Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I Hate You Like I Love You: My First Reading

Nayomi Munaweera, and I were writing together as we do most Thursday afternoons. Out of the blue, she said, "I'm organizing a reading." Her eyes flew to me across the table. "You're going to be one of my readers."

I laughed. "I haven't published yet. I can't be a reader."
She looked at me in that way she does when I talk in that way I do.
"I don't like reading out loud," I hit my head against the table. "I don't have to. You can't make me. I'm a writer, an artist, a recluse."
After I exhausted myself, she opened up her laptop and said, "You're reading."

The whole week, I cursed Nayomi. Bollywood, as it so often does, gave me solace and I sang the following song to her in my head (warning: extreme Bollywood ahead):

Weeks later, I awoke to a gloomy, rainy Thursday, the day of my first reading. I tried applying my makeup three times, wiped it off three times, reveling in the drama of the moment, planning even in my frustration the line I would one day write, "Her hands shook so hard her eyeliner cast zigzags across her lids". I drove up to San Francisco cursing the world, cursing the weather, cursing Nayomi. I thought, if I get in a horrible car accident right now, that would actually be okay with me, preferable, really, to this.

The coffee shop where the reading was to be held was perfect. The warm red walls, the Moroccan light fixtures in shades of teal and purple, the Samba music. Ordering my latte, I saw at the counter a flyer for the reading. 
"That's tonight," said the cheerful barista.
"That's me," I whispered.
"You're Phiroozeh!" he said. I was on their website, Nayomi told me later.
And with that revelation, it was officially too late to back out.

I had gotten a bit carried away with the invite list and was touched by how many people came. It was like our first year in Canada, when my mum invited Perviz Aunty to my first clarinet recital out of sheer excitement at having her daughter on stage and Perviz Aunty, bless her heart, came because she didn't have the heart to tell my mum elementary school band concerts were a torture reserved for parents only. But like Perviz Aunty, my friends came, braving peak hour San Francisco traffic in the rain (which does make city folk forget basic driving skills), were excited to be there, supporting me.

My cutest friend and husband, Hormazd

L to R: Usha, Dilnavaz, Mazarin, Naomi 

L to R: Nazneen, Elher, Darius, Mazarin

As I read the first line, people laughed. In a good way. Throughout the eight minute reading, they were engaged, entertained. And, I noted, these people weren't my family, they didn't have to regard my work with that particular brand of blind love your family is pre-programmed to. I was in awe. Because for the last two years (six if you want to go back to the beginning), I've been working in my head, with no idea what came next. This was my first taste of that. And it was powerful.

The most unexpected gift that came out of this experience was it gave me the kick in the pants I'd so desperately been needing. I'd been in another woe-is-me-when-will-this-torture-end rut for weeks. This reading broke that rut. In fact, in the few weeks since, I've completed revisions and am gearing up for final edits.

And what of Nayomi, the cause of all this? Over the year I've known her, she's dropped several gems-disguised-as-atom-bombs onto my writing, always using her spectacular smile and melodic voice to ease the pain. Indeed, each time she gives me a gift, it hurts because she's pushing me to do things I don't wanna. But every time I come around, beauty results.

Ultimately, I stand by my word: I hate her like I love her: passionately.

My godsend, Nayomi

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bombay Jam: A Writer's Greatest Tool

 I really didn't want to become a Bombay Jam instructor. The last time I took something I loved a step further was when I said to myself, hey, I like reading books, why not write one and now I have two bald spots and one giant bruise on my forehead from pulling out my hair and beating my head against a wall from that bright idea. Despite all that, I got certified. And then, amazing things started to happen.

In case you haven’t heard me rant about Bombay Jam, it’s a dance based fitness program that uses the latest, hottest Bollywood tracks and engineers brilliant routines that simultaneously incorporate the moves from the big screen while achieving target heart rates so that you’re too busy feeling like Katrina Kaif to notice all the calories you’re burning.

I had pictured myself getting certified, spending the winter memorizing routines, practicing cues (stressing out) and starting to teach early next year.

One week after my certification, at a Sunday morning Bombay Jam class, my teacher said, “Phi, which track are you teaching this morning?”
I laughed. “I just got certified.”
“Which track?” She was not laughing.
“I don’t even have my CPR.”
“Great, 'Dhaeon Dhaeon' it is.”

And with that, she slapped her microphone onto me and hit play.

My body began moving and words came out of my mouth. “And clap it. Hip sway. Looking good!”
Just like that, my teacher began my teaching career. No stress, no mess. The following week, I took on a regular gig and next week, I add another.

I began to wonder if the same applied to my writing. It’s been two years, nearly two and a half. Yes, it’s hard work and yes, I’m learning as I go and no, there’s no certification program for publishing a book but still. There comes a point when you just do it.

The other really groundbreaking event happened last night. I was asked to sub a class three hours before it began. No time to stress, lose a night’s sleep, did I mention stress? Again, the mic came on, the music played and then it was over. At the end of class, people said nice things. When people say nice things about my writing, I smile but in my head, I’m thinking, you’re an idiot. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Last night, though, about twenty people high fived me, patted my shoulder, smiled smiles that didn't seem malicious or even patronizing. And I thought, maybe I should believe them. Maybe I’m not bad. Maybe I’m good. Maybe I’M the idiot for being so hard on myself.

Photo courtesy of awesome hubby

So it turns out this thing I was so afraid to take on has become like the aircraft that the Space Shuttle Endeavor was strapped onto as it made its way home last week. It’s pulling me along, guiding me gently to accomplish my life's big endeavor.