Ricky Ricardo might hold his head and say, “Ay, ay, ay.” I'm just crossing my fingers.
Yesterday I spoke to a group of—well, we forgot to count, but twenty to twenty-five people--in the library of Concord University, where I was a student back in the 1960s. My college friend, Sharon, took pictures as I greeted the attendees, posed with the university president and his wife, and signed copies of It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me.
The room was lovely and just right for a signing. At one end of it, two wing chairs flanked a large fireplace. At the other, soft seating contrasted with the library tables that made up the middle. It was like being in a family room during a loving and occasionally boisterous event.
The boisterous part would be mine. Before the signing started, it occurred to me that letting my voice drift out into the main library might bring more people in; after that, I have no excuse except that I was having an absolute picnic. Fortunately, none of those who were there to study in a quiet atmosphere had brought baseball bats. I’m kidding, I think.
I’ve told you this before: It’s funny about fame, and how it plays with our egos. I’m not an assertive person. In a group, I’d rather listen than talk; but when you publish a book, you have to put yourself out there. Concord rolled out the red carpet for me. Even though the university was hosting my very first book signing, every person treated me like I’d already made it as an author.
I was pumped up. (A) You have to be, to do this; (B) the university treated me like a star.
In my publishing career I learned to speak in public, so stage fright wasn’t an issue; I couldn’t have wished for a better audience. Caffeine wasn’t an issue, either: I’d watched my intake, and most of my morning coffee had worn off by the time I walked into the library. It was my own happiness and heightened sense of importance that brought out my chattiest of selves.
My preparation process is to make lots of notes over several days, read them obsessively, and then put them away. I don’t use notes when I speak, and I don’t memorize; therefore, I never really know what’s going to come out of my mouth. One of my index cards says, “STOP AND THINK.”
Yesterday I had to forget that a camera was rolling and that a young woman in the back was taking copious notes. Forgetting the reporters was easy to do, but that night as I lay in my bed I got a sinking feeling. What had I said? As usual, I’d spilled more beans than I’d intended.
My friend Sharon told me afterward that my presentation was fabulous, but I wonder: What will end up in the paper? What will end up in the archives of Concord University? I’ll admit to you and you alone that I begged the media not to include certain statements I had made.
As we were leaving, a young man hurried after me to ask if we could film a ten-minute interview in the signing room. This was for the university. I have no television experience and no training for it, but I agreed. That would have been a good time to plop the Diva (my two-by-three-foot poster) into one of the wing chairs by the fireplace and let her handle the interview, but she was back in the car.
I don’t want to come down too heavily on myself, because I know that my presentation was a success. The entire day at Concord was lovely. But there was a lesson in it for me. It’s nice to be in the spotlight, if we don’t get carried away.
In my second interview—let’s call it the fireplace chat--I rambled on, hardly needing a question from the nice young interviewer to prompt me. In fact, he thanked me for my robust answers. He was used to having to draw people out.
With the camera rolling, I gaily volunteered that I’d had porcelain veneers put on my two front teeth to repair a gap. “My daughter-in-law told me the dentist would file my teeth down to points like a vampire’s,” I said, “and maybe he did. But I haven’t bitten anyone.”
Ay, ay, ay.