[about the author]
i actually like speaking in front of large crowds. freakish,
i work crossword puzzles in ink.
i am the american nigella lawson. or maybe the american eddie
izzard. can't decide, really.
i would be a really good mom, but i'm cool with being a really
i am sometimes more perceptive than i would like to be.
i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.
i never play dumb. never.
i am way too hard on myself.
i am a change agent.
i sometimes cross that fine line between assertive and aggressive.
i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.
i am militantly pro-choice.
i am pro-adoption.
i know a little bit about alot of things.
i typically enjoy the company of men more than women.
i am capable of being really mean and nasty, but i fight it.
i am a lifelong cubs fan. do not laugh.
i have been known to hold a grudge.
i have hips.
i am not my sister.
i am lousy at forgiving myself.
i am an indoor kind of gal.
i am a bargain shopper. to the point of obsession.
i am 32 flavors. and then some.
i arrived at the coffee house early because i was planning to meet up with sid for the very first time. plus, i'm compusively punctual.
i was nervous. my stomach in knots. so, i thought that the best thing to do would be to get some hot chocolate.
oh, whatever. it made sense to me at the time. plus, really, let's be honest...no matter what's wrong with you, hot chocolate will fix it. broken heart? hot chocolate. lost your job? hot chocolate. malaria? hot chocolate.
as i'm waiting in line, i'm surrounded by people chattering excitedly.
"oh, i want to go straight upstairs after we get our coffee! i want to be sure we get a seat up front!"
"i'm so excited for the reading!"
"i think this evening is going to be so much fun!"
and, at first, i was really glad to hear such excitement in the air. everyone was looking forward to fray day, and i was thinking that positive energy would go a long way toward calming my nerves.
then i took a good look at the people in line.
they weren't exactly the folks i had anticipated would be turning out for fray day.
they were old. really old. maw-maws and paw-paws. all of 'em.
now, don't get me wrong...old people can come and hear stories, too. heck, i've heard some of my favorite stories sitting at the feet of my grandfather, listening to him and his friends talking.
but, while standing in line, looking at their white hair and their wrinkled hands, i'm paralyzed by a single thought: i'm going to stand up on stage and tell a story in which, arguably, the single most funny line uses the word "cockblocked".
now i'm panicked. now i'm scrambling. can i think of a back-up story? then i realize that most of my stories involve words like "fuck" or "whore." neither of which is really any better than "cockblocked."
and i'm thinking, "holy shit. i cannot stand up in front of a room full of maw-maws and paw-paws and say 'cockblocked'! i can't do it!"
sitting upstairs, i'm beginning to think that even hot chocolate isn't going to make me feel any better about this one. then, a woman sits down next to me.
"are you here for the poetry reading?"
she's probably about 300 years old. her hair is salt-and pepper, and she's wearing a very odd ensemble that, for some reason, makes me think of an elf. and she's just staring at me with this kind smile, waiting for me to respond.
wait...poetry reading?! well, maybe she's just a little confused. i mean, she is 300 years old. maybe she doesn't get that this isn't a poetry reading. but, then again, you know, maybe there will be some poetry. like russell simmons def jam poetry. not the kind that rhymes. 'cause, hey, that's storytelling too.
so, i snap out of it and look at her. "yes, i am."
"and how did you hear about it? did you see one of our flyers?"
again, i'm thinking she's confused.
"um...no. i heard about it from the website."
she looks at me with that same sweet smile on her face and just tilts her head to the left. like she's a dog watching television, never having heard the word "website" before.
now it's her turn to snap out of it.
"well, i'm going to be doing the reading tonight, you know. and, we'll be selling my book. we're already setting them up on the table up front."
and i'm thinking, "well, you go, maw-maw! you have a book! you sell your poetry! you rock!"
and she smiles and leaves me to go talk to another group of people just arriving.
sid comes in, and there's no doubt it's sid. for those of you who were wondering, sid has the best hair in the history of hair. ever in the entire history of hair, there has never been hair as awesome as sid's. so, stop trying. give it up. the. best. hair. ever. sid.
and, i'm thrilled to finally meet him, but i find myself totally not present.
i'm shutting down. i'm knotting up. i'm flip-flopping inside, self-evaluating, measuring, questioning.
sid's been a great supporter. a loyal reader. and, now...well, now here he is. and here i am. and maybe i'm not...something.
did he think i would be taller? shorter [i don't know how anyone could expect me to be shorter than i am, unless they think i'm a "little person."]? did he think i would be funnier? is he waiting for me to say something funny? god, i can't think of anything funny to say. i should definitely be funnier.
so, i sit, silent, staring at my hot chocolate, furious now that it hasn't solved one damn thing. i suspect, it might even be making things worse somehow.
meanwhile, over by the door, the 300-year-old elf is talking to someone who seems to be there in some semi-official capacity with the fray day event. from what i'm hearing, it would seem that there's a problem. it would seem that the room is double-booked. that these maw-maws and paw-paws are, indeed, here for a poetry reading by the 300-year-old elf. to my surprise, voices start to rise a bit. the elf is getting a little fired up and one of her maw-maw cohorts is defiantly putting up signs around the room for the poetry reading, looking squarely at the non-poetry-reading folks in the room as she smacks each sign up onto the wall.
i lean in to sid. "it's poetry versus prose! a battle to the death! it's like west side story!"
and we laugh, and i feel a little better.
and then, to my surprise, the poetry reading starts. and it's all well and good, until this:
elephants suck me
and blow me on their backs
what?! i'm trying very hard not to laugh, but failing miserably. but, in good news, i'm starting to think that "cockblocked" might not be as shocking to the crowd as i had originally thought.
once the poetry reading is over, fray day gets going. and, to my delight, one of the maw-maws actually decides to stay for fray day. but not before she has grilled the organizer, asking him just what this is all about. she's spunky, you can tell just by looking at her. she's wearing a white beret, a bright turquoise turtleneck and a flaming red blazer. she sits at the end of the table where sid and i are, taking a seat next to a guy who i noticed putting his name on the open-mic list.
for the record: if you missed it, just know that fray day was an evening filled with wonderful stories and masterful storytelling. and it makes me sad that it's only an annual event.
and, when my name was called, i went to the front of the room.
and the rest is unknown to me.
in all my years of public speaking, in all my years of giving presentations to crowds of hundreds, i've never blacked out. never said, "i have no idea how that went."
but, i have no idea how that went.
i don't know if i told the whole story.
i don't know if i talked for five minutes, or twenty-five.
i don't know if they could hear me in the back. or even in the front.
if i spoke too quickly. if i fidgeted.
but, i do remember stopping three times.
because they were laughing. in the right spots. including "cockblocked."
and, really, for it being the first time i've stood up in front of anyone and said, "this is me. this is my story. this is something i made with my mind and my hands and my heart." i'd say that stopping to let them laugh is about the best you can hope for.
after the event was over, i found out that the guy who was sitting beside the spunky maw-maw at the table with sid and me had come to fray day after reading about it on my page. and not only had wolfgang norton shown up -- he had joined the fray, telling a terrific story about prarie dogs and gregorian chants.
as we walked toward the clarendon metro, i told sid and wolfgang about my fear of saying "cockblocked" in front of a room full of maw-maws and paw-paws.
and wolfgang laughed.
"when you said that, she leaned over and said to me, 'what does that mean?'"
and then we went our separate ways. three people who know each without ever having met before.
i expected to be able to tell you a story about fray day. but i see that this post isn't so much a story as it is a ramble. just bits and pieces. observations both external and internal. a catalyst for asking myself hard questions.
on these pages, am i myself or some altered version of me?
should it matter so much what other people think? of me? of my writing? of my choices?
and, is it all really about succeeding, or is it about taking the chance in the first place?
i don't know. but i'm going to be thinking about it.
in the meantime, i'll just pass along this bit of helpful advice: if you can work it into your story, use the word "cockblocked" whenever possible. it brings the house down.
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