So there I am, standing on a street in Greenwich Village in the new outfit I finally found at Steinmart after searching all the malls and higher-end stores. I am looking in the window of Barnes & Noble at a poster with my picture and the announcement of the book event I was about to do in 10 minutes. We had forgotten to bring the digital camera (!) so my husband bought a disposable one at the newsstand on the same corner, and he snapped a picture of the display through the window glass. "I hope that comes out!" I said, realizing this was an image I didn't want to forget. This was a highlight in my adventure last week of going on the first leg of my first book tour: New York City for 3 days and then up to Toronto for 3 more days.
In talking about my experiences writing Standing at Water's Edge at Barnes & Noble that evening, I described my own experience of fantasizing this display -window -moment since the inception of my book idea. Actually, I would date the beginning of this fantasy moment to much earlier in my life. I wrote my first book when I was a fourth-grader. Even though I had no visualization of what it would mean to publish a book in the real world, I remember feeling that writing my fourth-grade textbook on English grammar and punctuation would somehow make me special and would give me a place in the world. Seeing the Barnes & Noble display window sent a wave of gratification through me that is difficult to describe.
So it was amazing to see the display, but I was quickly reminded that I needed to give a talk in a few minutes. I had purposely tried not to think too much about what I would say during the talk, because I wanted it to be spontaneous and "in the moment." But I couldn't live with too much uncertainty, so I had jotted down some little prompts about what I might say if my mind went blank or I got confused. A podium with a microphone was standing before about 20 folding chairs, lined up classroom style in neat rows. Slowly, one-by-one, people drifted into the chairs. I sat in the front row next to my husband, talking to him quietly as I gathered my nerves. When he moved to the back row, I turned in my seat and started to chat with a couple women who had come for the talk. Note to self: it really helps to connect with people who are interested in the talk BEFORE starting to talk publicly. Having some sense of knowing a few people in the audience really helped to ease my tension about performing for them and instead helped me to view the "talk" as a chance to converse and connect with others.
I was very tuned in to the moment-to-moment reactions and body language of almost every person sitting there. I was living, in that moment, the very experience I had described in the book. How, like it or not, we are tuned in to others' responses to us, we gauge it continuously, and our sense of ourself shifts around in reaction to these responses. I must say I was strengthened to keep going by the warm, engaging, and enthusiastic "head-nods" of several people sitting there. During the question and answer period, I think every person made some kind of thoughtful comment, or asked an intruiguing question, or shared a personal reflection. It was one of those magical moments of connection, where, in 30 minutes we had developed a safe and respectful rapport with each other. This led to many people talking to me individually afterwards, sharing very personal and often profound parts of their inner experience.
I think I will remember this night for a very very long time. It was more than I had previously fantasized and was well worth all of the years of persistence and perseverence it took to write the book and then to find a publisher. I'll let you know if the picture we took with the disposable camera came out!
Causes Anne Paris Supports
Savethechimps.org, Bonobokids.org, Elevate Hope Foundation