So I had a two hour drive to Bethesda that I sped through because work was having a last-minute crises. I got off at two, got dressed, and went to pick Ellis up around three. In trying to settle him down for his poor teenage year old sitter, I didn’t hit the road until close to four. Finally, I was in Bethesda at six on the dot. Story in hand, I suddenly changed my mind. I always do satire poems when I read but I wanted to try something new so I had been working very tediously on this story for a month. Well, I scrapped it in the parking lot and started a poem fifteen minutes ’til showtime. I was one of the first few writers there. I met the Editor-in-Chief and the Co-Editor (putting a face to all the emails). The Editor-in-Chief (Jerri) talked to me about how much she dreads public speaking although she does it all the time so I asked her some questions about her kids and showed her pictures of Ellis (naturally). I told her I caught his cold and had been drinking lemon water and honey water so I wouldn’t be coughing into the mic.
Luckily, as the room filled, everyone was getting caught up in networking so I broke away to some secluded lounge space with a bookshelf stacked with literary magazines. One of the contributors introduced herself to me saying, “I don’t think we’ve met.” I asked her, “Are you.. one of the editors.. a contributor?” She told me she was a contributor so I nodded, told her it was nice to meet her, and then explained I was trying to read over my piece. In hindsight, it was very standoffish.
Some family came in with two children and pizza boxes so I wandered into a dark area that looked like a backstage and read what I had wrote one last time. I heard clapping and snuck back into my seat right in the nick of time. The brochure read that I was going on fourth. It seemed soon but the pieces everyone wrote were actually kinda long, making the anticipation more agonizing. Then I remembered there was wine. Trying not to twinkle my fingers over all the free booze, I chugged three plastic cups of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. I kept my pinky up so class was in there somewhere.
Well, I was tipsy in seconds. I had been chewing on a piece of gum for my sinuses but I also like to have one in my mouth while I read. I flatten it up to the roof of my mouth and it brings me a little bit of comfort. Jerri took the podium and I realized she was talking about me. My heart was ready to fly out of my mouth. And then my legs were suddenly walking itself to the front.
I didn’t know exactly what my quirky introduction was gonna be. I knew saying something about my hoarse voice would probably work so I spat out, “I’m gonna try not to cough. My son just started daycare so he’s bringing home just about every viral germ.” Everyone awed and chuckled feeling sorry for me. Okay, I was doing good so far. “I wrote a story but I decided to change my mind so.. this is a poem.. here I go.”
I read in normal cadence just as if I were talking to you. No frills, no gesticulations, no spoken word bongos. And then I remounted and had no idea where I was going. I felt like everyone was still laughing and watching for my next trick. I was engulfed with anxiety. I walked completely past my chair and circled the room. When I finally sat down, a feeling of elation came over me. I was indefinitely drunk. I more than likely couldn’t hop into my car and drive as quickly and as far away as possible so I drank some water while everyone complimented me about the words and the flow and the humor. A woman with platinum blonde hair shook my hand and told me she liked the poem. I told her I liked hers too. She told me she read a work of fiction. I remembered what she wrote (and did really like it) but she seemed offended after that. I just wanted to get out of there. Nerve-racking word vomit was taking over. I told Jerri she did a fine job hosting (she really did– her introductions were complimentary; she kept our attention but didn’t drag it on). I went back over to the contributor who introduced herself to me earlier (an ex-Marine who drove in from Oklahoma) and she seemed fine with my fish-out-of-water socially ineptness. And then I left. Whoo! Glad that’s over!
This is the second reading I’ve been a headliner for and I’m totally addicted. Despite all the fear it riles up in me, it’s like an inverse drug. Perhaps I mean medicine. The connection I’m trying to make here is that I don’t think it makes me feel good but it is good.