“You really didn’t feel the cat sniff your toes?” Colin asked after the Picton reading.
Apparently Books & Company’s resident cat had checked out my open-toed shoes while I was reading and given them a sniff. Apparently everyone in the audience saw it. If I even noticed their smiles, I must have thought I’d said something clever. Must have been lost in the miasma that enveloped my brain on May 9th when I did my first reading in Victoria until this Monday when Colin and I returned from Toronto. A fog of nervous, I-can’t-believe-it’s actually happening, excitement.
Everything was new and special, beginning with the little push-button TVs on the back of every seat on the Air Canada flight to Toronto. In Economy, yet! (I couldn’t remember the last time I was on a plane.) It took me a while to figure out the minimalist headset but once I did I spent the five-hour flight happily jabbing my finger onto the screen behind the head of the guy in front of me.
I last visited Ontario over two years ago and the best part of the trip was reconnecting with folks I hadn’t seen in ages. “Usually you have to die for so many old friends to show up,” I said, when it was my turn on the stage in the spotlight on May 12th at the Supermarket. Standing room only, no podium, intimidating. I read from the title story, Silent Girl. It felt like I belonged there. It was fun.
The next evening I sort of crashed the party of another Inanna author, Jacqueline Borowick. She was launching a bilingual book of poetry in the party room of her apartment building. Our mutual editor had invited me to read to satisfy a Canada Council travel grant requirement for two readings in the same city. A few people I’d worked with during my incarnation as an HR executive showed up to cheer me on, but most of the crowd was an unknown quantity, conservative, I’d say, and unprepared for me.
“Read something light,” Inanna’s editor-in-chief whispered to me before I went on, “something from Cocktails with Charles.” But I hadn’t planned on that. It would have been like being told to dance Sleeping Beauty when you’d rehearsed Swan Lake. Besides, with the exception of the one story she suggested, my book isn’t light. Why falsely advertise?
I read what I had the night before and partway through I was thinking, “Oops.” One woman laughed inappropriately when I said “underpants” and no doubt felt terrible about it once she realized where the story was heading. I noted many stricken faces but soldiered on. “I sure know how to kill a party, don’t I?” I said when I finished. They laughed politely. To be fair, two women came up afterward and said they enjoyed the reading and asked me to sign the books they bought. But most probably left in shock, maybe even a little cross with their friend Jacqueline for inflicting me on them.
The bookstore in Picton had advertised my reading in local papers and through e-mailings, but at 7:30 p.m. on May 17th when it was supposed to begin, the only people there were my husband, my son, and the two friends we were staying with, rattling around in the football-field-sized special events room above the store’s main floor. The store owner brought up carafes of coffee and plates of cookies.
“Should I go home?” I asked.
“Not yet,” he said.
About five minutes later the rest of the audience showed up at once, forming a huddle as they climbed the stairs. Not many, maybe twelve in all, but they were attentive. I had the whole program to myself and got to read from four stories and talk about them. Got to share my passion for the issues I wrote about and answer questions. One woman talked to me at some length afterwards about feminist concerns. One man said he thought violence against women was the greatest human rights abuse in Canada today. I ended that evening feeling very gratified. I'd met exactly the kind of readers for whom I had written my book.
In less than a week I’ll be off again, this time to Vancouver and Calgary. Carrying a suitcase of laundered clothes and a better idea of what to expect when I share my words with others.
- May 27: Café Montmartre, 4362 Main Street, Vancouver, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Fiery First Fiction with Julie Paul, Madeline Sonik, Pamela Stewart and me.
- May 29: McNally Robinson bookstore, 120 8 Avenue SW, Calgary, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Readings from Madeline Sonik’s Stone Sightings and my Silent Girl.
- June 2: I'll be signing books at Inanna's booth at the Congress of the Humanities at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
Montage, centre, signing books at the Victoria launch and clockwise from top left: fellow CWC-er Andrew Tibbetts (right) and fellow Zoetroper Ruth Taylor who came to see me on May 12th at the Supermarket in Toronto; at the reading on the 13th with former business associates Suzie Labonne, Donna Morano, Julie Dubien and Lorraine O'Connor; Silent Girl on the New Releases shelf at Books & Company in Picton; the cat that sniffed my toes; with my son, Mike, in front of the Fiery First Fiction display at Books & Company.