A Shift In Perception: My First Book Reading for The Moment

A couple weeks ago I wrote about facing my fear with the book read in Los Angeles. This was one of many book events promoting and celebrating The Moment, a book that I am thrilled to be a part of. Although I am no stranger to performing in public, my nerves were still off the charts.

Something about reading my personal story to a group of strangers in a book store seemed…unsettling. A curvy, middle-aged woman talking about stripping nude in her 20s just welcomes judgement and ridicule, I thought. Also, I was going to talk about my skin; the scars I’ve tried so long to ignore, my words now shining a light on them. I needed to remember to breathe.

And breathe, I did, having spent nearly three hours in traffic (gotta love LA). With each minute passing on my dashboard, I grew slightly more anxious.

I arrived at Chevalier’s Books fashionably late. The place was packed, but as soon as I saw my friends, I was bathed in relief. There’s nothing more reassuring than knowing you have the support and encouragement of your friends – especially in times of personal challenge. We exchanged kisses and hellos, and I soaked in every hug.

“You look beautiful, girl. Are you nervous?” Elly squeezed my arm.

“Sooooo much so. Thank you.” My knees were buckling with fear.

“When are you on? You’ll do great.”

“Soon, thank you…” God, I hoped she was right.

We listened and watched each writer share their essay, and my trembling only seemed to increase.

Fuck. Can I do this?

Then, the hostess read the next speaker’s introduction:

A self-proclaimed recovering narcissist, Honolulu native, Christine Macdonald has worked as an ice cream scooper, a stripper, and an advertising executive – not on the  same day. Her essay, Sunset Strip walks us through her final night at the strip bar, after a decade-long career working the pole in Waikiki. She is currently writing a memoir and you can learn more about her story through her website www.poletosoul.com.

Shit. That’s me.

The applause lifted my feet toward the stage and with every person I walked passed, I shared a grin underneath a veil of uncertainty and fear.

There I was. In front of a sea of faces, all waiting for me to speak. I froze, wondering if they realized I could pass out at any moment. Without thinking about it, I turned my thoughts inside-out and spoke.

“You know, it’s so funny to me. That I can be so nervous speaking in public, when I had no problem stripping on stage.”

Spontaneous laughter.

“It’s true.” I laughed along with the audience, opened the book to my page and began to read.

I made it through the part where I talked about my skin, and although I was still trembling, my breathing continued to save me. It came as no surprise I choked up on the same two lines that caused me to cry so many times in private. I forgave myself for taking pause to wipe my eyes and continued on.

As soon as I completed reading my story, the air filled with raw emotion. I smiled, walking back to my group of friends in the back, but this time, my pride was showing. I felt pats on my shoulders and heard a few cheers. As I collected congratulatory hugs from my loyal posse, I let out a huge sigh of relief.

After the event wrapped up, we started to mingle and I felt much more relaxed, although I was still not prepared for what happened next.

Countless strangers introduced themselves to me, opening their arms, letting our embraces linger in the envelope of gratitude. Some fought back tears. I was thanked over and over for sharing my story.

Wow. This shit is real.

When a fellow writer’s mother came up to me, I found myself a little embarrassed. This was someone’s mom – and I was talking about taking my clothes off for money. She intoduced herself and thanked me with a hug and spoke softly, holding my hands.

“You are a brave woman and I want to thank you. You helped me realize that every person has a story, and not to judge someone just because they are on a different path.”

My eyes welled up as I thanked her.

I’ve been so worried about people judging me – a middle-aged, curvy gal, talking about stripping in my 20s – that I forgot to welcome the idea that sharing my story may actually be a positive thing.

I am excited for the next two readings in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I’m sure the trembling fear will return, but it’s okay. The fact I was able to help shift a mother’s perception after my first read, is enough to keep me going.

Christine Macdonald

Interview

Here is my interview with the National Association of Memoir Writers.

 

* * *

An Interview with Christine About Her Memoir Writing Journey So Far

NAMW: Tell us what you want to write about, or what you are working on.

Christine: I’m currently working on a memoir about my life as an exotic dancer in my hometown of Waikiki from 1987 to 1996.

Most people think of coconuts and surfboards when thinking of Hawaii. My book takes you past the palm trees, behind the paradise curtain to a grittier type of lifestyle full of drugs, sex and tons of rock and roll. Also, I have a sense humor about my story so there are tongue-in-cheek moments weaved throughout the pages, which provide a delicate balance of comedy in the face of adversity.

The common thread of my manuscript is how far people will go to find their self-worth, and that feeling beautiful really does come from within. Although I went to extremes, what I took from my experiences and discoveries are universal.

NAMW: If you could imagine the title of your story—what would it be?

Christine: I obsessed for months about the title of my manuscript and finally came up with Pour Some Sugar On Me: Tales from an Ex-Stripper. The title came about when I was driving my car one afternoon and heard a familiar song on the radio. The music transported me instantly. I turned up the volume and sang my heart out in traffic. People next to me on the road must have thought I was completely insane, which I embraced fully with every air guitar and fist pump maneuver from the driver’s seat. I knew anything that struck such a chord (pardon the pun) would be a great title for the book.

NAMW: What helps you to get your writing done—for instance—a writing schedule, taking a class, reading?

Christine: I work full-time, so weekends and evenings are prime real estate for my butt to be planted at my writing desk.

I attended my first writer’s conference last month and found the environment and teachings invaluable. Conference calls, such as the ones NAMW provides have proven to be motivating and thought provoking and I always feel really pumped up after a call.

When I feel blocked, I don’t fight it. I take a step back, pick up a memoir and start reading. Losing myself in someone else’s story always helps me find a way back to mine. I find myself thinking: wow, they really have a story – wait a minute, so do I – and I start typing again.

NAMW: What are your five favorite books—okay, you can make it a little longer if you need to.

Christine: I know you will find this shocking, but I love a great memoir. Given my history, I am drawn to personal stories of triumph in the shadows of addiction and family dysfunction. Add to that my adoration for self-deprecating humor and sarcasm and you have a Carrie Fisher fan through and through. Wishful Drinking is one of my favorites, and I was thrilled to learn this memoir will soon be the basis for an HBO television special.

Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis and Larry Sloman had me flipping back to the first page as soon as I reached the end. This is a book that greeted me by surprise like a set of finger-laced hands whispering from behind saying, “Guess who?” Reading this story was a true, poetic experience.

Another book that resonates with me is Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren. There were so many “me too” moments when reading, it was hard to put down. Here is a woman who knows the road to self-worth and possesses the type of writing talent that leaves me in awe. 

Running With Scissors (Augusten Burroughs) is another book that really spoke to me. Learning of this survival story helped me see that even the most bizarre childhoods can be overcome. Augusten’s ability to paint vivid scenes with his words intimidates and inspires me to the point of reckless writing abandon. I find my best scene-structure is born from attending The School of Augusten.

My list would not be complete without mentioning Don’t Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother-Daughter Abandonment by Linda Joy Myers. I learned so much about myself through reading her story. I recommend this book to anyone in search of a memoir that is not only heartfelt, but moves you to the point of tears. Tears traveled down the curve of my lip; a subconscious smile in knowing it is indeed possible to survive personal abandonment.

NAMW: Is there anyone who does not want you to write your memoir? Why not?

Christine: I wouldn’t say she doesn’t want me to write my story, but I don’t think my mother understands my need to share it. She would much rather I move on from my past without ever looking back. I try and explain to her that in order to do this, I must revisit the wounds to finally heal them without the use of drugs or stripping. The beauty of my story is how far I have come since my stripping years. I hope anyone reading my book, who thinks they are stuck in a similar world, will find that inner-voice inside them like I did.

NAMW: Talk about who the audience is for your memoir. Be brief and concise.

Christine: Anyone who has ever felt marginalized by circumstance, struggled with feeling less-than, has a taste for the wild side, sexual adventure, or is simply curious about life as a stripper is the ideal audience for my memoir.

NAMW: What is the most significant turning point in your life?

Christine: I write about this in my book. The second I stepped on the plane and moved off the island is by far the most significant point in my 41 years. I started over with very little money, two suitcases and a dream of a normal life. It sounds simple and a bit corny, but when you think about happiness and peace of mind, isn’t that what we all aim for?

Christine Macdonald

Breast Intentions

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Not that you need more proof I was a total Stripper Cliché, I am here to tell you, I had breast implants.

It’s been a few years since I had the bookends removed, but I still think of those salt-water funbags from time to time. I am devoting a whole chapter in my book to the experience (Breast Implants, the early years).

As I write my chapter, I thought it was fitting to share one of my first posts here.

This is a true story.

In my late twenties and new in town, I’m completing the obligatory first-timers paperwork in a doctor’s office. I circle yes or no to the usual questions, turn in the clipboard and return to my seat.

After a minute or so, I am asked to approach the reception desk.
I circled ‘yes’ after “Have you ever had implants?” adding, “1990-2003” on the paper. I wish words could describe the looks I received. Scrub Divas wanted answers.

With the shrug of my shoulders and a pat on my back for honesty, I said, “the novelty wore off and I was pretty much done with them”.

I suddenly witness simultaneous head-tilt-with-a-smile faces on four soccer-mommyesque medical assistants.

I can’t remember what happened next, but eventually it was concluded that I misunderstood the question and we all shared a room full of laughter.

The doctor I was visiting was a dentist.

 

Christine Macdonald