Tag Archives: shy

Confessions of an Awkward Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Attendee

5 Nov

bus

I hit the road last month to attend Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!

Confession time! In most circumstances I feel like a hanger-on if I’m in the company of whomever is the man or woman of the hour. Maybe it’s related to the Imposter Syndrome Sheryl Sandberg talks about in Lean In. Who am I to talk to someone of great stature? I never want to bother anyone, make it appear that I’m trying to get something out of them, or come out as some zealous fan. So, my typical response is to just keep to myself.

The first year I attended LCK I went alone and barely talked to anyone. I had been studying Kerouac’s literature for more than a decade and was fascinated by everything around me. It felt so surreal to be in Kerouac’s stomping grounds, to see his birth home, the Grotto, the Pawtucket Falls, the mill town he’d loved and written about. Roger Brunelle gave excellent tours, and I was enthralled by every moment of it. I loved every moment of it, and even though I had no one to share it with I didn’t really mind.

This year was completely different. My friend Julie Parker let me crash at her beautiful home outside of Boston, which was brimming with books and paintings and so full of inspiration. She’s a design consultant who does package design, marketing, and brand identity, so when we weren’t at the festival we had endless conversations about publishing and self-promotion.

I got to meet Paul! Oh my gosh, I was so nervous. Paul and I have been collaborating together for almost two years, and I probably spend more time talking on the phone with him than anyone else except maybe my mom when she’s in the States (when she’s in Greece, it’s difficult with the time difference), but we’d never met in person. I guess I was worried by meeting in person, something would change. It ended up being awesome. He gave Julie and me a tour of Lowell, and since he himself grew up there, his insight and stories were really personal.

I also got to catch up with David Amram and Billy Koumantzelis. I first got to know each of them from interviewing them about their friendship with Jack Kerouac, and since then I’ve been careful not to assume they’d remember me or talk to me beyond that. I completely understand that they’d have other, more important, people to talk to. But I didn’t want to go to my default of keeping my distance for fear that would make it seem like I didn’t want to talk to them. Ugh. My head gets so mixed up sometimes! Anyway, I did end up getting to spend time with both of them, and they’re both so gracious and fascinating individuals. For all the negative things that have been said over the years about Jack Kerouac, I have to say that he sure knows how to pick friends. These guys are stand-up gentlemen. Even though I first got to know them because of their friendship with Kerouac, that doesn’t even matter to me anymore. I just like talking to them and hearing their perspectives. When I had first interviewed Billy, I was curious about who he is, and at one point he stopped me and said, “Aren’t you here to ask me about Kerouac?”

Through one of David’s concerts at Cornelia Street Café, I’d met the poet Christopher Barry. He was at LCK too and introduced me to his brother, Stephen Barry, who is also a poet. Chris is a great guy, and it was fun chatting with him and his brother. David also introduced me to Steve Dalachinsky and Yuko Otomo, who are these amazing poets from New York City. Seriously. Probably among the best I’ve ever heard read—and I’ve heard a lot of poets read over the years. I probably would’ve been too shy to ever introduce myself if it weren’t for David. Billy also introduced me to Jim Sampas. You know, the guy behind One Fast Move or I’m Gone and the new film Big Sur. I sat there kind of stunned, saying, “I’m a big fan of your work.” I gave him a postcard for Paul’s and my book, Burning Furiously Beautiful, and Jim said, “I think I’ve heard of this.” Wow. I also got to meet the documentary filmmaker (Grave Matters) Brent Mason. Super nice guy. I met Stephen D. Edington, the organizer of LCK. He’s given sermons at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, which I’ve read online and found quite interesting.  And, I got to meet Roger Brunelle and his wife, both of whom were so warm. I don’t know why I get so nervous to introduce myself and talk to people sometimes….

Another highlight, though, was meeting people from the Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page. I was so touched when they came up and introduced themselves. I am so thankful for the network we have on that page, and it’s been great meeting like-minded people offline.

I guess I write all this to show that even if you sometimes are predisposed toward awkwardness, shyness, and over-thinking things, good things happen when you step out of your comfort zone. A colleague of mine recently posted on Facebook about how his daughter was having trouble with good greetings, that it took her a while to warm up to even people she knew when she’d see them again. I feel a lot like that little girl sometimes. Although this is supposed to be a recap of my time at LCK, I think it’s important that I share my true story. I’ve gotten the impression sometimes that people think if you read Kerouac, you’re trying to be cool. I never really had the impression of Kerouac as the cool guy. I always thought of him as the guy shambling after his friends. I think if you really read and study Kerouac, you understand that he too battled shyness, that although he had a lot of successes he also had a lot of failures, that he was prone to both self-assurance and worry. I think that if we just be ourselves and use our gifts and if we are open to opportunities and push ourselves little by little out of our comfort zone, we will surprise ourselves by what we can do. The key though is that it’s not about being in the spotlight or about others in the spotlight; it’s about the blessings of creating art, doing what we love, and fellowshipping with others.

* * *

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

God Has a Sense of Humor — Either That or Everything I Think I Know about Myself Is Wrong

10 Aug

 

My mother always told me God has a sense of humor.  I believe her.

Growing up, I was terribly shy.  Perhaps because I felt so uncomfortable speaking, I turned to writing.  There, in the safety of my Hello Kitty journal, I could express my innermost fears, my hurts, and also my dreams and loves and cherished memories.

As I grew up, I continued to write.  I wrote for my high school newspaper and became copywriter for my high school yearbook, and when I went off to college I submitted poetry to my college’s paper.  While still an undergrad, I worked my way up from staff writer to editor in chief of a local indie newspaper and also began interviewing musicians for national magazines.  After college, I entered the world of book publishing, where to this day I blissfully sit in silence, getting paid to read for a living.  It’s the perfect job for an introvert.

Although I love editing and working with other authors and editors and designers, I always dreamed of writing my own book, so I’ve continued to work on my own writing.  My weekends are spent at the library or in the bookstore, crafting sentences.  I try to pour my heart out with the same abandon as I did when I was writing in the privacy of my little journal with the lock on it when I was a child, except now I’m working toward having people actually read my work.  I revise, I get feedback, I pitch, I query.  –And I get silence.  It feels like I rarely hear back from acquiring editors.  Writing is what I’m supposed to be good at.  It’s what I’ve always been told I’m good at.  And yet I have a hard time placing my writing in publications.

Instead, the skill I grew up thinking was my weakest is the one being called into action.  I don’t go out trying to book readings, but time and time again, I’m called upon to give readings and to teach.  It’s public speaking in all its knee-shaking glory.

I’m immensely thankful for these opportunities, and they’ve all gone pleasantly well, but I have to laugh that I seem to get more speaking engagements than publishing credits.

* * *

As I was writing this very post a few days ago, I got a message from poet and musician RA Araya asking me to read a poem in Greek at Sunday’s reading.  Talk about irony!  The memoir I’ve been writing deals with my conflicted Greek identity and the fact that I don’t speak Greek.  Now, as I was writing about laughing over the fact that I’m having to overcome my introverted tendencies to give readings, I’m asked to read in the very language I don’t speak.

But you know what?  I said yes.

Maybe I’ll crash and burn and make a fool of myself, but at least I’ll have tried.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Life is too short to be scared of anything.  Living means growing, and the best way to grow it to try new things.  Challenging yourself can lead to rewards.  I believe people surprise themselves and rise to occasions.  I’ve also learned that people want you to succeed and that literary crowds tends to be rather supportive.

I’m actually excited about this opportunity.  It’s a great way to promote the beauty of the Greek language and culture during Greece’s economic crisis, and I’m thinking I may read something in an archaic Greek dialect (I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College), a dead language, to further bring awareness to endangered languages.

If you’re in New York, stop by.  I can’t promise perfection, but we will have fun!!  Here’s the info:::

August 12, 2012.  5:00-9:00pm.  The Sidewalk Cafe (94 Avenue A).  New York, NY.  Stephanie will be reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, as part of RA’s Music Poetry Jam Celebration.  flashbackpuppy, Patricia Spears Jones, Sparrow, Puma Perl, Kate Levin, Sarah Sarai, Foamola, Virdell Williams, and Steve will also be taking the stage.  Free, but there’s a one-drink minimum.

Now… what to wear?

 

Also!  Save the date::: September 3 I’m giving a reading that I’m beyond excited about.  Details to come soon.

 

Do you ever find that the very skill you least like using or think is your weakest is the one you need to rely on the most?  What do you think of Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to push yourself to do the things that scare you?

Your Home Can Smell Like Big Sur

9 Jul

Busy poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who is still active at ninety-three years old, moved out to San Francisco and founded City Lights in 1953.  More than just the independent bookstore of Beat pilgrimages, City Lights is a book publisher, and in 1956, Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges because he had published and sold Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.  He was later found not guilty of a crime.

The year after Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti made the papers, Jack Kerouac finally found fame with On the Road.  The fame was overwhelming, though.  Talk-show hosts invited the naturally shy author on their show.  Wanderlust kids, winos, and dogged readers showed up unannounced at his home.  Fame took a toll on his mind, body, soul.

Ferlinghetti had a cabin, a refuge, out in the wilderness of Big Sur.  He could escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco for respite along the coast of central California.  After the fame wore him down, Kerouac escaped there too, living for a brief time in Ferlinghetti’s cabin in the woods.  The result of this experience is the 1962 novel Big Sur.

Juniper Ridge now has a room spray called Big Sur.  According to their website, it smells of “wild ginger, burnt honey, salt, damp ground.”  The ingredients are plucked from the deserts and mountains of the West, and 10% of the $20 spray bottle goes back to protecting western wilderness.  They also have a Big Sur soap, essential oil, and sachet.  For $50 you can give the gift of Big Sur, which includes the items already mentioned, plus wild huckleberry jam (perhaps reminiscent of Neal Cassady, whom some have said is Huckleberry Finn incarnate).  The gift comes gift wrapped with real pine cones!  And, like the others, 10% of the profit goes to protecting wilderness.

The Shy Person’s Guide to Giving a Reading

11 May

 

I used to be shy.  I don’t mean a little shy.  I mean the type of shy that held me back from different opportunities.  It wasn’t that I lacked confidence in my abilities.  I just felt uncomfortable having attention focused on me.  Writing therefore seemed like a great career choice—except that, as I soon discovered, writing involves a fair amount of speaking.  If you’re a journalist, for example, you’re tracking people down and asking them oftentimes personal questions.  However, even if you’re a creative writer, these days it seems like you have to be a speaker as well.

It’s all part of that wonderful word we’ve come to know all too well: “platform.”  A writer needs to build their following and promote their work through readings and interviews.  If you’ve been sitting alone in a dark makeshift home office, you might relish these opportunities to speak to someone other than your pet bird.  However, many writers, even if they’re not shy, are introverts.  Which means, even they’re not shy, they’re not necessarily the type to seek out big crowds of people.  When I was at the Festival of Faith and Writing last month, so many people who approached me (not something a shy person would necessarily do) afterwards told me that they’re introverts.

I remember giving my first big oral presentation in fourth grade.  As the shyest person in the class, I was certainly not looking forward to it.  However, the day of the oral presentations came, and I was just fine.  You know who fainted?  The popular kid in class.

These days I don’t dread public speaking.  It’s not an activity that gives me great pleasure, the way some people love karaoke or acting, but I generally don’t mind public speaking.  I’ve even been encouraged by it.

Here are a couple tips for public speaking I’ve learned through trial and error:::

Get plenty of sleep 48 hours in advance.  Being tired will make you feel anxious.  Try to get a decent amount of sleep the two nights before the reading.  I say two nights because you can’t just cram in sleep.

Drink plenty of water 48 hours in advance.  Don’t drink anything too close to your reading time.  When you’re nervous, you might feel like you need to pee more often.  However, you should be hydrated because speaking loudly can make your throat parched.  Also, lay off the caffeine and alcohol.  I know a lot of writers have notoriously drank to overcome their nerves.  Jack Kerouac was one of them.  And everyone knows it.  Do you really want to be that person?  While caffeine will make you anxious and make you sound like the Micromachines man, zooming through your reading, alcohol might make you slur your speech.  Stick with water.

Dress up.  When I was in undergrad, I used to dress up whenever I had a big test.  It may sound superficial, but dressing up gave me confidence.  When you give a reading, you’ll want to dress appropriately for the occasion.  I won’t mention the specific name of the awards ceremony, but I went to a book award ceremony a while back and was dismayed at the authors’ appearances.  They looked unkempt.  Yes, I know what matters more your inner character and your talents, however if you’re receiving an award or have been selected to give a reading, you should be respectful in your attire and dress for the occasion.  Besides, there are very few opportunities when we get to dress up.  Why let Hollywood stars have all the fun??

Be prepared.  Practice your reading several times.  Type your talk up in a large enough font that you don’t have to hold the paper close to your face to read it.  It may also be helpful to write little notes or add extra spaces reminding yourself to breathe, to look up, to smile.

Be thankful.  Being selected to give a reading is not a punishment.  It’s an honor.  People are celebrating your writing talents.  They’re making time in their busy schedules to hear you.  You’re already a star in their mind.  You don’t have to change who you are and pretend to be a stand-up comedian or loudmouth if that’s not who you are.  You just have to be yourself and be gracious.

 

If you happen to be in New York City, I cordially invite you to attend my reading this Friday, May 11.  It will be a super short reading sometime between 5pm and 9:30pm, at Lang Center, 2nd Floor, 55 W. 13th Street.