My book is about me. It’s also about my family, from my point of view. It’s about my memories as truly as I can remember them which is different from reporting verifiable facts. Memory tells its own story. Writing about myself, my internal and external being, was just fine when I was alone writing it. I was totally comfortable with the level of self-exposure involved in writing it. I even hired two writing coaches to help me. In the beginning, I hired Debra because I didn’t know how to structure the story and didn’t have the stamina, on my own, to stick with it long enough to get the job done, especially since I was, at the time I wrote the first draft, working full-time, raising three kids, running daily, and doing my best to be a good wife. There were times back then, at the book’s beginning, when I longed for more writing time, would even weep about it. The hours I set aside for writing were often swallowed up by unplanned events, things the kids needed, jobs I hadn’t signed on for. I believed I could never finish a whole book while living the full live I was living. But my coaches, the first one especially, expected me to show up with new writing every time we got together. The second coach helped me shrink the book down from 650 pages to 274 without compromising the story. It was a very long journey, writing the book. It took over twenty years. By the time the book was done, my kids had all flown the nest and I’d retired from my psychotherapy career.
And now, the book is out in the world. It’s on Amazon for god’s sake! Anyone in the whole world can read that book, can know about intimate parts of my life. I didn’t ever think about that when I was writing it. I worried a little about writing about my parents but before I was halfway through the book, they both died. So I was free to portray them as I’d experienced them. They would have had feelings about what I wrote. I wouldn’t have wanted to hurt them. Knowing they wouldn’t read the book was very freeing.
What I never anticipated was that I would one day be standing in front of an audience and reading a piece of my story to new people, strangers, sharing an intimate piece of my life. Plus also answering all kinds of intimate questions. About myself. I suppose when you write a memoir you have to be willing to tolerate a degree of exposure. When I’m with a friend, I’m very comfortable talking about just about everything, myself, my past, my internal workings, if someone happens to be interested. That’s so different from a public book reading about oneself.
I am an introvert. How does an introvert tolerate public nakedness? The way I did it was to pull up my acting training. Yes, I am serious. I took an acting class when I lived in LA when I was a teenager and another acting class when I was in college in Madison. I did spectacularly well in both. I also had the lead in a play while in college and that, too, got me rave reviews. Plus, about ten years ago I took an adult acting class. The character I played for my soliloquy was a cold, narcissistic bitch, and I played her so well that everyone in the class disliked me after that. That was, I admit, unnerving.
And last summer I attended a post-grad poetry week at my alma mater, Vermont College of Fine Arts. Tomas Morin, the poet who led my workshop, taught all of us how to do an effective public reading of a poem. Go slow. Emphasize with your voice the emotions in the lines. So when it came to my first public reading of my book, I channeled all of that. I told myself to pretend I was auditioning for an acting role. When you’re acting you are, by definition, not yourself, and I have always found it easy to pretend to be someone else.
Acting the part of author meant it wasn’t about me, even though it was. Doing the reading this way made it very enjoyable, fun actually. My stage fright, always potentially paralyzing, did not come up beyond the first three minutes and I was able to keep my audience enthralled. What more could a writer want?