Last night, I did my first reading. As in standing-still-on-shaky-legs-in-front-of-strangers-while-trying-to-appear-clever-and-writerly and keeping-my-chin-from-quivering-and-my-dinner-from-spewing-across-the-lectern-while-I-read one of my short stories.
And let me tell you, I was so fucking nervous, I almost forgot my name.
Of course, I went online before hand to see how writers do it. I got lost watching marvelous Margaret Atwood and listening to Toni Morrison’s mesmerizing Nobel acceptance speech, but they made me more nervous and I couldn’t find anything useful for my little task, so I thought I’d post my reading here in case it’s useful to anyone else. Here’s what I said:
Heard it through the grapevine that there was going to be a party for this issue, my issue. Of course I wanted to come, but I was nervous, so I asked all my writer friends what I should do. Do they get anxious? What tricks do they have for getting over it? I was expecting yoga poses or acupressure or visualizations or vaseline on my teeth or a stuffed animal in my pocket or something involving velcro but no: the resounding consensus was that I should take a Xanax.
Xanax is an anti-anxiety drug. Did everyone know that except me? Anyway, I mooched one from an understanding writer-friend, got all dolled up, and drove into the city. I parked my car and took out my little jar or water and the pill and I felt very writerish then, with my quirks and props and crutches and such, so I gulped the pill and walked into the building and no one was there. The night watchman didn’t know what I was talking about.
Because this was last January. I arrived to this event three months ago. I honestly don’t know how I got it wrong. How embarrassing, right? But since I don’t have another pill for tonight, I thought I’d try coming up here and embarrassing myself first thing so I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.
My story is called “Down River.” It’s about Aster, an 11-year-old girl who convinces her nervous mother to take her camping at one of those tacky roadside campgrounds. It’s too long to read aloud so I’m going to start on page 4 but that means we skip my favorite image, the image that inspired the whole thing, the one I started with, when Aster sees a pair of women’s panties skewered on a twig on a bush in a dry creek bed. I love that image because it distills the entire meaning of my story which is about how vulnerable and exposed we all are in life, whether we admit it or not, no matter how we’d like hide, how our vulnerability dangles there for everyone to see.
I’ll start at the part when they have just zipped the tent shut for the night.
(And then I read THIS, as slow and loud as possible, pinching myself every time I said “um.”)
Things I learned:
- I should be reading all my writing aloud and looking at it on paper. After seeing the shape of things on a real page and putting the words in my mouth, I had to do a major revision, because it was all so awkward and redundant and confusing. From now on, I will print and read aloud before I call anything “finished.”
- Embarrassing myself up-front works just as well as taking a pill.
- Even though it goes against every fiber of my being, I will always take the chance to read aloud because it’s an opportunity to grow. I feel bigger today. My edges are slightly more distinct. I met some really nice, really talented people. And I will do it because, if nothing else, it is something to write about.
Do you get the jitters? What’s your trick for overcoming anxiety? How do you do it?