I know, sweeties, I know… Hooked is sitting awfully low in the water with all these Fisher Poets posts. Apologies if you’re a wee bit weary of my shiny eyes and dazzled reports; I’m newly in love with this crowd, and am not ready to let go quite yet. Give me about a week to wrap up this public processing – still have another handful of stories and videos I’d like to share with you – and then we’ll move on to other fishy things.
(Things like our fast-approaching departure. Cap’n J, Bear the Boat Cat, and I will be reuniting with the good ship Nerka in 3 weeks.)
Thanks to everyone who commented with kudos for Cap’n J, Hillel Wright, and the other contestants. Some of you also left nudges: “So, when are we going to hear about your readings?” As it turns out, friends, I’ve found it more difficult to share my own story than to celebrate someone else’s. Shocking, I know.
We got our programs at Thursday’s welcome dinner/open mic. Peculiar experience, seeing a dream laid out before you in official black and white.
Friday started lazily. (For one of us, at least – Cap’n J jumped out of bed at 5 to shoot sunrise at Ecola State Park.) Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, admiring the waves rolling in under clear skies, a new post up, rehearsing that night’s piece, even time to snuggle with my sweetheart. Pretty good stuff to lead into a big day.
Joel’s sister Ashley joined us that afternoon, and we headed into Astoria. The clear morning surrendered to a harbor day – sideways rain, window-rattling gusts by the end of the night. Somewhere after Seaside and before Warrenton, the glow I’d worn from the previous evening slipped off, revealing wide-eyed, electricity-under-my-skin anxiety.
We parked as close as we could to the Baked Alaska and scrambled to get inside, heads ducked against the building storm. Flashed our FPG buttons to the volunteer at the door and claimed seats near the front. I gave a thought of gratitude to co-organizers Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman for putting me in this intimate venue. The “stage,” a 6-inch plywood rise, faced a mellow audience scattered throughout two narrow aisles. Compared to wilder venues that the pros handled, the Baked Alaska promised a gentle introduction.
The show kicked off with music. Jon on guitar and Jay on harmonica, our emcees began with an ode to “the girl with dark eyes at the cannery.” Author Penn Wallace followed their set with the story of his own greenhorn debut – an 8 year old boy accompanying Poppa on a 1949 albacore trip. A Cordova fisherman stepped up to fill another performer’s absence. In testimony to everyone’s gifts, for a while I forgot my nerves and just enjoyed the show.
Then Jon invited me up.
Careful to sidestep the tangle of microphone cords, I sought refuge behind the music stand and looked for the crowd’s friendliest faces. I told them how thankful I was to be there, then confessed, “I’m also a little nervous.”
[The next morning, I would attend Ron McDaniel’s fantastic workshop, “Polishing Your Onstage Performance.” He’d declare, “Never announce yer flaws! Don’t tell ’em you’re nervous – you just told the sharks ‘Hey there, fellas, sorry to disturb you with my bleeding!’” Huh. Good point.]
Fortunately, there were no sharks in the Baked Alaska that night. A woman in the front row offered an encouraging smile, and I continued. “So, I’d like to launch this maiden voyage with a piece for the best fisherman – and the best storyteller – that I ever knew. Maybe some of you knew him, too.”
With that, I began to read The Aquila Rides Again.
A revised version, it wasn’t what some of you have seen before. I’d wondered if I’d be able to tell a room full of strangers about Steve Meier without crumbling. And moments before I went on, I panicked, wondering if it wasn’t a terrible mistake to lay that heavy of a story on the crowd. Oh well…Too late to pick something else.
Cap’n J and I aren’t much for mariner superstitions. Our operation includes a woman and a cat, after all, and our best trips have started on Fridays. Yet the Nerka’s cabin is festooned with good luck charms: a sequined fish from Tunisia, a Grecian amulet against evil eye, favorite fortunes from Kenny’s Wok. My winter writing space offers similar imagery: quotes from other writers, a mock-up of my book cover, photos of cheerleading loved ones who’ve vowed to buy that book.
No surprise I’d cloak myself in talismans, too, for an event like this. A blue and white bandanna, a gift from my social worker days from a remarkable young woman. (May I get through this with a smidgen of your strength and grace, I thought, knotting it tight.) Serious earrings – 6 gauge steel spirals, courtesy of my favorite piercer, Dana Burnidge. No one with such badass jewelry would be scared on stage – right?
Funny, the props we reach for when we’re feeling vulnerable.
But the truest sources of courage can’t be worn or bought. Cap’n J later observed, “You really hit your stride midway through.” Reading about Steve invoked his spirit – his authenticity, his gruff compassion, his ferocious truth-telling. As I described our friend, I felt myself slip into the self-assured way in which he walked through the world. Turns out, there’s no greater talisman than the memory of your hero.
Clouded by that otherworldly daze that comes of accomplishing something you weren’t sure that you could do, I returned to my seat. I felt grateful for the opportunity to share someone who’d been such a cornerstone in our lives, and appreciated the kind reception. But there’s a shale-ridden slope between celebrating a life and exploiting it, and I don’t plan to read this piece publicly again. It’s enough to have relied on Steve’s strength for my first time on stage; I can rely on my own from here on out.
Were you at one of the venues that night? Or did you tune in to KMUN’s live stream? Who did you get to hear?