Why do we let ourselves be talked into taking foolish chances?
"Come on, it will be fun," Carol said. "It will be good practice for when we are Oprah together."
It wouldn't be fun. It would be terrifying. It would be risky. It would be like leaping from a tall building into a tea cup.
"Okay, count me in," I grumbled.
I agreed to join Carol at Three Friends Coffee House in Portland. In the Northwest, coffee houses are abundant. What makes this one different is on Mondays, three friends become the entertainment. Carol's twitter friend Ed, agreed to play "When Harry Met Iannis," his microtonal music composed by his computer via algorithmic patterns. Carol and I were to read from our finished (but not completely edited) manuscripts.
Monday, the 5th, arrived much too soon. I hadn't had time to make the chapter I would read as perfect as a Shakespearean Comedy. (Infinity would not be enough time to accomplish such a feat) "Get over it," Carol said. "No excuses. We're doing it. If you chicken out, I'll read it."
With encouragement like that, how could I back out? I mean, not that I wanted to. So Carol and I sat on sofas, facing each other, drinking tea while the computer clock clicked nearer to 7 pm. We each had twenty minutes, minus introduction time, mopping spilled tea time, mopping sweating forehead time, clearing throat time and tapping on the microphone saying "testing, testing," time. I figured that meant about fifteen minutes worth of reading.
Ed had already set up his speakers and music equipment on the stage. If I tried to get up there, I'd trip over the wires and short out the electricity...possibly causing a fire and maybe beginning the end of the world as we know it. My knees shook and my feet went into spasms at the thought. "I'm not getting on that stage. There is no way. Can I sit on this couch and read?"
Luke, the coordinator of Show and Tell Gallery, graciously allowed me to do so. He slipped a microphone in front of me. Microphone? I had to speak into a microphone?
"Well, yes," Carol said. "It will be recorded for a podcast."
Oh dear lord.
Luke ambled up on stage and in a smooth, polished voice, introduced Carol, who read the first chapter of her book, "A Single Pearl". Carol comes from a musical/instrumental background, performing all over the world. When she read her manuscript, she performed it, mesmerizing us. When she finished the audience clapped (all five or six of them, if you include the employees and Luke) and she smiled and introduced Ed.
When Ed's composition ended and the applause died down, Carol went back on stage and introduced me. I wished I had asked her to give a false name, like Julie Garwood or Nora Roberts, but she announced my name and everyone's gazes drifted in my direction.
I stuttered out an quick explanation of my book, summing up the first two chapters in two sentences. I began to read Chapter Three. When I read this beforehand it took close to sixteen minutes. On Monday, in front of the microphone, with the whir of the coffee grinder and the hum of traffic passing on 12th and Ash, I read the chapter in twelve minutes. It couldn't have been nerves. I was as steady as the Oakland/San Francisco Bay bridge during the 1989 "World Series" earthquake. It had to have been all that caffeine seeping into the atmosphere. Secondhand caffeine buzz.
But I got through it. I read aloud a portion of my manuscript in public. And when I finished, people clapped. I don't know if they clapped because I was finally finished and now they could sign up for open mic, or just to be polite, but it doesn't matter. I did it.
At 8 PM, as people stood in line for the open mic, Carol and I packed up our computers and tottered out the front door. A man jogged out after us. He reached out his hand, not for spare change, but for a handshake. "I really enjoyed that. I'm here every Monday for open mic and I want you to come back again. Say you'll come back."
I don't know what said. I remember smiling. I remember shaking his hand. I hope I said thank you, but mostly my mind was a fuzz of relief and my body worked to rid itself of the fight-or-flight adrenalin accumulated in the minutes leading up to my "performance". But I thank the man, most sincerely.
Carol has a completely different recounting of this entire incident on her blog, After the coffee comes the concussion . Don't believe a word of it. And if you are interested in the podcast of Three Friends Monday Caffeinated Art #64, here is a link. Carol was first, Ed's music begins about 16:10 and my reading begins about 34:17.
Was the risk foolish? Possibly. But if my book is to be published eventually, it is great experience. The second time will be easier. Right?