I wanted to be one of those people who strolled up to the microphone, smile and tell a whimsical story about how I had just written this little bit of nothing only hours ago on scraps of paper lying around. That I was trying something new and different and scary. I wanted to set everyone at ease and then wow them with some thought provoking prose, drop some powerful metaphors that the audience would be pondering for the rest of the weekend.
Basically, I wanted to be like Robert Scott our fearless leader at Warrenton Virginia’s Poets and Writers Night. He makes it look so easy.
Or, I wanted to be one of those late teen/twenty somethings who whip out their cell phones and scroll their tiny screens as they read their angst, young love, alien invasion stories.
I was neither of these things.
I tried so hard. I brought my computer to a coffee shop earlier that day with the goal to write something dazzling I could read later that night from my cellphone. Only well…instead what came to me was the beginnings of an alternate ending for my already published novel. o__O (The reason I was writing that is a post for another day) But, I couldn’t read that. You can’t read an ending of a novel only like two (maybe) people in the audience had even read. You can’t read an ending to any novel you want people to ever want to read, right?
I had to scrounge for something else. Anything else. Thankfully I have a lot of bits and pieces of stories to choose from. So I put the beginnings of three of them on my phone and headed to the reading. Something I hadn’t done in a very long time.
I knew I was doomed before I even walked into the venue. I hadn’t been at Poets and Writers Night since they changed location and had no idea that it was in the heart of First Friday Warrenton. I didn’t even know that Warrenton Virginia had such a cute little Main Street vibe. The town was always something I bypassed to get to Charlottesville. Not a destination.
Apparently, it’s a destination for many on that First Friday of each month. The place was packed and my social anxiety and dread amped up and I had to seriously give myself a scolding to even get the door open and my feet moving me in. Many deep breaths were exhaled before my nerves were even close to calm. The large latte I ordered in preparation was a bad idea.
But I kept it together as Robert was his perfect self, telling an alarming number of inappropriate limericks off the top of his head before reading his piece–that yes, he had just written to challenge himself with something new–and it was great, of course. It was about a girl coming to the ocean’s edge to contemplate suicide and it was full of metaphors, and imagery. All about loss of promise and hope, but filled with heart and unbelievably–humor, like only Robert Scott can do. Seriously, do yourself a favor and read his “Emails from Jennifer Cooper: A Novel.”
I kept it together as the teenagers with their cell phones read about awkward first dates and the life altering effect of losing your passion and the fear of never getting it back. And another guy got up and used the microphone–and his cellphone–to rage and make personal the current events of Charlottesville and its aftermath.
As the night went along, I was doing alright. And then Robert inadvertently did the worst thing you can do to a socially awkward, public-speaking anxiety ridden person–he said some very nice things about my writing and a reading I had done before. Suddenly not only was there a microphone in my face to amplify all my mumbles and ill-attempts at jocularity, there was a spotlight of anticipation.
Every public-speaking nightmare I’ve ever had–and I’ve had many–were realized on that little stage-type space. Thankfully, not the standing there and suddenly realizing your naked one… but every other one. I suddenly went blind and the small screen of my cellphone got blurry, I stumbled and skipped paragraphs, mixed up my tenses and maybe even my pronouns. It was awful, and I was awful doing it. I hated every moment of it and I never, ever want to do it again.
But I will.
Of course I will. For, as much as I tried to deny it, it is part of the job of being an author. And because, despite it all, I like sharing my stories with other people, but mostly, because I can NOT let this be the last anyone hears from me.
Just next time I’ll stop trying to do it like other people do it so easily and stick to how I do it. I’ll remember that I am not–nor will I ever be–the life of the party, so with a tremendous amount of anxiety, I will prepare meticulously and well practiced beforehand. I’ll also remember that I am old AF and my eyesight can’t endure reading from tiny screens, so I will prepare my usual large-typed, double spaced printed pages.
And I will be back.
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