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