I did my first reading at the Dragnet Magazine 5 launch party. It was a journey getting there, not just the week leading up, but the years of dreaded public speaking.
I was extremely shy as a kid. In high school, I’d take a zero for papers rather than do class readings. When I did presentations in college, I turned beet-red, shook, and had trouble breathing.
In the first creative writing class I signed up for, the instructor told us we would be reading a page of our written dialogue in the second class. I dropped out immediately. Five years passed before I signed up for another.
After Dragnet accepted my story, an editor told me there would be a launch and asked if I would be interested in reading. I said I would definitely attend the launch but wasn’t sure about the latter (my polite way of saying no).
When they sent me the details, the event listing printed my name as one of the readers. What? I hadn’t agreed. How could they do that? I sat and stewed for a couple of days.
My friend Rob said, “When you have a book, you’ll have to do readings.” I knew he was right unless I wanted to piss off publishers. And my mum said, “You’re not going to pull that anxiety crap, are you?” which really got me mad because I’ve never seen it as something I had control over.
I knew no matter how long I prolonged it, there was always going to be a first reading. If it was a horrible experience, I would never have to do it again. If I fainted, puked, or peed on stage then at least I would be memorable.
I had another motivation: Annabelle, my cat of eighteen years, recently passed. I could see her look of disapproval if I didn’t do this. I would read for her.
I told Dragnet I’d give it a go. Now, it was on to the mental and physical training. I didn’t drink for a week to clear my mind. I didn’t talk about the anxiety – it had no voice. I went to the gym (“Eye of the Tiger” played in my mental tape player). And I practised reading my story twice a day.
The day of the launch, I had a few moments of nausea, but carried on, almost pretending it wasn’t going to happen. I did stop at the liquor store following an afternoon stint at the gym. My motto has always been “It’s better to have booze you don’t want, than to want booze you don’t have.”
I wasn’t chugging beer or chain smoking. Friendly faces showed up, and there wasn’t a stage with bright lights. No bigs, right? Dragnet played their intense Theme Song Video. Then I was called to the microphone. I had worn my blue hoodie security blanket but took it off.
Apart from massive shakes, I thought it went well. My voice felt strong and clear, and I read at a good pace. Before I knew it, the story was over. I said “That was for Bubs (Annabelle),” but no one heard because they were clapping.
Will I read again, given the chance. Yes.