Saturday, February 19, 2011

Survived my First Speaking Engagement

When we drove into the lot at Borders, funny, we didn't really get why it was full. But when we walked in and saw the long line of people holding arm-loads of books, videos etc., we realized it was the fact that Borders had announced it was closing.

I knew then that we would be stepping into this place which had hosted 3 book signings for me for the very last time.

I found Daniel, the "event manager", who works there, looking on at this mass browsing going on. He had been in charge of the book signings and other events for as long as I've known him. He said to me, "This reminds me of my grandmother's estate sale." I could tell this really hurt him. He said bracingly, "Buy something, but don't buy too much. We don't all want to be out of jobs in two weeks." He got me introduced to the ladies I was to speak to, and disappeared.

I knew what he was saying. I knew this was hard for him. Julie, the store manager, wasn't there, she'd gone home, earlier. It has to be hard for her too.

But I found the tables set up for myself and the other speaker, Don Shoo {not sure of the spelling} Mr. Shoo is a WWII war veteran and boy did my husband and I feel fortunate to have been able to listen to him speak. He had been a gunner at Normandy, and {I've forgotten the other place} who sat on what's called a half-track which came in after the tanks and basically "cleaned up". Not a lot of nice stories, but he managed to put in a few humorous bits about his experience.

Although I was told this was to be a 20 min. slot, Mr. Shoo spoke for an hour. No one minded. Me least of all. Really, I was happy in a lot of ways that he went first.

When it was my turn--or just before Mr. Shoo wrapped things up--I thought I felt faint. Well, you know I have to tell you, I never liked speech class. I think I got a D in that. Speaking in front of people who all stare at you and expect something interesting to come out of your mouth is a lot of stress. It's not something I look forward to. But this would be different. I was talking about a subject I loved, and that's what my husband whispered into my ear before it all began. "Just talk about what you love."

I had an opening line, which worked pretty good, and knew where I wanted to begin, and winged it. Nope. I did not bring notes. Why would I need notes to talk about me and writing? I pretty much am an expert at me and what I love.

My husband, Dennis, sat in the background watching, and listening. People who don't know us wouldn't know this, but we are each other's support. We lean on one another in many a things. There he was being proud of me, he said, later on.

When I started out, I was behind a table with my books, off to the side. My voice doesn't carry, so I was invited to stand more toward the front. And this would have put me directly beside 86 year-old Mr. Shoo. I knew that that would still be too far away, so I decided that if I stood directly in front of the table, they could hear me even better, and I could lean against the table. It worked wonderfully, and I was terrified out of my cotton picking mind. But once I eased into my meager beginnings, where I went to school, and so forth, it got easier. I was somehow able to actually remember names of things--I get what I call brain farts; I just can't remember things. But I did fine. Especially when Mr. Shoo took a picture of me, and I decided to turn around and give him a nice pose. I think I was able to relax after that.

I believe I spoke for about 40 minutes. The ladies were attentive, polite and another woman took a snap of me, said it was for their scrap book. I had a couple of questions in the end. One woman said she wondered if my writing was something like "stream of consciousness", because I told her that I've kept a journal since 1973, and I'm always writing in it, even while we travel, I'm on the passenger seat writing about whatever comes to mind, or what we've done, or about my writing, and thoughts on something I'm working on.

When it was over, the line to the cash register was into the middle of the store. I saw some people I knew who had come through. One couple we knew was checking out as we headed out. WE didn't stop to speak to them. I felt sad. This was hard for me to see. I won't be able to go back. I don't care about the sales.

I knew what Daniel meant about the "estate sale". There had been one for my dad's estate after his death. I didn't go to it. That would have crushed me. I'd grown up in that house, to see people mulling over the things--things I'd grown up with--would have devastated me just as much as his death had. That's why when I went up to speak, and Mr. Shoo was seated there politely, I leaned over and said to him, "You remind me of my father. I lost him eleven years ago." He said he was sorry to hear that. My father would have been 93, and even though he was not a war veteran, he could tell stories from memory just like Mr. Shoo, and had the same sort of sayings, and could make us all chuckle with his stories. So, the moment was a somewhat bittersweet for me. All the hoopla of people diving on things marked down for sale all around us while we pretended it wasn't happening while we sat in the group, listened--or when I got up and spoke, was somewhat surreal. Like a 3-D film running in the background.

Life is a mix of treasured moments, and heartbreaks. You gotta get through the heartbreaks to get to the treasured moments. I think I impressed upon the ladies that I'd had heartbreaks throughout my life as a writer when my work was rejected time and time again. And there I was telling them about two books I had self-published, and people could hold them in their hands and read them--had read them and told me that they'd loved my work.

After getting home my husband praised me. He'd always called me "professional writer" even before this and I'd poo-pooed him, and there I was today doing something I'd never done before in the capacity of a "professional writer".

Today was a good day, over all, really. For me. I'd begun this journey about 40 years ago, I don't know where it will lead me, but I'm on this path for whatever reason, which was begun so far back I can't hardly remember. In my speech, today, I explained that I'd taken my first writing class in high school, and dreamed from then on of becoming a writer.

Well here I am, 40 years later, doing it.


  1. I am glad to read everything went well, with the exception of the Borders closing. This news is upsetting, especially since there will no longer be any borders down south here.

  2. Yes. It is. Esp. when everyone I speak to about where to find my book, they always said Borders was their favorite bookstore. I don't know why that is. Very sad about it. I'm sad for the people who are loosing their jobs mostly.


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