I tried to have this conversation with the cats but they just turned their collective backs on me and returned to cleaning their privates. They’re miffed you see — no, actually they are royally POd because I didn’t invite them to come to my reading last Thursday at the Windup Bird Cafe. I tried to reason with them that cats, while adorable and incredibly intelligent and sometimes even well read, were not welcome in premises serving food. They thought it all a pretty flimsy excuse especially since they had to put up with my weeks and weeks and weeks of fretting whether anything would get written in time to perform and, once it was, whether it was pure schlock or good enough to actually read in public. They have no patience any more with this “Am I a Writer or Am I a Fraud?” self-doubt of mine. I see it in their eyes and hear it when they hiss — “Get over yourself, okay?”
They’re right. But I was so nervous about this gig. It was going to be my first reading since Mediterranean Journey was published. I thought when Sang Kim asked me if I wanted to participate in an evening on the theme of Love and a Sense of Place, that I’d be reading excerpts from Mediterranean Journey which was chucked full of love and places and a sense thereof. Nope. The idea of the evening was to present two views: one from artists over 60 and the other from those under 30. It was to be a collaboration of young and old. (I didn’t tell them that I have never played well with others.) And, the best part, I’d have to write new stories.
I thought I hid my panic very nicely during that first meeting. It was only later that I thought, “What the hell does that even mean.” The love part I got but the sense of place to go with it? And where, pray tell, during this 60s life of mine did that even occur? I thought and thought about it but nothing came. I finally got smart and asked for H-E-L-P. It came in the form of a long chat over tea with Jennette who, by the way, was responsible for getting me this invite in the first place. Finally, after many sips and divergent conversations, it finally clicked. Eureka! I knew what I would write.
Of course, true to my doubting nature, even after I had spent an enormous number of hours in my favorite Pod at the Toronto Reference Library and had pages and pages written, I just couldn’t believe that they were good enough to perform in public. After all, Windup Bird is a sophisticated cafe. “Big” name Toronto authors (even I recognized them) appeared there. I tweaked and rewrote pages and then tweaked those until I wasn’t sure whether the stories were great or gawd-awful. I did the only thing I could — I sent them off to the Intrepid Editor to read and waited for her reply. She gave them a three-thumbs up (one for each). Now, all I had to do was practice, practice, practice — the cats, wisely, escaped to outlying reaches of the apartment during this process.
And then it was Show Time. I didn’t think I’d be so nervous, but I was in good company since the other three were just as nervous. The one thing I had going for me that the others didn’t, was that I knew that out there in the audience were 20 people who thought I was a damn good writer and weren’t afraid to hoop and holler so everyone else would know. (They, unbiasedly, proclaimed me “The Star” of the performance. I was touched.)
I was first up for the evening. No one else volunteered so I did it in the spirit of collaboration and to move along the meeting we four were having (I’m not good at meetings either). I chose to start with “Christmas Eve” — the most “serious” story of the three. Was that a good idea? It was too late now to change — those pages were in front of me right along with the microphone and bright lights. “Maybe I should tell the audience more about the story?” I thought. “No,” I said to myself, “just breathe and read.” It was quiet when I finished. I was convinced I had bombed until I heard my “fan” table respond. (My social media guru told me later that she didn’t clap right away because the story had brought tears to her eyes.) I finished up my part of the first set with “The Date” which got good guffaws and a resounding applause at the end. So by the time I got up in the second set to read “Home”, I was relaxed and happy and proud of my words and a little sad that the evening was over. But I know they’ll be other words and other places.
Oh, if you see the cats, don’t tell them that they only appeared in one line of one story. There will be no living with them if they knew.
“Christmas Eve”, the first of the three stories in what I’m calling The Windup Bird Trilogy, will be in next week’s blog.