Wednesday night, downtown, where it feels as if everyone wants to be seen, I hurriedly walk to the venue, a bookstore on Crosby Street, off Houston. As I approach the entrance, I wonder if I’m feeling nervous; that I’m unsure in of itself makes me nervous, or pensive. Then I wonder what am I doing here again? because I’m testing the waters. A suit of new skin is draped uncomfortably over my body. Who am I again? What am I doing here, attempting to be sociable? I try to ease off myself, lay off, reach some kind of compromise with myself, broker a truce. Be comfortable I say to myself. And the rest will follow.
This is not a matter of social awkwardness, though the nerves present themselves in the form of a straight back, upright head, chin held high: the key to hide a particular discomfort is to erect an artifice equal and opposite. I walk in with confidence, feeling unconfident. I briskly slide by parties of two or three people huddled together, knowing I’m exhausted from a full day of day job work, and a full day of real work.
Being a writer and editor ambitious enough to stretch beyond my comfort zones means I’m pushing my body past once-understood limitations. My back hurts but I show no pain. The woman at the check-in desk asks if I RSVP’d in advance, and with a chuckle and smirk I say, “No I’m just here” and she smiles back and says “go right in” and deep down, I am panicking. What if I can’t get in? What if there’s a scene? What if, amongst all these white people, these writers and editors and publishers, I have to be ushered out, shooed away like a bothersome black man climbing way too high for his station?
Fake it until you make it is the motto. I don’t know what making it looks like, but I have vague notions. Sketches. I’m here at this party—or what writers and book lovers consider to be a “party”—to color in the picture. I don’t know if I belong here. I mean, it’s a free party open to the public, so I’m not crashing. But I don’t know if this is my world, the land of wordsmiths, this wonderland full of weird, introverted, lovely people who, mostly, look nothing like me.
This is an important fact. How do you dream a full dream if your imagination lacks the tools, the set pieces, the tangible, yet ethereal material required to construct a fantasy first, then next—and more importantly—the path to get you there? A creative, artistic life is a privilege. How do you shoot for the stars if you’re too busy surviving to look toward the sky? I’m here though, in this crowded bookstore, and I’m unknown—or so I think—to anyone here.
Is this how it happens? Do you fake it until you make it or, at least, until you work up the nerve to open the door, and invite yourself into your own life?
The event opens with opening words and a band, which are ignored as I sit at a table in the front, wishing for cell phone reception to penetrate the dense bookstore walls to reach my iPhone, now rendered a useless glass slab. I lean over and whisper in her ear something about the turnout, which is decent, and the crowd of people standing behind us, who peripherally appear annoyed having to stand at all.
She arrived minutes before me, and early enough to secure this perch where we now sip beers and water. Two writers climb the stage, one after the other, to read for the audience. I’m here only to see one writer. I’m here enduring varying degrees of anxiety to see and hear this one writer, so when he takes the stage, I think “it was worth it.”
The band returns to perform during the final hour of the event, the mingling hour, and she says “we’re going to talk to him.” The writer…the real writer, someone with books, with accolades. I glance over and he’s in mid-conversation with other people, perhaps real writers themselves. “I don’t want to bother him,” I say.
I stop talking, mop the sweat off my forehead, then ask, “Should we go over?” and she replies “Yes, we should. You know him” and my head jerks back as I say “I mean, I don’t know him like that” and she reminds me all of the ways in which I know him, and he knows me, and I sigh. “Fine,” I say. We walk over and eventually introduce ourselves.
The writer recognizes me. Daps me up. Black man handshake-and-half-hug like home. What we talked about isn’t significant to this exercise, except for this. I told him about the vague notions of this literary life I’m pursuing. I told him “it’s because of you, and other writers like you, that I’m here right now. It’s because of you that I believed I belong here.” In retrospect, I wish I kept it a little cooler, but understand an important fact.
When you open the door, and invite yourself into your own life, it is not a minor event. The moment is life-changing, world-shaping; entering your own life is the apocalypse for all that came before it. The past hardens, ghosts return to their graves, and you’re left with the future. Inviting yourself into your own life means being present in the potential of your future. So I forgive myself for rambling while speaking to the writer. I don’t know if I’ve made it, but this is not fake. This life of mine is for real. I’m here. Let’s begin.