Something about reading my personal story to a group of strangers in a book store seemed...unsettling. A curvy, middle-aged woman talking about stripping nude in her 20s just welcomes judgement and ridicule, I thought. Also, I was going to talk about my skin; the scars I've tried so long to ignore, my words now shining a light on them. I needed to remember to breathe.
my dashboard, I grew slightly more anxious.
|iPhone shot of me sitting in traffic, trying to get there|
I arrived at Chevalier's Books fashionably late. The place was packed, but as soon as I saw my friends, I was bathed in relief. There's nothing more reassuring than knowing you have the support and encouragement of your friends - especially in times of personal challenge. We exchanged kisses and hellos, and I soaked in every hug.
"You look beautiful, girl. Are you nervous?" Elly squeezed my arm.
"Sooooo much so. Thank you." My knees were buckling with fear.
"When are you on? You'll do great."
"Soon, thank you..." God, I hoped she was right.
We listened and watched each writer share their essay, and my trembling only seemed to increase.
Fuck. Can I do this?
Then, the hostess read the next speaker's introduction:
"A self-proclaimed recovering narcissist, Honolulu native, Christine Macdonald has worked as an ice cream scooper, a stripper, and an advertising executive – not on the same day. Her essay, Sunset Strip walks us through her final night at the strip bar, after a decade-long career working the pole in Waikiki. She is currently writing a memoir and you can learn more about her story through her website www.poletosoul.com."
Shit. That's me.
The applause lifted my feet toward the stage and with every person I walked passed, I shared a grin underneath a veil of uncertainty and fear.
There I was. In front of a sea of faces, all waiting for me to speak. I froze, wondering if they realized I could pass out at any moment. Without thinking about it, I turned my thoughts inside-out and spoke.
"You know, it's so funny to me. That I can be so nervous speaking in public, when I had no problem stripping on stage."
"It's true." I laughed along with the audience, opened the book to my page and began to read.
I made it through the part where I talked about my skin, and although I was still trembling, my breathing continued to save me. It came as no surprise I choked up on the same two lines that caused me to cry so many times in private. I forgave myself for taking pause to wipe my eyes and continued on.
As soon as I completed reading my story, the air filled with raw emotion. I smiled, walking back to my group of friends in the back, but this time, my pride was showing. I felt pats on my shoulders and heard a few cheers. As I collected congratulatory hugs from my loyal posse, I let out a huge sigh of relief.
After the event wrapped up, we started to mingle and I felt much more relaxed, although I was still not prepared for what happened next.
Countless strangers introduced themselves to me, opening their arms, letting our embraces linger in the envelope of gratitude. Some fought back tears. I was thanked over and over for sharing my story.
Wow. This shit is real.
When a fellow writer's mother came up to me, I found myself a little embarrassed. This was someone's mom - and I was talking about taking my clothes off for money. She intoduced herself and thanked me with a hug and spoke softly, holding my hands.
"You are a brave woman and I want to thank you. You helped me realize that every person has a story, and not to judge someone just because they are on a different path."
My eyes welled up as I thanked her.
I've been so worried about people judging me - a middle-aged, curvy gal, talking about stripping in my 20s - that I forgot to welcome the idea that sharing my story may actually be a positive thing.
I am excited for the next two readings in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I'm sure the trembling fear will return, but it's okay. The fact I was able to help shift a mother's perception after my first read, is enough to keep me going.