I was up shortly after 5AM, fed George, took him out for his morning walk. He was more than a little puzzled to be going out so early, but raised no particular objections. I made tea, poured two cups, and took one in to Ellie, to wake her. By 6AM, we were on the road, headed for the Faculty Club at UC Irvine, where I was scheduled to give the first in what is now developing into a series of speaking engagements in connection with the publication of "Persist." Those of you who have followed along in these pages for the past couple of weeks are surely aware that I have been chewing my nails a bit about this prospect, and will join me in a huge sigh of relief that it all turned out well.
Here's what I have come to understand. Speaking is an entirely different medium from writing. As a writer I can sit around playing on the keyboard, hidden comfortably behind my monitor, making changes where needed and taking the time to develop ideas, all the while aware that nothing goes out to the public before I want it to. Before I know that it's right. In the past, when invited to speak in public, I have most often written it all down and read from my script. My hosts at the Inside Edge, however--a truly wonderful organization that meets weekly for the express purpose of listening to invited guests from all walks of life--make it clear in advance that they expect something different. The expect their speakers to, well, speak.
So I set out to learn this new skill with some trepidation. I devoted a good number of hours to organizing myself and boiling it all down to an outline, from which I hoped to be able to stand up and talk without making too much of a fool of myself. I meditated furiously in the attempt to calm the mind down--though it was honestly not meditation, it was sitting and thinking. The fear was, of course, irrational: that I'd stand there with my mouth open and no words would come out. Irrational, because I do speak passingly well and, even when I'm talking absolute nonsense, have the advantage of a (still, halfway!) English accent which apparently, to the American ear, covers a multitude of other verbal inadequacies.
In the event, all was well. I threw away a good deal of the script. Over breakfast--a part of the Inside Edge ritual--one of my table-mates spoke about how she had abandoned early dreams of a creative life in favor of the contingencies of the job, the career, the family... Which gave me the perfect lead-in, as a place in which I too found myself many years ago, leaving university with the vague desire to be a writer, but constrained, at the same time, to meet those same social expectations. So that's where I started one I was up on the podium, and from there the words flowed easily and naturally--so much so, that I had pages of unused notes when my time came to an end. It seemed to have gone all too fast.
And what a wonderful reception! May I say, without appearing immodest, a standing ovation? (As soon as I found out how this is done, I will post a link to the DVD for anyone who might want to watch.) My generous listeners were all too kind, and many of them came up to me afterwards with really heartfelt expressions of thanks for those moments in which they had, for a variety of reasons, resonated with my words. The Buddha Diaries was mentioned and acknowledged, and should any of the participants from this morning happen upon this entry, today, may they know how very much I appreciated their warm welcome and their generous reception.
It's my understanding that this organization welcomes new members, and if you happen to live in Orange County, California, or anywhere nearby, I do recommend that you look into the opportunities it offers. There is, to begin with, a real sense of community which would be hard for even a one-time visitor to miss, along with a commonality of interest and an intellectual appetite for new and interesting ideas. I feel honored to have been invited, and to have been heard with such attention.
Back home in good time, we picked up George from the cottage and headed back up to Los Angeles, where we are scheduled to attend the gala opening of the Los Angeles Art Fair at the Convention Center. We were fortunate to beat the rain, which was starting just as we reached to off-ramp to come home... Right now, it's coming down steady and hard.