Well, I have survived my first book reading, and I am happy to report, I actually had fun!
When I arrived at SoulFood Books in Redmond, and toted in my shamanic gear, I got my first look at where I would be reading, and seriously questioned if I knew what I was doing. For some reason I had imagined that I would be ensconced in an armchair somewhere among the bookshelves (perhaps I had delusions of being Alistair Cook on PBS). Instead I was led over to the café area and a STAGE, complete with a chair, spotlights, and a microphone on a stand. More the kind of setup I would expect for a musician, rather than an author, and indeed there was a guitar case lurking nearby.
So riveted was I by the idea of having to appear on that stage that I completely overlooked the overhead sign announcing “Rose De Dan, Author.” If I had not been so deer-in-the-headlights I might have taken a moment to appreciate the first-time joy of seeing my name, if not in lights, at least paired on a chalkboard with the lovely title “author” for all to see. Instead I can thank Rhonda Hanley, who documented the evening photographically, for the opportunity to at least savor it in private later.
While setting up and greeting some familiar faces kind enough to support me on this maiden venture as an author, I recalled a long-ago experience as a child, my first and last voluntary venture onto the stage as a performer.
My best friend at the time thought it would be a great idea for us to participate in the church play. Never shy, Lisa painted a rosy picture of the fun we would have. The reality of it was entirely different for me, merely setting foot on stage, even for rehearsals, raised my normally shy nature into the realm of the panic-stricken, rendering me completely wooden as an actress.
I do not recall the name of the play, but I do recall my part, a little old lady who knitted and was blind as a bat. My stage fright was so bad that they put scotch tape over the prop glasses that I wore in order to take away most of my ability to see the audience. It also made it more believable when I stumbled into things, as my character was supposed to do. I can clearly recall understanding at the time that my character was important to the play in her physical comic relief, and knowing that I was unable to loosen up enough to deliver, never mind being able to say my lines in any relaxed or funny fashion.
The night of the play’s actual performance passed in a blur, my lines (mercifully few) were inaudible and no one laughed at the parts of my performance that should have been funny as I am certain everyone could see me shaking with sheer nerves. It was a wonder at the time to me that I did not actually throw up. I felt very clearly that a career as an actress was not my path, and promised myself to never attempt something like that again.
It was ironic to me in those moments setting up that—despite having engaged in one of the world’s most solitary pastimes, writing—I now found myself on stage—and on stage, alone. It was a one-woman show, or was it?
Didn’t I now have years of Reiki and shamanic training and teaching under my belt? Hadn’t I done major personal healing work, and wasn’t I a different person now than that poor, terrified child who had wanted to have some fun on stage? And wasn’t my mesa with me, all those many stone friends connected to places of power such as oceans, earth, mountains, rivers, and so on? And wasn’t She Walks there, spirit guide who takes up residence in a bobcat pelt when visibility is needed? I was not alone on stage—I had the entire Peruvian and Reiki lineage standing with and behind me. As a matter of fact, now the stage seemed smaller than before—would there be enough room for all of us?
Suddenly it was time to start, and as I sat down in the chair and faced the audience fully, for the first time, I felt my sense of humor bubble up, and I could not resist smiling at them, and sharing, “I feel like I should have a guitar in my hand.” They all laughed, breaking the ice, and I took my first tentative steps into the world of book and shamanic performance art.
I had chosen five pieces from “Tails of a Healer: Animals, Reiki and Shamanism” to read, and began with “Two Dogs,” a relatively simple story, but powerful in its message that if we focus on our hearts we can communicate with other species.
The audience seemed attentive, so heartened I launched into “As the Stomach Churns,” and while I read I made a conscious decision to lighten up and let that small child finally have her fun on stage. The piece, if told well, is humorous, and I began to focus on the funny parts, playing with timing and delivery, and lo and behold, they laughed, in all the right places! I could feel that inner child smile.
I followed with “The House That Love Built,” the story of the death of my father and the events of 9-11 that followed directly afterward. I had never read this piece out loud before, and I suddenly found myself connecting emotionally with a part in the story regarding my father, you could clearly hear the tears in my voice. I could feel the audience respond sympathetically, and I thought frantically, “I can’t cry onstage!” I took a deep breath and there was a significant pause as I grounded and rebalanced myself, and then, bless the universe and the spirits, into that emotional pause burst the outrageously loud sound of the expresso machine being turned on. The timing was so perfectly absurd that everyone laughed, including me, the tension broke, and I was able to continue without incident.
It was with the fourth piece, “Guns and Mesas” that I had originally determined to include something that I suppose I can call shamanic performance art. The first part of the story involves my detainment at the airport while returning East, four months after my father’s death, for my youngest sister Claudine’s wedding. As I read the part in the story where my shamanic items are lifted from my travel bag to be inspected by airport security, I physically brought same items forth on stage: first, She Walks’ pelt, then my mesa, and finally my Florida Water.
Now for the climactic part, the shamanic wedding blessing I gave at my sister’s wedding. With a swirl I donned my shamanic cloak and gave the actual blessing, all while juggling microphone, bottle of Florida Water, and gourd rattle. That was actually the hardest part, to remember to shake the rattle, and not the microphone, all while speaking, and blowing sprays of Florida Water. I can honestly say it was a challenge, but it seemed to come off fairly well.
I concluded with a relatively sedate piece, “At the Edge of Two Worlds,” which paints a picture of the beauty of the Alki shore and the awe I felt in my encounter with two seal pups I met there, and then opened the floor to questions.
The audience was very supportive and curious, and thanks to insightful questions from people that knew me, some of whom were also mesa carriers, I think that the rest of the audience learned a few things about the nature of shamanism and its relationship to the natural and spirit world. By this time I was feeling a lot more comfortable, and why not, wasn’t all of my shamanic gear spread around me? With my mesa open the spirit world was having a party on stage, it was getting quite lively.
Then, for me, the best part of the evening happened. As I was packing up, a woman who had asked me questions about a stone that she had found that insisted on coming home with her, approached and asked if she could touch She Walks. I told her I had to ask permission, and when I did She Walks said, “Hand me to her.” As the woman took her she cradled She Walks in her arms, holding her lovingly, and began stroking her soft fur. Then she looked up at me, eyes wide, but shining with the light of discovery, and exclaimed, “It’s like she’s alive! It’s like she’s breathing!” And I smiled back at her with answering joy and delight, for I well remembered my first connection with the being I call She Walks and how that changed my life. So taken was the woman with the energy that I had to gently extract She Walks in order to finish packing.
So, I feel that my first book reading was a great success. I literally brought who I was to the stage, both personally and professionally, and the audience responded by embracing that energy. My inner child is still dancing with delight; it appears that we have now transformed the "First-Time Book Reading Jitters" into the Shamanic Jitterbug!