Preparing for the Reading

I got famous again, on page 7 of the social section — SLV Lifestyles — of the regional paper. Ah the sweet smell of success.

I’m trying to organize my reading for December 11 and I’m a little oppressed (can one be “a little oppressed?” isn’t one oppressed or not?) by it. I’ve been asked to “entertain” for 45 minutes which is a LONG time to subject anyone to my stories about living in China post-Mao but pre-modernization. Not that I don’t find them interesting — I think they’re VERY interesting — but I don’t imagine they are the first level of interest to most other people. That’s the tricky part; making them interesting.

I realized yesterday that I need a reason for doing this beyond giving the holidays at the museum moment something beyond the exhibit. My purpose is to bring more people into the museum and maybe sell a book or two. I ordered 3 ahead of the event. That said, my INTRINSIC reason for doing this is to honor the experience and the woman who, in 1982, took that leap into a world that passed very quickly.

I can’t read directly from the book and end up with something smooth and coherent to fit the event — which is holiday(s) so I’ve drawn from the book taking parts of the chapters on spending Chinese New Year on Hainan Island and Christmas in Guangzhou that year. I’m torn between introducing it with a narration about meeting people from China out at the Refuge before Thanksgiving (another holiday) or just giving background. I’m pondering taking the TV and putting up a slide show. And hiring a Chinese orchestra or at the very least an Erhu soloist. And giving lessons in the limited Chinese I have retained and/or learned.

My tendency is to over prepare. And why? The ubiquitous doubts. The suspicion that no one will show up — which is possible. The suspicion that the whole SLV will show up — which won’t happen. The knowledge that I can’t possibly know, and that all I can do is prepare and be happy with what/who shows up.

The 91 year old man from Del Norte — who now lives in Seattle — the man who has been ordering my notecards and wrote me the beautiful note about his travels in China in 2013? I sent him a copy of the book since he can’t possibly attend the reading. He must have read it in one or two sittings. I got a text from him a couple nights ago.

As I read the text I thought of how short our lives are and how, as we go along, we find new lives we’d like to live and (all too often) forks in the road where we took the “wrong” turn, but there’s no going back. The good thing is when we realize we were brave and beautiful at least ONCE. Public speaking, for me, is/was always completely terrifying. The first time I had to stand up in front of a group of people and say something (in this case it was a 5 line invocation in church) I passed out, that’s right, on the floor the poofy dress my mom had bought for me and made me wear, up over my chest. Quite a show for a 12 year old. I knew after that I had to do SOMETHING about this terror but what could I do?

In high school I did competitive speaking and took (miracle of miracles) second place in the state of Colorado for original oratory. You’d think that would have “cured” me, but it didn’t. It wasn’t until I was invited by a student to give a university-wide lecture on overcoming the fear of public speaking that I got over it. That was probably 2010 — maybe a few years earlier. When it was over, a lovely but terrified young woman came up to talk to me. She wanted to know how she could get over being terrified speaking in front of people and, instead, be like me. Calm, collected, funny, articulate. I looked at her and stood up. I took off my jacket so she could see the giant armpit stains on my shirt. “That’s how calm I was,” I said. “I’m just like you. The trick — if there’s a trick — is to be so convinced in the importance of your message that you don’t think about yourself.”

So, Christmas in Guangzhou…

30 thoughts on “Preparing for the Reading

  1. My late friend Brian Doyle was the most amazing “reader” I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch and listen to. He would include everyone. He would unabashedly weep during a story and then have the audience howling with laughter within a couple minutes. His bottom line, I think, was it’s not about himself but everyone else. That’s how he wrote and that’s how he shared. As a poker player might say: “all in.” He was a fabulous mentor to me and many other writers. Like you do, he understood why people were sitting there.

  2. You have a lot to say that is interesting, if your blog stories are anything to go by. I think you will do a marvelous job! Congratulations on the book and the opportunity to share your stories with the world (or at least the Rio Grande County Museum.) First the museum, and then the world! If you have to conquer it one reader at a time, that’s okay too!

  3. Sounds like you are pretty well prepared. It’s always good to have more material than you need and be prepared to try to read the audience. They may even pepper you with questions that keep you from everything you had planned.

    • I would love that, if they had questions. It would be wonderful. Last time I read there it was on Pearl Harbor Day and I read about the Chinese and Americans fighting the Japanese together and the price the Chinese I knew paid later for having worked with Americans and speaking American English. I had an audience of 8 which was IMMENSE for here. ❀

  4. I’m terrified of public speaking too, but have to do it in front of nasty critical condo owners at board meetings. Still recovering from one this week. The shaking and hyperventilating doesn’t start until I close the meeting..so I guess that’s the adrenaline under control while standing up there. Maybe that’s progress. Your stories will captivate. They sure do on the “page.” πŸ™‚

    • ❀ thank you. I think speaking in front of condo owners would be a lot more stressful (terrifying) than what I have ahead of me. At least none of these people are coming in angry and there's no money involved. I did buy more antiperspirant…

      • I’m sure you’re right. πŸ™‚ Your audience will be friendly and interested. Money and control mucks up everything. People forget we are all people.

  5. He makes a good point about the Muslims in Guangzhou. I had a grand time trying to find the apocryphal grave of S’ad Abu Waqqas in Guangzhou with the help of people I met in the Tang era Huaisheng mosque. Such a long history will be lost, or cease to be easily accessible.

  6. When we worry about it, then it is meaningful to us to be speaking in front of the group and that will show. People love to hear anecdotes and stories, all will be wonderful!

  7. You’ll do great, and while you’ll experience nervousness initially, almost immediately into the “reading” you’ll be in the zone and when it’s all over, you’ll wonder how time passed so quickly! Never underestimate the interest of an audience and their ability to ask questions that prompt you to respond with fun stories outside the actual book, so save time for questions within your presentation. Visuals are always good, so if you can do a quick Powerpoint slideshow or something similar, I bet those attending would enjoy it. Even pictures of you in China would be wonderful for them to see. Good luck and most of all, enjoy!!

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