How to Give a Good Public Reading (and Other Metaphors)
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This time of year, as spring already bends toward summer and branches puff and stretch with each and every day, the metaphor of “clearing a space” keeps coming to mind. I spent several mornings this week physically clearing the perimeter of the Airstream land on Raccoon Ridge–sawing high branches that will sag in summertime and touch the roof, lopping saplings that shade out grasses, weeding and seeding my “lawn,” cleaning the water bars, and deep cleaning the inside of the Airstream to make a space for any summertime guests. It might not look like much, but above is the “after” shot featuring more open space and a tidier outdoor experience. Next week, I borrow the neighbor’s weed whacker.
Part of the impetus for getting this work done now is that I’ll be taking off for the first leg of my book tour in three weeks, which also coincides with teaching at Interlochen and attending two weddings. I think my amazing book tour manager has something like 15 events planned for me already, which are currently linked on the left sidebar of this blog. (Anyone know of a good calendar widgit? I’m running out of sidebar space.) If the branches get overgrown or the water bars clog, I won’t be here to fix them. My parents can check in, but they won’t always be here either.
I’ve done plenty of public readings before, but never so many in such a short period of time and certainly not any that involved the actual sale of a real, published book (!!!). It’s an exciting time…but I have to be careful to balance that excitement with practicality. To give a good public reading, I have to be in a certain kind of “space,” as they say. I need to be confident yet tender, present yet anticipatory. For me this means a few practical, essential things: dress nicely but feel comfortable in your attire, arrive early but not early enough to get nervous, say “thank you” and remember to smile, connect with the audience through eye contact and very brief anecdotes about the work.
But to sustain this over a period of months, more is in order. As I’m creating space on the land around the Airstream, I need to create space in my psyche (and also my schedule!) so that I can be my best self for the public readings. I’ve never done a book tour before, but something tells me that to repeatedly be in front of an audience and be 200% present and 200% vulnerable and expressive could take a lot out of a person. Hopefully it will also be fulfilling…In the meantime, I plan on clearing mental space by meditating more frequently, reading books (which is relaxing), and spending time outdoors. At times that feels lavish or selfish. Other times, I know I won’t be able fit these things in. But for the most part, my gut tells me that attending to these details right now will pay off when I hit the road (again).
I can read slow enough. I can enunciate. I can drink water without dribbling at the podium and I can create Facebook event invites and look up bookstore locations on Google Maps. It’s that deeper, quieter work I’m talking about here. The kind that creates space. Just as clearing the branches will let my little grass seedlings grow, so too clearing a mental space will let my best self grow. In the end, that should make a few moments here and there better for everyone, right? I like to think so.