So on Sunday, I’m sitting in this big conference room at the local library. I’m a total wreck. I’m one of four writers who’ve been selected to read on a live broadcast of an NPR program called “Tales From the South.”
Chairs have been set up–rows and rows of them, enough to seat 150 people. We’re told that 100 more are in the next room, watching on big screen monitors. In actuality, over 400 people have shown up to watch.
For an entire week, I’ve been a wreck, ever since I got the e-mail from the show’s producer saying that my story had been chosen. It’s one thing to sit behind a keyboard and write, or to do open mic readings at our indie bookstore in front of twenty people or so. I never tell locals my pen name–I just go and read. It gives me an idea of the way my words flow and helps me see how people respond to my stories. But I’m shy when they ask where they can read my work, and evasive about revealing anything about this blog. This has been my oasis for six years. It’s the place where I can be creatively brave without worrying about what people might think. It’s sweet here. There’s no pettiness or gossip. I can be myself. Somehow, it seems to contradict the harshness of the real world. For six years, I’ve been protective of this part of my writing life.
I’ve spoken a couple of times at WordCamp about the beauty of personal blogging. In my presentation, I try to convey to the audience that by taking on this little hobby, you discover that your life changes in incredible ways. The world expands a gazillionfold. You have a place to fully express yourself without judgment, without whispers. Blogging enables you to find your tribe, the people who “get” you. They cheer you on and encourage you in your endeavors, and hopefully, you do the same for them. No one’s looking at your zits or your sweatpants or the kind of car you drive. A trailer park resident in Omaha is on the same playing field as fashion model in a New York penthouse or a denizen of Bangladesh. It’s hearts that matter here, and minds. People who follow your blog are there by choice. They’re interested in what you have to say for the purest reasons–they’ve connected with you. They like you. I often prefer it to the “real world.”
As I flip through slides on the screen, I discuss anonymity–that it’s a personal choice, and one I prefer. When they ask me for my blog address, I typically don’t give them this one. Somehow, it feels as though I’d be handing my diary key to the world. With few exceptions, I’ve gotten to choose who I hand that key to. This is one of the kindest places I know. You are some of the kindest people I know. Miracles have occurred here because of you.
For a week I was a wreck, considering how all this might change. I was going to be on National Public Radio. My story was being broadcast worldwide. I’d submitted it using my pen name, because that’s what I use for all of my writing, but that pen name originated from this blog. For two days, I angsted. I squirmed. Few around here know me by that name. Amadeus was proud that my story had been accepted and told all of his friends. But how in the world would they know it was me, if I was introduced as MB McQueen? How would my family know? I wrote back to the producer and asked her to change it to my given name, then I angsted some more. I work hard. I write hard, damnit, and I do it under a name that’s come to feel more like me than the one my parents gave me. I wrote the producer again and asked her to change it back. “It’s the name my readers know,” I told her. I also added, “Yes, I’m a little nutty, but I promise, I’ll do just fine.”
Poor Amadeus. Poor, sweet, adorable, talented, amazing, cute-as-hell Amadeus. He has to live with me during these meltdowns. For a week, he’s listened to me gripe about my post-marriage weight gain. Watched me try on twenty outfits. Listened to a hundred curse words as I’ve attempted to do something with my awful hair. He’s had to hear me fret about everything I’ve written above. But he’s always believed that I should just share everything I write with everyone, and he gets frustrated by my desire for privacy. He also thinks I’m pretty, so I can’t completely trust his judgment. We both know that there are locals who’ve lurked here for years, and not all of them do it because they want to wish us well. It sometimes makes opening my heart to the world a tough prospect.
So on Sunday, I’m sitting in this big conference room at the local library and I’m as nervous as a death row inmate eating his last meal. We do a run-through of the radio show, and my hands shake as I get up to read. The place is packed. The producer (an incredibly nice woman) reads us some information about the show. I kind of blank out after she says, “15 million listeners worldwide.”
The band played, some announcements were made and the show got underway. Writers went to the platform and began telling their wonderful tales, musicians played their songs. Suddenly, a calmness floated over me. As I sat there, I thought, “I have the most beautiful life.” There was a time when my chances of survival were pretty iffy. My world was small and crazy and sad. But here I was, about to read one of my stories to millions of people.
I thought about Amadeus, a man I love more than I ever thought I could love anyone. He was sitting behind me, somewhere in the crowd, proud as hell and cheering me on. Somewhere out there, my daughter was listening, and I could feel her near me too. I thought of the people who read my work and encourage me to keep writing. I felt happy. I felt confident. And I went up there and did my thing.