Ron Vitale asked: "I'd love to look into your mind and see how being on stage went, your fears and how you pushed through."
As you all know, last week darling Amanda Palmer stayed at my house and allowed me to feed her borscht and vodka, and then the next day we went for a walk in the morning, played chess, had lunch, and in the evening got on stage at Seattle's Town Hall. Amanda sang her beautiful songs, and talked about her beautiful book THE ART OF ASKING, and sang again, and invited Jason Webley to come up. He sang songs too. He is fantastically good at it. They both are. And I sat in the first row, fidgeting, waiting for my turn to come up and, hopefully, lend my hand to entertaining the audience. I was dressed in ballet attire—tutu, ballet tights, leotard and everything—because Amanda asked me to. She asked me to be her guest, a writer in a tutu.
HERE IS THE 40 MINUTE VIDEO OF IT. WATCH IT. IT'S ENTERTAINING.
You see, this is the power of asking. You ask, and you create a relationship, a sort of bonding, which is what Amanda's book is about, among other things. Was I afraid? Strangely not. I was excited. I got to play out my dream of being a ballerina. On stage. In pink and gauze and all those things that ballet was about for me when I was little. Pointy toes. Elegant arms. Twirls. Bows. Pirouettes.
It is strange how we always look for some sort of a validation before we start doing something. Like before committing to being a writer we seek advice, we go to classes, we read books about writing. We tell people that we "aspire" to become one, we want to write a novel, but for now, because we're only starting, we will write short stories. Notice what happens here. A ceiling. A low ceiling that we put up for ourselves. We daren't jump higher. But there is no such thing as validation of something before starting to do something. Validation comes in the process of doing it.
I always wanted to be a dancer, a ballerina. My family couldn't afford ballet school, but my grandmother signed me up for dance classes that were held at the local cinema, where I went after school. I loved it. I felt the music. The rhythm. I would close my eyes and move, and hop, and jump. I didn't need to see, I only needed to hear and to feel. I took part in a school play as a sparrow, doing some sort of a bird dance on stage. I participated in my very first dance competition and won 1st place for a solo and 4th for a ballroom dance with a partner.
Then life happened.
I moved from Russia to Germany, which was a big deal at the time. I was 11. My father took me into his family. I got to see another country, got to soak in European culture and eat fat German sausages while my classmates back in Moscow ate scarce food procured from coupons. It was a splendid life, should've been. But I was devastated. I had no more dance classes. My dancing was over.
Fast forward to now.
My ballet dream didn't end, it seems. It lived on, in me. So I wrote a book. ROSEHEAD. About a girl who really loves to do ballet. It helps her concentrate, helps her think and organize her ideas. Then I self-published it. For my first book reading, on a whim, I bought a whole ballet outfit. A real one. It was expensive, all professional ballet stuff. It wasn't something I needed, yet after I got it all in the mail, I couldn't stop grinning. I got my dream! I didn't become a ballerina, but at least I would get to dress up as one and pretend to be one in front of 30 people! That is how many readers showed up at my first book reading.
At Amanda's show there were maybe 600-700 people or so? I don't know, but for sure there were more than 30.
I got to go on stage. As a ballerina. I didn't feel any fear. I got to dance, and to be silly, and to talk, to open up about my pain, about wanting to kill myself and how I came out on the other end. How writing pulled me out of suicide. It was an amazing exchange of energy, with the audience. I felt high. High on their listening, high on their hearts beating. High on this incredibly intimate connection with so many strangers when for a couple hours we become one. Human. Vulnerable. Loving.
There is something magical in reading from a book to a large audience of people. I read a little excerpt from THE ART OF ASKING, and I felt the power of it, the power of Amanda's story. I felt the silence that was there to receive my reading. I felt the attention, and the eyes on me, and I was thrilled. I got infected, infected with desire to do more of this, to connect with a large number of people in this very powerful way.
Perhaps this is not what you wanted to hear? Perhaps you were hoping I would tell you a story of battling my fears? But I had none. There was a time, however, when I was afraid, afraid to the point of shaking and stumbling on my words. A year ago, when I just published SIREN SUICIDES, I did my first public reading at Hugo House, and I shook so hard and was so nervous, I hardly remember how I managed to read at all. There were perhaps 15 people in the audience. It seems like an eternity has passed since then. Here is what I learned.
YOU HAVE TO PRACTICE READING ALOUD EVERY DAY.
After that not-so-great reading at Hugo House I was determined to get better. I started reading to my boyfriend, every night. And it improved both my confidence and my writing. Try it. It really works. When you read your work aloud, you hear places where it doesn't sound right. And when you fix those places, and read again, you are less afraid. It sounds good. You want to read it. There is no stopping you once you start enjoying it. Record yourself. Put videos on YouTube. Watch yourself. See what you're doing wrong, do it again and fix those things.
Once you get used to this, to hearing your own voice and watching yourself, it will get easier and easier. Really, by the time I got on stage, I felt unlocked. I didn't have any fear. It was fun. It was touching. It was amazing. And I know I want to do this again. I don't have a ceiling anymore. I can dress up as a ballerina, or as an elephant, or as a Russian bear. I know why I'm not afraid.
It's really not about me, it's about YOU.
I give my love to YOU, when I perform, and YOU graciously accept it. Without YOU receiving what I give I couldn't do it.
So thank YOU for giving me this opportunity to live my dream. Thank YOU for reading my book about a little ballerina girl. Thank YOU for coming to my reading. Thank YOU for asking me to dress up in a tutu. Because of YOU I got rid of my fear. Because of YOU I will make more art, write more books, and share, share, share. I love you, my darling readers, I LOVE YOU.