eleanor-rooseveltWhen my routine gets, well, too routine, I have to challenge myself to get away from my computer and do something big and scary. Not bucket list scary, necessarily, so you’re not going to find me ziplining over a flowing lava field any time soon. (Maybe next year.) I just need something that gets me out of my comfortable little space.

Usually that involves talking in front of strangers. I figure that if I do enough of it, I’ll get better at it, or at least I’ll feel less like a small hippopotamus is sitting on my chest. One of the good things about publishing books and promoting them is that it gives you chances to stand in front of people (on purpose!) and say things they might find entertaining.

So let’s talk about our dear Eleanor. I admire her greatly. She didn’t take any crap. In some of the darkest days in US history, she got up and put on her little hat and sensible shoes and did what needed to be done. I’d bet on her in a cage match against any of the Real Housewives in a New York minute. And since I am an occasional doer of big scary things, this quote from her resonates with me: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Also, since I am employed several days a week in a building where her portrait hangs in the hallway between my office and the ladies’ room, I get to see quite a bit of Mrs. Roosevelt, with her brave smile and marcelled curls.

So that quote has been pulsating stronger and stronger in the back of my mind. It was poking at me a while back when I saw that the Woodstock Writers Festival was having a story slam, and I still had an opportunity to sign up for it. A story slam is sort of like those poetry slams from back in the days of black nail polish and spiky hair. In this one, you get three and a half minutes to tell a story. Twenty contestants perform, and a panel of judges decides who wins. I heard it was fun and that there would be wine. Okay. Fun, wine, ten bucks, Woodstock, and I’m there.

The sign-up page on the website told me that if I purchased a “contestant” ticket, I would only be entered as such if I were among the first twenty to register. Otherwise, I’d be a spectator.

Then my ticket arrived in the mail. Gulp. Contestant. I had two weeks to write, edit, and rehearse a personal story on the theme of the late Maggie Estep’s “I Am an Emotional Idiot” poem. If you have not seen this brilliant piece, it’s here:

I’ve read in public before. I’ve done timed readings before. But it’s all been fiction. Novel excerpts, short stories. I’ve never really read anything personal, at least to a group that large. I knew it would be large because of the venue the festival had chosen—a gallery with a lot of floor space, versus the restaurant across the street where it was normally held.

Which became standing room only. I wondered if it wasn’t too late to slip out the back door. But that wasn’t happening. First, the wine was in the back so unless I yelled out that I was going into labor or that I’d seen Bill Clinton, those seas were not gonna part. And second, a couple of the women running the thing had already seen me. Ack. So I elbowed my way to the wine, found a seat, and prayed to the gods of everything not to give me a hot flash while I was on stage. As soon as the first writer read, my nerves eased. She was fantastic and powerful and hilarious. I was enjoying everyone’s material so much that it became like a big party. I nearly ran to the stage when my name was called. People laughed in the right places and it was all good. I didn’t win, but I didn’t much care.

Would I do it again? Yes, yes, YES! Next time I see Eleanor, I’ll give her a little wink, and maybe cook up something a little bigger and a little scarier for next time. Okay, maybe not the lava fields. At least not yet.

(Here’s a link to the piece I read. FYI, adult content.)