My week has been top-notch! I can’t hold myself back; I must tell you all about it in great detail. Indulge me…
On Wednesday of the previous week I had received an email from my good pal and Assistant Director of the Residential College (RC) at UNCG. mka, would you be willing to take part in an easy chair panel at the RC Renaming Ceremony on Saturday? My plan was to attend the ceremony but sort of melt into the background. I am the co-chair of the Alumni Steering Committee so I felt that I really should be there and I might even run into some RCers from my years, plus I adore RC. It could be fun, but mka doesn’t do public speaking. I continued reading the email. You’d be filling the chair of one of your favorite people in the entire world, the person who kindly admitted you into this glorious life-changing program after a five-minute frazzled conversation when you were an 18 year-old orientation attendee and freaking out because you didn’t have a dorm room. And his wife – the one who introduced you to some of your favorite authors and treated you with respect even when your essays really really really sucked. They have a family emergency and can’t be here. Remember what I said about not doing public speaking. Scratch that. The old mka didn’t do public speaking.
I won’t go into all my angsty moments leading up to Saturday afternoon at 4:00. I won’t tell you how I sent an email to one of my retreat groups or describe how it was peppered with phrases like I’m gonna be up there with like former deans and administrators and stuff. What in the world will I say? What if I panic and my brain stops working? No, I won’t share that with you. Nor will I detail the Saturday morning conversation in which one of my dear, dear undergraduate student supervisees attempted to convince me that I’m just as smart as any former dean or even the Chancellor (who I ended up sitting next to on the panel.) I’ll be kind and shield you from all that emotional drivel.
What I will tell you is that when it was my turn to speak I took a deep breath, stood up, explained that I was heartbroken to report that I’d never met the amazing Warren Ashby (the great gentleman who founded RC and whose name was about to become a part of the program’s title) but I knew that his influence and legacy lived on in Mary Foust Hall and would continue to for a very long time. I explained how I am involved with the Alumni Committee, that I’m in the dorm several times a year and can attest to its unchangedness. I let them know that the students are just as lovely as they’d expect – open, accepting, loving, intelligent, and super talented. I also encouraged the crowd to visit often – I assured them they’d feel right at home. Well, actually, I managed to get something along those lines out, I think. I’ve been told – in writing - that I didn’t sound anywhere near as gooberish as I felt. (Thanks Jeanne!)
After the ceremony I was invited to a dinner with all the other dignitaries (giggle). I sat next to Em, an amazing classical guitar student, RC (excuse me WARC) upperclass mentor, and incredible speaker – she closed the ceremony. Also seated near me were Tom, former RCer, current “dorm dad”, music faculty member and dissertation finisher. Rounding out the group were my pal, Jeanne, the AD and Susanne, a RC faculty member who teaches book making and book history. Of course lively conversation ensued. It was a beautiful thing. I’m glad I did it. Three cheers for (hold on while I gather myself – I want to get this right the first time) The Warren Ashby Residential College in Mary Foust Hall at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Phew! That was a mouthful.
On to Tuesday when I met, wait for it – SUE MONK KIDD! I’m not kidding you – I actually talked (kinda intelligently) to one of my favorite writers. I love her novels, The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, but by far my favorite of her work is the memoir, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I had read a library copy so when I was last in Raleigh I bought my own at Quail Ridge Books and took it along to Salem College on Tuesday night. The event was billed as a Conversation with Sue Monk Kidd. A local newscaster asked the questions – some of his own, some that had been emailed from readers. Sue (maybe I should call her Ms. Kidd or Mrs. Kidd – but I feel like I know her so I’m gonna stick with Sue – I hope that’s not offensive to her)answered them eloquently and with good humor. Next she read a short piece from her newest book Firstlight which I had finished earlier that day (I’m a good student – I like to be prepared). Actually, I read my roommate’s copy – it was my Christmas gift to her last year. I took it along too. Then she took questions from the audience. Salem College has a Center for Women Writers so that were lots of young women ready with well-thought out questions. Of course one of those was what advice do you have for young/new writers. I was on the edge of my seat. I’d heard this question answered by Mary Oliver a few months ago and was high off her response for weeks afterward. Sue spoke of courage, how women especially are afraid to listen to their creative voices and to let their ideas out into the world. She urged her audience to be courageous – to just do it – to write. My soul was soaring and I had tears in my eyes. And I was grateful that I’d come alone to this event because the folks sitting near me and witnessing this rapture are people I’ll never see again so I didn’t care if they thought I was some kind of lunatic.
After the talk, I joined the book signing queue. I was so excited (not nervous – surprise, surprise) to meet Sue. I knew it would be brief and I knew exactly what I wanted to say. When I made it to the front of the line I chatted with Sandy, Sue’s lovely husband (what a sweetheart!) who was making sure that all the post-it notes had the correct names and spellings for the inscriptions. I explained that I was mk and that the other book belonged to my roommate who was hearing Van Cliburn play just down the street. Oh, Van Cliburn is in town, how wonderful! Sue, Van Cliburn is in town. Sue took my book and wrote To MK. I thanked her for what she’d said about courage and told her what I was going to do on Thursday night (see below). She stopped writing, looked intently into my eyes and said, good for you, MK, good for you! Then with a flourish befitting her southern girlishness she floated her pen across the page leaving behind Courage! Sue Monk Kidd. I smiled, thanked her and practically skipped away full of absolute and complete joy. If I just convinced Sue Monk Kidd that I’m a writer then it must really be true! DAMN!
There was no sleeping that night!! Instead I spent the wee hours preparing my reading notebook for my big premiere later in the week. I made mini vision boards for the front and back with calming images and images of the things I want most in life. I did this to help me remain present and calm when my first reaction when I’m nervous is to get stressed out, scattered and fidgety. I don’t want to go to that place anymore. I also made a photocopy of the title page of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter so that I could take Sue Monk Kidd’s courage with me wherever and whenever I bare my soul to the world.
And that’s exactly what I did on Thursday night. I read four of my pieces at an open-mic night – my first EVER! I rocked – it was awesome! I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. So sorry! I’d been thinking for the last couple of weeks about what I wanted to read and I’d narrowed it down a bit. I decided that even if I made the final choices once I got to the mic that was okay. I had all my work in the notebook and it was well organized so I could afford to be flighty about which pieces I was going to share. I was so calm and I was shocked by that. This was the first open-mic coffeehouse at The Sanctuary (very cool place, by the way – good people, good vibes) so the audience was small for which I was grateful. I had a chat with the hostess beforehand, Kristen Leigh a very hip and sweet local musician. She put me at ease right away. I signed up to be the 3rd of 4 performers. Kristen was first (she rocked!). Benji was next (yay Benji!) and then it was me. And I was not freaking out at all! I walked up there, put my notebook on the music stand, adjusted the mic and said hi you guys, I’m mk and I’m here because my friend Dalyn told me that I have to do this and she’s not here so I’m going to have a great time teasing her about not showing up (What!?! Who is this confident, at ease writer woman who has taken over my body?). I’m going to share four of my pieces with you tonight. Three of them I consider poems – my friend Barb who is a poet calls them hybrids – the other one is a prose piece. The first one is brand new so be nice. (What the hell!) The audience laughed and I launched into Maxfield Parrish in the Sky. There was nice applause at the end. Next I told a little story about my friend Barb and how she helped me get to my mantra of we’re all doing the best we can with what we have. Then I read doing the best we can with what we have. There was really nice applause after that one and I was moved so I said, you guys are sweet to which a girl in the front row replied, as if she were at a rock concert, you rock! I was floored! Next I read Cat’s Eye – a she story (my own term) about my relationship with my brother – which garnered amazing, emotionally-charged responses when I read it to my retreat group in March and caused my brother to weep when I gave him a copy for his birthday earlier this year. I ended with gratitude, a rhyming fun list of things that make me happy. I did it. I made it all the way through. I had a great time. And they loved me, they really really loved me. I have an open invitation to come back anytime! I plan to be there next month – November 1st at 7:00. I have an eye appointment that afternoon and my eyes will be dilated which I’m usually quite sensitive to so reading could be interesting. Hmmm, maybe I should change that appointment…
Love to all my readers!