I am one. Always have been. In fact, I’ve always been a shy everything. That’s a problem when you’re in the public eye (even to the minor degree that I am).
Getting up in front of an audience for any reason, whether it’s to do a reading, speak on a panel, or present an award, puts me in a cold sweat. I have a friend who loves to be in the spotlight—she’s been in community theater, improv groups, and even tried out as lead singer for a band. Never does an opportunity to do a karaoke number go by without my friend getting right up with the mic. And I always wish that I had a tiny bit of her confidence. It would come in mighty handy when I have to do the occasional writerly appearance.
On June 24, I did a reading at Bluestockings bookstore, along with Sacchi Green, DL King, Dena Hankins and Sarah Fonseca. For all intents and purposes, it went well. But I’ve probably done about a dozen readings by now, and it’s still a hideous experience for me. It’s gotten better—I mean, the first time I did it, I thought I was being sucked into a black hole where sights and sounds all kind of swirled around me, coalescing into a ghoulish creature ready to chew my face off. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But not by much.
Those of you who are like me, tell me if this sound familiar.
- About halfway through your reading, you feel like you’ve been up there for an hour, reading endlessly, and people are out there sighing heavily with boredom, even if your entire reading is only 5 minutes long.
- Even in the darkest room, the lights seem to be brutally bright, and focused right on you.
- If there is total silence in the room, it becomes this looming thing that you can almost feel, and your voice suddenly sounds alien to you, and really squeaky, or nasally, or worst of all, monotone. (Did it help me that the bookstore was filled with the motor-like sounds of the air conditioner, and right during my reading, they decided to turn it off and the room fell into a dead, heavy silence? No, it did not.)
- Every single person with a 25-mile radius, unless they’re incarcerated, are there watching you humiliate yourself.
Of course, all of these things are exaggerations. But for the shy writer, they all become very real feelings.
This is on my mind right now because I’m sandwiched in between events: the one that just passed and the panel that I’m going to be on at GCLS on Thursday, July 6. Panels, for some reason, are easier than readings. You’d think it would be the other way around, because at readings, you just read what’s already there, and you’re just saying the words out lout. But at panels, you’re asked questions about your thang, and it really behooves you to sound intelligent and like you know what you’re talking about. But that seems to suit me better than readings. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because when you’re reading your work, you’re putting it out there in a very real way and the reaction of the audience (or lack thereof) is a direct reflection of how they feel about it.
I don’t know what it is, but as this blog goes live, I will be getting ready for my panel. With any luck, I will emerge unscathed.