So, if you’re my friend on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/tanyastrauss…if you’re not, you should be!), you know that last night was a big night for me. About a year ago, I wrote a personal essay for an essay contest, which was subsequently selected as a finalist and included in an anthology. The anthology, “Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions” came out 2 weeks ago. This book is 73 stories of women learning how to live in their next chapters – whatever that may mean. One reconnected with an old lover and had to learn how to speak the languages of love and sex without feeling cheap or humiliated. A few had to learn to integrate the dreaded “C” word into their vocabularies as they ingested medicines that tried to disintegrate the cancers within their bodies. Several (including me) had to learn to remake their lives after the loss of a parent. Divorces, lost jobs, lost dreams but hope abided.
It was one of the most remarkable moments of my life when I learned my story would be included in the collection.
Last night was another remarkable moment. I was asked to read an excerpt from my story at Books, Inc. in Opera Plaza. As a side-note, in case you’ve never been there, you should know that Books, Inc is not only an incredible book store, but an independent book store with an incredible calendar of events. Authors speak there literally EVERY DAY! Bay Area (and beyond) literature shines in that landmark of lit.
Nearly my entire family was there, including my sister-in-law and her family from North Carolina. Everywhere I looked I saw the friendly faces of my FFF lady-crew, along with the crew of beautiful sisters/girlfriends who have bolstered me throughout my grown-up journey.
Now to the meat of the evening.
About 10 authors read their stories. I was particularly touched by Nora Feeley, who wrote about her first post-divorce sexual encounter (buy the book!); Camille Hayes, whose story of learning to swim as a 40-year old adult somehow included grief and growth and Karen Lynch (whom I love so dearly!) who shared with us about how she threw herself intentionally in cancer’s path by ransoming her own life to the universe to save her teenage son after a car accident.
The truth is, I love every story in the book. I’m so deeply honored to have my story appear next to their beautiful words. It was all magical.
And then it was my turn to approach the microphone. My friend, Sushila, told me that the only way not to cry during such an event was to practice, practice, practice. I read my story aloud to myself SO MANY TIMES. I read it aloud to my family on Mother’s Day (TWICE!). My husband has heard it read aloud so many times, he could probably recount it by rote…like “Goodnight Moon.”
My body shook as I walked the 5 steps to the podium. My knee caps were shaking, along with my fingers and my heart was beating so loudly I was pretty certain people on BART underground could hear it.
I took a deep breath, ditched the prepared introduction I had for myself and briefly said how happy I was to be there.
I got about 2 sentences into my story when the tears came. I tried very hard to continue reading through the tears as I recounted the excerpted details of my father’s last moments, the heart-wrenching dream I had that night, the horrible realization that he was truly gone and the beautiful aftermath of my current life. At one point, the tears were so big, they obscured the page (much like they’re doing with my computer screen now). But I read it all. And I was still standing!
As my dad would have said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Here I am at 6am crying on the floor of my closet – writing. It seems that writing is the answer and always has been.
Thank you to A Band of Women for offering the essay contest that let my voice be heard and for all the other voices I’m getting to enjoy as a result. To all of you who do, thank you for loving me and encouraging me to write my story. And bigger than I can even shout it, thank you for coming last night!