“Try to present yourself as if you’re sexy,” my eleven-year-old daughter told me when I asked her which shoe I should wear.
I was doing my very first reading from my novel, Restless in L.A., for Litcrawl LA, a literary event in North Hollywood. I had my hair blown out at Drybar on Ventura Boulevard while watching 27 Dresses. I love that movie. My favorite part was when James Marsden and Katherine Heigl have sex in the car, all rain-drenched, sweaty and drunk. Not sure what that says about me but that’s my favorite part.
Anyway, my smooth locks were hair-sprayed and I was wearing a new pair of Paige jeans that I’d recently bought at the Bloomingdale’s Friends & Family sale. I remember when I first got my Bloomie’s black card: I opened the envelope and gasped with excitement. My husband looked at me across the kitchen table and I held it up and turned it side to side, as if it was doing a little dance. He looked back at his iPhone and said, “I’m so proud of you.” He didn’t see my flip of the finger.
That day, I also bought a new black top to go with my Paige jeans and blowout. I told my daughter that, if you ever have to do something in public, like read from your new novel for the first time, and you don’t feel confident, always get your hair blown out. Everything feels better with a blow dry. So all I had to do was pick the shoes: black, velvet chunky heels or short black booties.
“Try to present yourself as if you’re sexy,” she told me. Okay, so definitely the heels.
I’d read personal essays dozens of times, essays about my kids, my midlife thighs, even my Prozac, and yet, reading from Restless in L.A. was giving me palpitations. The story had lived so long in my head. And then in my laptop. And finally with a small publisher who read it in three days, and emailed to say, I love your novel. I want to publish it. I’d gotten the galleys and was writing that acknowledgements and still, I felt scared.
“Go as deep into your dreams as you possibly can,” My former life coach told me in my mind. And I tried. But it was scary because I didn’t know how far I could go without getting lost, like swimming in a lake without knowing how deep it was.
I put on the heels.
I figured I’d go early to the reading since it was at a sports bar and it was Happy Hour. Maybe a drink – or two – would loosen me up. The scene I was reading was a pivotal moment: my protagonist, Alex Hoffman, has dinner with the old boyfriend she friend’ed on Facebook. Then they have drinks. Then she goes back to his hotel room for a “glass of water.” She hasn’t seen the guy in twenty years but he’s still gorgeous, still makes her blood boil, and yet she goes anyway, knowing she’s playing with fire. The scene ends when she realizes she’s stayed too long. She can’t stop the inevitable.
Maybe that’s why I was nervous: because I was reading a sexy part. But I didn’t think so. I thought it had more to do with exposing myself, not the kind of exposure Alex Hoffman gets into but a different kind of nakedness. It’s a subtle but important difference.
My novel was something I birthed into this world and once it came out, people could judge it. Like on Amazon, people could write things like: This is the worst smut I’ve ever read. Or: This author has no moral compass. Stuff like that. That’s the fear. But at this reading, the audience was mostly friends so I doubted anyone would throw tomatoes.
I got the blowout to increase my confidence but I wasn’t sure it was working. I still had nightmare thoughts of rejection and ridicule and other bad things that start with R: Revulsion. Reviled. Reprehensible.
“Try to present yourself as if you’re sexy,” my tween-aged daughter told me. She was talking about the shoes but I knew what she meant. She meant, “Fake it until you make it,” which is also a spiritual concept, “Acting as if.” As if your heartfelt visions are already true. Your subconscious doesn’t know the difference.
So I needed to act as if I was confident. As if I knew I was a talented writer, an emerging truth teller, an authentic voice for the 40-something woman. The pages of Restless in L.A. weren’t going to spontaneously combust. So long as the sports bar didn’t go up in flames, everyone would all right, seated at barstools, nursing beers and Happy Hour mojitos. My book club would be there—bless them, they always come to my readings—and my husband, and some spirituality school friends. I would act as if. I would calm down. I would present myself as if I was sexy – and talented. At least my hair looked good.