It’s the during-the-day before an evening when I’m reading and Q&Aing at an event, and those are always days full of jitters.
I teach, coach, guide, and advocate for writers. But a huge part of my job is building up a writer’s confidence when their confidence collapses. And because I do this, many people seem to believe that I have confidence that can’t even be broken by kryptonite.
Twenty-five years of teaching, and a lifetime of writing has taught me that writers are this confounding conundrum of amazing Ego (I’ve written something important! I’m going to change the world!) and an absolutely crippling lack of self-confidence (Whatever made me think I can write? I can’t write. No one thinks I can write. I suck.). Writers can zing between these extremes at a rate beyond the speed of light. I’ve seen it happen in the course of the same sentence: “I’ve written something really important, but really, I only write for myself, because nothing I have to say is worth reading.”
And the thing is, I can say these sentences too. “My twelfth book is being released at the end of the year and my 13th book is being released at the beginning of next year and here’s a rejection from Rinkydink Magazine and ohmygod, my entire career is just a fluke.”
I’m not kidding.
So now we zoom in on today. The event is just under 9 hours away. And I’m already a big ol’ blob of nervous sweat. I’m the featured author for the Pendleton Center For The Arts First Draft Series. I’m going to read for about a half hour, from If You Tame Me and No Matter Which Way You Look, There Is More To See. Then a Q & A, and then there’s an open mic.
I was originally supposed to do this last July, live and in person, in Pendleton, Oregon. I’ve been to Pendleton before, in 2016, when I was asked to visit the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute, a men’s prison which also happens to be the home of the last clock-making school in the US. The director of the prison asked if I would come and share my novel, The Home For Wayward Clocks, with the men in this school. It was an event that changed my life, my vision of what prison is, my perception of who resides inside. So I was delighted to come back to Pendleton, to serve in a different way. And, upon reading the website for the Pendleton Center For The Arts, I saw Ursula Le Guin presented there. I was going to get to stand where Ursula did, read my work where Ursula read hers. I was thrilled outta my mind!
There’s a reason why my dog is named Ursula.
And then, of course, COVID. My trip was canceled.
Now, nine months later, it’s moving ahead. Not live, but on Zoom. I won’t stand where Ursula did. But I’m still a part of what she was a part of.
Last night, I was talking with someone who is familiar with the Pendleton Center For The Arts, and who is attending. She told me about someone else who will be there, someone who is an artist and has exhibits in museums around the world.
And I felt a twinge of the crippling end of the conundrum I spoke about earlier.
At the top of the Center’s website is a place you can click to see, as they say, “the list of esteemed writers who have headlined this series since 2013.”
Esteemed! And I lost my legs.
Then I looked through the list. And began to whisper, “Why, why, why am I doing this? Why did they invite me?”
Writers. Confounding conundrum. Big Ego. Crippling lack of self-confidence.
Including me. Even after a lifetime.
About an hour ago, I pulled out what I’m going to read tonight. And I read it. And frankly, I loved it. Loved it.
That’s when I really heard my lament, the words I chose to use, that had my answer within it. “Why did they invite me?”
They. Invited. Me.
Ursula Le Guin said, “Belief is the wound that knowledge heals.”
I believed. I hurt. I know.
And I will take the stage tonight in a Zoom way, with the stage being my office and my audience being a screen full of faces in boxes, and I will have the time of my life.
I hope Ursula watches from above.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.
If you wish to attend tonight, here is the Zoom information. The event will be followed by an open mic, which you do have to sign up for. The event begins at 7:00 p.m. Pacific time, 9:00 p.m. Central time, or 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 464 810 1155