Yesterday evening, I was invited by friends to attend an event called “True Tales” hosted at a local coffee shop. Occurring every other month, three published authors bring an artifact and recount a true story, in addition to reading excerpts from their newly published or about to be published books.
Many of the people in the audience were also published authors, mostly local, as well as regulars of True Tales. We came early to order food, healthy fare – salads with hummus, vegan bean soup, hot chai tea, beer. Middle aged hipsters, some younger, most seeming confident and comfortable in their skins. As the volume of conversation rose before the speakers were called to the microphone, I felt my quiet voice straining to be heard. After all, I have many true tales in my own story, I told myself. My life has not been boring at all. I tried to imagine myself on the improvised stage, telling my stories. Could I be as entertaining, as confident, an authentic, embodied presence like the chosen authors? The middle sister of an older very loud and somewhat autistic brother who sucked up attention like an overactive Hoover, my childhood strategy was to be as quiet as a cathedral, as invisible as a mirror facing nothing. While this ploy succeeded in rendering me transparent, it did not garner me the attention or approval I craved from my parents.
I listened carefully to those who stepped up to the mike, both the introducer and the introducees. Each person had a different style and energy. The first young woman was slim and stylish in low-waisted pencil skinny khakis, flat sneaker-like oxfords in a matching sage green, a white shirt, with a paisley patterned tie. Her hair was black, wavy, and appeared to be damp, her skin pale and lipstick a contrastingly bright red. The emcee introduced her as a Pisces who was writing a book about a bingo hall in North Carolina. The young woman’s voice strained slightly as she told her story about her father shooting a bear in Canada to make a rug for her family’s living room floor. The amusing attendant object being a tongue, that sat in the bear’s mouth – a removable tongue that amused the young author-to-be and that followed her from her childhood years to her now young adult home.
As I listened to her story, I remembered artifacts of my own that I no longer own. For some reason, we ended up with a hair piece that belonged to my great-aunt Reeva, my grandmother’s youngest sister. The hair was real human hair, it was dark, sleek, and above all, it was marvelously straight. It was a tiny shrunken head – minus the head – with a personality all its own. I must add for the record that my hair is very curly, and my childhood was somehow martyred or marred by memories of my unsympathetic mother occasionally attempting to rack a comb through the resistant tangles. Often, I went without having my hair combed at all – or washed, but that was fine with me. My sister Leslie and I baptised the hair piece, lined with black nylon of some kind and backed with a crinkly comb, Ugly Girl. Somehow, we were both jealous and possessive of the hair piece, loving it and abusing it equally. We wanted to be Ugly Girl and we felt we were Ugly Girl. She was our scapegoat and our friend. She was named for a girl at school who was a bit of a tomboy, a girl who didn’t seem to care what others thought about her appearance or style. We didn’t know anything about style, as we were not encouraged to be aware of ourselves or our bodies in that way. The freedom that Ugly Girl embodied was contagious and desirable. I do remember as well a black and white photograph that my father developed and printed of himself wearing Ugly Girl on his head. There is probably something very profound about that image.
Each of the authors recounted very personal anecdotes, some funny, some touching. The second author was a trim young man with black hair. Maybe it was his own hair that brought Ugly Girl up from the crowded and dusty corridors of my ill catalogued memories of childhood. This young author’s memoirs recounted previous employment as a writer in a firm documenting medical disabilities and equipment, and how he collected hilariously unbelievable but true headlines related to his field. The gemstone of his presentation was an unfortunate memory of his being stricken with a relentless case of hiccups, racking his body every two seconds for a total of eight days. Causing all sorts of moral and mental, not to speak of physical anguish, the hiccups were an existential condition that seemed to have changed his life. He evoked a Guinness Record holder, a farmer from Iowa, I believe, who began to hiccup in 1922 and continued faithfully to hiccup for 68 years. The affliction ceased when this patient man was in his nineties. He enjoyed two years of respite, then died. One can only feel sympathy for the young author and his predicament, as he could not know if or when the persistent spasms would end. After consuming quantities of muscle relaxants that cause him to pool on the floor at the foot of his desk, the hiccups mysteriously stopped, as noted by his ex-goth office mate, Erin.
This entertaining, hilarious headline-studded account was admirable in its delivery. The author in anticipation of the room’s judgment declared prior to his presentation that his life is very boring and devoid of interesting stories – and that this is precisely the reason that he writes fiction.
I found this comment to be studded with rubies, as it were. My life has sometimes been simultaneously boring and chaotic, but never without constant rebounds and events – both internal and external. My wealth of true stories is indeed a treasure. I need to share them, my self revealed to myself as I listened avidly to the authors.
The third author was older, and a devoted cat lover. He spoke of his beloved Biscuit, an adopted feral stray with a chronic upper respiratory condition and of his fiance then wife, Eth, as he annotated their courtship and fiancailles. His stories were less amusing than the previous two, but moving nonetheless. His artifact was not an object per se, but a copy of the flyer he created when Biscuit made a quick getaway while he was on a teaching assignment in North Carolina and his wife was at an artist residency in Europe. I noted that one of our guinea pigs also named Biscuit, but not golden furred like the author’s cat, was similarly afflicted with an upper respiratory condition that ultimately prematurely claimed her life. Her brief existence was also similarly cherished, and she is affectionately remembered, although not exhaustively chronicled like the golden feline.
This evening spent among authors and stories has inspired me to share some of my many unlikely stories and experiences – to create a memoir of sorts – on this blog. I have been working at creating fiction – not shared on the blog, as my inner voice urges me to write. Please look forward to more stories!