Few days after Christmas, my mother-in-law Barbara dragged me into the retirement community’s club house. “What do you need? Water? Pens? Anything?” She got this “meet the author” thing going for the “On the Run: Cancelled Czech Files.” And it occurred to me that she’s never seen me doing something like this before.
Their book club is big and lots of people showed up. Some of them had read the book but most have not, and since I have a “no spoiler” policy at events such as these, I scrapped the usual Q&A and launched into a storytelling performance. Because that’s what I do. And it went over well, and you’ll get to read that particular story in another Cancelled Czech Files book. I can’t decide whether to calling “Blowing Shit Up,” or “My Venerable Ancestors.” The former is more accurate. Explosions abound. The latter is more polite. It was, after all, my ancestors who had explosive proclivities.
My first public performance had taken place in second grade, when my grandma shoved me out on a stage and had me recite a poem. It went well. I loved the applause. I still love the applause. Poetry got pushed out by all kinds of stories since then, and these days I feel perfectly comfortable addressing an audience. It could be 40 or 400 – I don’t care. It’s as though the story takes over my faculties and I just go along with it.
Then it’s over, and there’s a Q&A where I have to exercise some discretion, which is always awkward, and then people want to get their books signed. Which is flattering, really. Most importantly, it takes the edge off the intensity of the one-on-one interaction. Because as comfortable as I’m talking to a crowd, I’m not all that good one on one, or, heaven forbid, a group of three. It’s as though I was being pulled in different directions, with individuals wanting to ask their own last question. Get that last personal assessment of me. Look me up and down with searching eyes, as though they were thinking, “She wrote that. What’s she thinking now? What’s in her mind now and how does she get it on paper?” I feel my defenses slam down like a medieval portcullis. Questions fly, and I smile and shake hands and sign books, and I say a lot of “Thank you, glad you enjoyed it.” And I mean that. Really. Without readers, where would the writers be?
But to all those other questions? I have no good answers. None that I can shoot off in a clever sound bite. They take hours to process and they get answered in writing, with multiple revisions. They become stories, and I’m not ready to tell the stories these people spark within me. Not yet. “I don’t know,” I say. Eloquent. Had someone asked me what my name was, I’d have probably said the same thing. “I don’t know.”
A snapshot from the “On the Run” CCF book, above: That’s me and my brother in Munich, West Germany, 1979, playing in the River Isaar. That’s who’s talking in the CCF books.