I just read aloud from my book for the first time. Didn’t pass out.
I attend a monthly writing marathon session at a place called Thinkhouse Collective. It’s referred to by the owners as like “a gym membership for office space.” Last month, the owner told me during a break from writing that since I write creative nonfiction, I should check out the quarterly open mic for nonfiction writers called True Story. Every third month of the year, four featured speakers read their work for 10 to 12 minutes, and then there are five-minute opportunities for anyone else to read. Anything. ANYTHING. Anything that is true and happened to them.
How exciting! I went straight to their website. And this is when I saw the pic of one of the featured speakers from the previous event. This man has a distinctive look and sent me a nasty message on OKCupid a few years earlier. One that jarred me and caused me to send his picture to a friend who works for The Sacramento Bee still (where I used to work) to see if he recognized him; his dating profile indicated he was an investigative reporter. My friend didn’t recognize him, but that’s okay NOW because I know who he is. The dummy had used the SAME PICTURE.
He still works there. At The Bee.
Earlier last week, it hit me that the open mic was that Thursday. I had no idea if I would read or not. I had no idea what to READ even.
I put out feelers to my friends via text and Facebook, friends who had actually read my book. I asked them what I should read. I got a few generic suggestions, such as: one of the first chapters in your book. Or one about one of your dates.
I’m also realizing folks seem to like the first half of my book better than the second.
I was looking at chapters that focused on specific dates but couldn’t get anything to under five minutes. I’d timed myself reading aloud, trying to sound like David Sedaris or Amy Schumer. Not only was I worried that my work was NOT that funny, but how would I SOUND? I am 37. I sound like a teenager.
I found a chapter. It was about my very first experiences with the dating websites and the profiles. General, but I thought it was funny, AND if I read it at just the right speed, I could get it to 5 minutes, 15 seconds.
I took a draft of the chapter to work on Thursday, the day of the reading. I eliminated a paragraph and a few sentences and some adjectives. I got it to just UNDER five minutes. BOOM!
And I still didn’t know if I was going to read it. I mean, these open mics…there are people with advanced degrees in writing and who teach how to write. I’m a state worker who went to beauty college and wrote a book about online dating. My next book is about beauty school.
But you don’t need advanced degrees to write. You need advanced degrees if you want to collect some debt, however.
I got permission to leave work an hour early so I could make the event at a reasonable time to get onto the open mic list, but I ended up leaving at 1:30. I was fed up at work. Fired off an email to the Deputy Director about my unit’s sad state of affairs and said SEE YA. I’M GOING TO READ ALOUD FROM MY BOOK.
Got home. Took a nap. Hadn’t done laundry in about three weeks (I own a lot of underwears) so took a hot minute to figure out what I was going to wear. Something I didn’t have to adjust in front of a lot of people. I’d remembered the event’s organizers said that they had about 100 people at the last event in January.
I was aiming to look a little more professional than how I look when I go to the karaoke bar. You know, looking like I have at least a little credibility as I read a chapter about my bitter experience with online dating. Not like I’m about to sing Journey.
I fed the cats and headed to the venue. My bottled water spilled a bit onto my papers as I took some sharp corners and I immediately regretted not putting them in a folder to look more professional. But then I was headed to coffee shop to read, so I figured the wet/weathered paper look would make me look more authentic. Or just really clumsy.
The venue looked kind of empty. They’d just put out the empty open mic list and a man I know at the acquaintance level from other networking meetings put his name down first. I was second. I was going to really read.
I found a seat at the end of a row of tables. Somewhere easy to get up and read or get up and pee or get up and LEAVE suddenly should I realize it was a very stupid idea.
I was glad I wasn’t the first open mic reader, too. I figured this was a very serious event, and I was going to read a chapter that is basically me bitching about online dating. I could still possibly drop out if I felt I was out of place.
A friend came. And I became friendly with the person on the other side of me. She’s a hynotherapist. She asked if I was reading, and I said I was. I told her my topic, and she laughed. She said a lot of people could probably relate, and then I calmed down a bit.
And then she said, “I think there is a theme tonight. I think people are reading about their reactions to 9/11.”
WHAT THE FUCK.
But she wasn’t sure.
I sat for a moment. Ehhhh…I didn’t want to wait until it was my turn to read to say, SORRY. I missed the memo that said everyone was reading about their memory of 9/11 tonight. I was going to read about online dating.
I found the open mic list lady and asked. She said she hadn’t heard that but she was going to read an essay about 80s music, so I was probably fine.
If anything, at least there was someone else who missed the 9/11 memo.
The first featured speaker was the event organizer. Her new ebook was debuting the next day, and it was about how to treat your own depression. She read the opening chapter. I think.
The next featured speaker. She was blonde with blue eyes. She wrote about her own beauty and how she uses it and appreciates it. I will say I thought I was missing the point that she is celebrating herself, empowering herself, until she started picking apart women who don’t dress up and overweight men she flirted with to make their day. She said it was her truth. I was uncomfortable. I looked around the room at the very women she was denigrating. The only laughter I heard was from her group of friends and a little from the group organizers. I mean, they had, after all, selected her essay to be read at the event. (Folks submit their work a few months in advance to be considered to be featured at the next event. It must have sounded better on paper.) After her speech, a person next to me said, “Not all tools are men.”
I laughed. The title of my book is So Many Tools in the Internet Shed. I hadn’t missed anything.
I know we should be supportive of what other people share. I thought she was mean, and she didn’t have to share what she did and how she did. I’d wanted to hug all the “frumpy” women in the audience.
But then my book about online dating can be mean. But it’s about guys who were mean first.
The third featured speaker was a woman who owned a local yoga studio. She epitomized every generalization attached to a yoga studio owner: cheerful, tiny, flexible-looking, and whimsical.
She read about her miscarriage. And about how she found God and how even a miscarriage can be considered holy.
The man I know from the professional speakers meetings I attend read next as the first person listed for open mic readers. He read about his glaucoma diagnosis. It was poignant.
And I was getting nervous that here were these very serious and touching stories (except that lady) and I was going to read about ONLINE DATING.
The reader before hadn’t taken all five minutes, so it was suddenly my turn. I got up. Only then did I realize HOW full the venue had gotten. I was looking at about 100 people.
The few times I’d looked behind me earlier, it didn’t seem as full. I decided to keep looking down as I read.
I adjusted the microphone, fighting the urge to not break out in karaoke song. I was introduced with my REAL name, but I said I was going to read a chapter from my ebook about online dating, and that it was bitter, and that I write under a fake name because I write about real people.
I got some laughs.
We needed them.
I began my reading. I was trying to keep a steady pace, to make it under that five-minute mark. However, I was getting a lot of laughs!
I did my best to pause to let the laughter die down but I had a five-minute deadline so I kept moving.
I tried to look up a few times. The papers in my hands were shaking. I’d been glad I numbered the pages right before I went up in case I dropped them because they all looked the same.
I finally heard the four-minute warning and I said, “This is exactly five minutes so I’m going DO THIS!”
I was hoping this would let the timekeeper know that if by chance, that five-minute alarm went off, she’d know I was ALMOST DONE because the last two lines of my chapter were the funniest. I couldn’t leave those out.
I kept going. I know I was reading fast.
And then I finished.
I forgot to say, “Thank you.”
I walked off really fast but got a lot of applause and had gotten a lot of laughter. I was funny!
And I relaxed through the rest of the speakers.
The next woman read about recognizing an attacker in the newspaper. She kept reading past the five minutes, and I saw the organizers look at each other like………..well…..what should we do? And then she finished.
And then the next woman got up and was actually kind of funny as she read about a hike she took. She also went past the five-minute alarm…….got the same look from the organizers…and finished.
I could tell people were fidgeting both times the folks went past the five minutes. There was a list of people who wanted to read their stories. And every minute counted. The venue was only booked until 8pm, so there was some tension.
And one open mic reader didn’t make it in. There had been a list of five people, and only four of us read. The last featured speaker needed their moment.
She was a columnist for the Sacramento News and Review. I’d read her stuff before, and it was good. She had a book release not long before about love and relationships, and she read her introduction about her boyfriend and their break-up.
Between you and me, mine was the funniest of the night. And I knew this because I had people compliment me right after. I handed out some cards. People wanted to buy my book!
My friend and I left. I felt good. I got a milkshake from McDonald’s on the way home, to celebrate.
I hadn’t passed out. It wasn’t terrible.
I had a note the next day from an attendee that I was “fabulous.” Someone else “reviewed” the meeting and suggested giving open mic readers more time when there is laughter because “that poor woman reading about Match.com was hard to understand because she couldn’t pause to let the laughter die down.”
Someone familiar said he really enjoyed my reading, that “wit” was a serious understatement.
I should have gotten TWO milkshakes.
I can’t wait for the next one. x
P.S. The 9/11 thing? I saw on the website that if peeps didn’t know what to write about, they could write about a memory, such as their memory of 9/11. That is where the hynotherapist got that misinformation.
P.P.S. That featured reader who’d sent me the nasty message? He’d been on the “going” list. I didn’t see him, but I’d forgotten to look. I like to think he recognized me and took off.
You never know who’s writing a book about their dating experiences, dude.