On Wednesday night, I stood up in front of a room full of people who had come to Malvern Books in downtown Austin to listen to four writers: Texas literary lion Jan Reid; Texas Monthly journalist Michael Di Leo, country singer-songwriter Christine Albert...and me.
We had been invited that spring to speak as part of national literary readings series called "Why There Are Words." I was still wondering how I had even managed to get on the presenter list. Weird luck? Some unforeseen cosmic convergence? The need to fill space? Doubts assailed me. I was the the wild dark horse among well-vetted quantities.
Heart twisting and straining in my chest, I wanted to obey the raging impulse to flee into anonymity. But God help me, I didn't. Instead, when it came my turn to read, I did what until that moment had seemed impossible: I opened my mouth. A voice that seconds before had been strangled by fear tumbled out, stringing together word after word like a needle chasing beads.
The piece I read was an essay I wrote in 2013 called "Shapeshifters." It was one of my first, very imperfect, attempts at writing memoir-style non-fiction. I wouldn't know until much later that it would become one of my favorite pieces precisely because it had been so unruly and unwilling to accept taming. More than 40 journals rejected it before one (appropriately titled Animal) decided to send an acceptance, contingent on deep cuts that made me curse, bleed and cry with every deletion.
Here I am, delivering the words, still so raw and so imperfect, that made me want to give up writing the essay entirely.