When I was little, I was constantly looking for ways to go unnoticed. I equated being noticed to causing trouble or being in trouble. When my grandmother suddenly spotted me lingering around the kitchen while the adults were gossiping, she’d say, “Grown up talk isn’t for little ears!” and shoo me outside to play. If my uncles found me reading a book, they’d poke a big finger hard into my chest and laugh or grab my book and close it so I’d lose my place or, worst of all, call me names like Book Worm and Smarty Pants, names which sound totally benign and silly now but that made me feel shaky, sick in my gut, and exposed, when I was 6 or 8 or 12.
The first person I met when I arrived at Alley Cat Books for last night’s reading was the publisher, Jon Roemer. Jon could not have been nicer or more welcoming, and you could tell how proud he was of the anthology. I had fun meeting and talking to my fellow writers. I took pictures. I put my glasses on top of my head so I would know where to find them, only to discover, upon returning to my seat, that I hadn’t even needed them — since I’d printed out what I was reading in 20 point font. (ha!) And then, as I was leaving the store, a complete stranger asked for my autograph (bless you, sweet woman in line).
Alone in the car on the drive home, I recalled my 6 or 8 or 12 year old self. The reading went well, as readings most always do, in the end, but I understand that what I feel coursing through my body when I stand on a stage or at a podium isn’t as simple as nerves. It’s that same feeling I had as a kid. Low in the gut. Hands and shoulders shaking. Chest pounding, waiting, possibly, for the hard poke of a man’s finger. I’ve always blamed nerves — who wouldn’t be nervous reading their personal, paper words out loud in front of strangers? — but I realize lately that nerves aren’t the whole story. It’s the fear of taking up too much of someone’s time. The fear of causing trouble. The fear of being noticed and told to go outside. The fear of not belonging in the room.