The Bushwick Book Club of Santa Barbara County

 

 

Late last year, a wonderful friend contacted me and asked if I’d like to take part in her book club’s project: read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and write a song or two inspired by the book. My first thought was – I haven’t read East of Eden. Next, I thought about how – for a variety of reasons – I hadn’t performed in front of real people for quite a while. I ruminated and I ruminated and finally I sat down to respond to my friend’s query…

 

“…The truth is I like your idea / challenge, and the fact that it makes me uncomfortable to think about it

seems like a good reason to sign up.

Maybe. So yes. Put me down as part of The Mission.

I think. Yes. Yes. I’m in.

Am I?…”

 

And with a hit of the send button, I committed.

 

 

At first, as I read I flagged the bo0k with post-its, thinking I’d come back to an inspiring word/phrase/section and attempt to compose a song at a later time. But after a while, I remembered that when the bug hits, that’s the time to scratch it. So I allowed myself to be in the moment and wrote when the light-bulb flashed.

 

Once I’d written the song, I knew I needed to practice. Like I said, I hadn’t performed for quite a while and I didn’t want that to hold me back in my delivery. So I began working to memorize my song (thank you, Franz Liszt for forcing us all to do that) and to tweak my presentation. I knew this wasn’t a grand showcase or anything, but preparation is key. And I wanted to do well. For my friend and for myself. I suppose I also wanted to do well for “Charles” – the character that inspired my song. (It never occurred to me to want to do well for Mr. Steinbeck. Oops.)

 

 

So last week I drove myself to Santa Barbara to get my Steinbeck on, along with several other songwriters. The event was held at The Guitar Bar in downtown Santa Barbara and that joint is gi-gorgeous. Seriously. A few folks referred to it as “guitar porn” and I agreed. The shop’s owner, Jamie, was such an amiable guy and his generosity in allowing the Bushwick Book Club to stage its meetings there is fairly grand. His place is comfortable and welcoming. I strongly encourage music lovers and players to stop in his store, next time you’re in Santa Barbara.

 

 

Anyhoo, back to the show. It was truly fascinating to hear how other folks were affected by the book. Some were drawn to the same language. Some were drawn to the same characters or plot lines. And as songwriters, no two of us were the same. My brilliant friend, Kate Graves, performed a lovely song that was as sweet as it was heartbreaking…

 

 

I hadn’t seen Tom Prasada Rao for a few years and it was good to catch up with him. He was inspired to write 2 songs and I loved them both. But that first one – wow. I told him I want need a recording of it and I wasn’t lying…

 

 

When my spot in the line-up rolled around, I took the stage and va-va-voomed my way through my tune…

 

 

And then it was over. The good people attending the meeting made their way out of The Guitar Bar toward home and we musicians packed up our gear. Jamie and his crew began putting the shop back in order and good-byes were made. I hit the road for my drive back to Los Angeles and left Santa Barbara in the rearview.

 

 

When I think of how easy it would have been to simply not respond to my friend’s invitation to participate, I have to shake my head. Saying Yes to something that made me uncomfortable was a good idea. And I’m glad I did it. Giving my word and agreeing to perform were very real commitments to me. Putting in the time and rehearsing were also commitments. I was forced (by myself) to actually show the hell up. And I did.

 

I’d like to embrace this year with that attitude of Yes that got me through the first presentation of The Bushwick Book Club of Santa Barbara County. I’d like to have a little more faith in myself. I’d like to grab hold of opportunities to see the people I adore most in this world (I’m talking about you, Kate Graves). I’d like to own being Me.

 

 

Here’s to grasping our lives. Here’s to facing fears. Here’s to You and Me.

“Found Words” at The Ebell

 

 

 

This week I participated in a night of storytelling at The Ebell in Los Angeles. Six other writers and I got together to weave tales in The Ebell’s historic Fine Arts Theater. Friends, family and complete strangers gathered for the sole purpose of listening. I think Mister put it best when he said, “This is throwback entertainment.”

 

When I was initially asked to participate in this event, I immediately wanted to say no. The mere thought of getting up in front of people to read one of my stories paralyzed me with fear. What would I share? Why would anyone be interested in something I wrote? I’ve never done that! These thoughts of self-doubt (and about a jillion others) raced through my mind and very nearly kept me from saying yes.

 

But then I realized my fear was only fear. And that the worst case scenario was I would keep my head down and read my story during my time on stage, never looking up. I mean, it was a reading after all, right?

 

So before I could second-guess myself… Before I could shun the people who believed in me enough to invite me in the first place… Before I could sabotage what might be a new and positive experience, I said Yes. I committed to participating in the event and that was that.

 

I worked on my story. I did. I practiced reading and I even consulted a fabulous actor friend, taking her advice and trying my best to incorporate her excellent suggestions. She told me that the more I could memorize, the better my eye-contact with the audience. I knew what she meant. I’m often “the audience” at such events and it definitely makes a difference if one feels a connection with the performer. I love that feeling. Of course I wanted to foster that from my side of the podium. So I practiced some more. On one particular day, I went over my 10-minute story so many times I was left hoarse. But it was the right thing to do.

 

I wanted to give my best. Now, I felt this way simply because, but I had also invited several folks to the reading. And – lo and behold – they were actually planning to attend. If I told you how uncomfortable I was in simply inviting people to this event, you wouldn’t believe me. I go see friends as they pursue various performing endeavors all the time. And I love it! Concert? Sure! Stand-up? You bet! Theater? Dance? Recital? Gallery Show? Yes, yes, yes and yes! But to ask people to show up for me is beyond painful. Let me just say there was a lot of deep breathing involved and a lot of denying my dark side. But I did take the breaths and I did quiet the critic and I did ask my friends to attend.

 

Here’s what happened: people showed up. They braved traffic. They bought their tickets. They gave me more love and support than I ever expected. And though I’m not very good at receiving, I tried. And I said Thank You. And I hugged each of them, and even slow-danced with the gal with the second greatest dimples on earth (Mister’s receive top billing, don’t you know). I marveled at the love I was given. I felt my heart stretch at its crooked seams. And I realized I actually have friends. As much as I go through life thinking my love for these wonderful souls is one-sided, it absolutely isn’t. Whether or not I’ve admitted it, I am loved in return. I can’t tell you how it makes me feel to own that. To accept it. To allow it into my walled existence.

 

Anyhoo, the other night I got up and read my story, and I was fine. I was off-the-page enough to feel good about looking at the audience, and when I did look down I somehow managed to know just where I was in the telling. I got to hear the other stories and I got to meet the other writers and I got to check off my First Reading. All in all, it went pretty well.

 

For what it’s worth, I can tell you my goal was to warrant being included with that group of storytellers. I simply wanted to hold my own, to be my finest version of me. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less. I think that goal was accomplished.

 

But if there were doubts, they were certainly quelled when I received a beautiful note from a friend the morning after. She shared a personal experience, then tied it to my self-doubts about the previous evening’s Reading. Her note ended, “Just let go. You’re a lot better than you think you are.”

 

To her, and to all the Friends who showed up, laughed and applauded – Thank You. You will never know what your support means. And if your affection for me is a mere smidgen of mine for you, well, I am blessed beyond all measure.