13 January 2010

A teaser from the new novel I'm writing

She'd bombed. Flamed out. Died. Big time.

“Everyone has to do it once,” they told her after, allowing her to bond with them over shared failures. “It's good to get that out of the way early.”

And: “Now you know how the worst night feels. If you can go back out there after a night like that and not take it too personally, you might have what it takes to make it in this hellish business.”

It made Lydia feel better to hear it. 99 percent of people who dream of this probably never ever try it, she thought, with pride. And it's weird but it's a freaking thrill and a half. She was unable to stop the smile from stretching her lips wide. By the end of the night her face had ached from all the grinning. She was high as a kite, soaring over her old life. Plus, she was funny as hell with all those new brothers. If that five minutes was the worst thing that ever happened to her, and she could even stand doing it again, she felt fine about that. If that were true, who knew, maybe she could be the next Seinfeld.

Lydia's secret excuse for her crash-and-burn of a debut was being in disguise. She cut herself a great deal of slack for it instead of beating herself over the head and concluding she was no good. Her material was pretty good, she thought, but it was trickier finding the way to deliver it, while trying on a whole new persona. She couldn't just drop the persona when her set was over like most performers, she quickly saw; if she wanted to snare the bird she would have to keep it up during the bantering-in-the-bar portion of the evening with the comedians' brotherhood after. She had to be Carmen Flame. She liked the joke of having red hair and being named something smoldering and Latin sounding.

It was like trying to join a fraternity suddenly being around all these guys kind of like her, odd balances of Introversion and Extroversion in the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. She hadn't quite figured out who she wanted to be with them yet. She hadn't yet connected well with her audience, or herself, which was making her feel less worthy of connecting with the accomplished fellows in this group, every last one of them (she thought) with more experience in a month than she'd had in her whole life.

Onstage, Lydia had been worried under her false bravado, which of course the audience sniffed out immediately, nosing her jokes as dispassionately as dogs poking around a pile of leaves while she died in front of everyone, afraid her delivery was rushed and trying not hold back from her inclination to be snarky, which she knew could turn an audience on her in a second. Fear made her sweat, drove her on. She dreaded being booed or hooked off the stage. She'd seen one club owner ring a loud bell or buzzer on the performers – they never knew which to expect – that startled each comedian into submission, abruptly ending their desperate not-quite five-minute sets. You could see the stress of wondering on every comic's face a few minutes into each set: Will my sound be a bell or a buzzer?

No mojo that time. Oh, well, too bad, she thought. But she sure liked the electricity and the instant camaraderie of it, and had felt more alive this night than at any time except riding through the country so busy with thoughts of what she might do when she stopped somewhere and started setting down new roots that she hadn't noticed she'd been singing to herself for miles, alternating between “This Land Is Your Land” and “My Country 'Tis of Thee,” the songs' repeating refrains in the background of her mind like Muzak at the supermarket.

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