|Mirror Talk Reading, Worcester County Library|
Except for an informal reading at a friend's book club, I hadn't done a public reading in a very long time and they were usually poetry readings not prose. The night before the reading I had one of those 3 am wake up calls from my unconscious, the ones where I either write or worry. This was the latter. I worried about the forecast for rain affecting how many people would show up for the reading. It never rains in Southern California but it rains a lot in Maryland. Would attendance at the reading be limited to the woman introducing me, two rain-coated strangers in the audience, and me? I worried I would tremble because the medication I'm taking sometimes causes uncontrollable trembling, especially my hands. If this happened during the reading, the audience would think I was a big scaredy-cat. Would it be awkward if I said, "I'm not nervous, just heavily medicated?" I worried about health, bills. I worried about those children I see on the evening news broadcasts from countries with maniacs for leaders. I worried that if I didn't get to sleep soon, I'd look like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane."
Suddenly, I stopped worrying. A gentle quiet came to me, a sweet kind of knowing. I believe I know the source of this inner joy but as I'm not a theologian, I'll be still. Comforted and confident, I slept easily and well. In the morning, this ineffable sense of well-being was still there. I did everything I could to guard it though I felt this gentle force was guarding me. I ate a healthy breakfast, I meditated, I prayed. And most of all, I avoided CNN. The sweet calmness was still there when I showed up early for the Mirror Talk reading. I met Lisa Stant, the lovely woman who arranges these events for the library and we both smiled as people and then more people showed up for the reading. Months earlier, over the phone, Lisa cautioned that turnout for things like line-dancing was excellent but not for what is known in library lingo as "literary events." The lectern looked like an upturned coffin but the mic was pitch-perfect and the room brightly lit.
A certain amount of stage fright before a public appearance is normal so the need to find time to relax before speaking is very real. I began to feel somewhat nervous as I greeted friends and answered their query, "Where's Victor?" My husband Victor is so empathetic, he gets nervous for me, so much so, he has never actually seen me perform when I acted before thousands in Shakespeare in the Park or gave a poetry reading to a small group. Quiet and handsome, he stares at his feet and listens instead of looks. As I didn't want to spend the morning calming him instead of calming me -- and I especially did not want to look into the audience and see him doing all that shoe-staring, we decided he would skip the reading.
I selected an essay from Mirror Talk called "Make Mine Cognac" to read as I wanted to keep it light. I really don't think people want to hear my views on capital punishment. This essay has been read in public three times, twice by me and once by another author. Each time it garnered laughs, lots of laughs. It's my security blanket, a crowd-pleaser, my ace-in-the-hole. But once well into the reading this day, I noticed no one was laughing, at least out loud. I did an audience check -- smiling faces, unsmiling faces, and faces that looked like their owners had indigestion but no laughing faces. I did a me check -- my voice was steady; my hands were steady. I was calm and oddly happy. It was perhaps the best reading I've ever given but where was the laughter? I was exhibiting my heart as if it were a big organizational chart at a staff meeting and the response was barely audible giggles. After the reading, during the Q & A, the members of the audience seemed warm. Lisa thought the reading went very well. When I brought up the no laughter issue, she said my voice was "so soothing" they may not have wanted to interrupt me. This raises an interesting point. Do you need to have a scratchy, annoying voice to be considered funny? I wondered if it was possible that they didn't like me. I ruled this out almost immediately. Who could not like me? I'm like kittens, afghans, and apricot jam -- I'm nice. There, I said it. I'm nice -- with or without the laughs.
P.S. You can read an excerpt from "Make Mine Cognac" on this blog by clicking on Essays.