertained amidst all the hardcore information that I was supposed to present.. and what a joy that a huge bunch of people gathered around me after the talk and asked me more questions and for my contacts and yes a few little autographs and a few media interview requests.. we stayed for another almost 2 hours and i was starving to death but I really treasured every moment.
Just not too long ago, we had a foreign architect, or starchitect in town to give a talk, and to get an interview with him, you were given a list of "what-not-to-ask" and you have to submit your questions in advance, and during the interview/photo session, he asked to choose the pictures that would appear, requesting you to delete the rest. It was the ultimate disgust.
As creative people, first and foremost, we are doing what we do because we didn't sign on to become Brad Pitt or Faye Wong. We neither act now sing. We have a bigger responsibility of providing a service - social or cultural, we are not entertainers. And i choose to believe, for most of us, we don't expect to be treated like one. We want to be respected for the work we do, not for how good we look, or how well we can exercise certain body parts or functions like the vocal chords. Our works should benefit the society in one way or another, and we should be grateful that in rare occasions, we get to meet the people who have benefitted from our works, whether it inspired them, or it worked for them. And if someone should hold you in high regard, you treat them with equal respects, the way that Gaiman had done with even every Ris Lim who lined up to just get his autograph or asked a stupid question.
The first question that was asked to Gaiman by the moderator was, "You are turning 50 next year, how do you feel?" And to paraphrase his answers, he said he felt that he had pretty much done all the things that he had set out to do, and if he were to die in a plane crash tomorrow, he would not regret.
Just looking at the way he has treated his fans, i can see that he will die a happy man with no regrets and no guilt. I would want to die the same way. And one day, if i should need to sign autographs for 3 hours or more, i promise myself i would do it in the same way that Gaiman has done. That is a true superstar.