Monday, November 10, 2008

Her power

Because they inspired the blog, I went straight to Bad Man and ozarque to let them know I'd started it up. As you might expect, both were wise. Bad Man with the kind of wisdom that I sometimes have myself, that of a thirtysomething dude who's been around the block a few times, and Ozarque with a great deal more than that. Bad Man said he wouldn't judge my relationship with Voice, but I had to ask myself whether I was getting what I wanted or needed. Ozarque said good for me for trying to fix what's broken.

I realized that it would be more unfair to her if I only resort to this blog when things are bad with us.

As a writer I'm supposed to show and not tell. So...

Six years ago... I am the curator at a panel of authors. The room is full. Stuffy, even. The energy is high. The topic is controversial and intense. The audience is engaged. Voice is supposed to open the event. I've met her a few times (I'll write a blog about the first meeting another time), but I know her only casually, by reputation and as a part of an admired couple (her and Management). She is late. I start the show without her, juggling the panelists. One after another, they tank. All are good readers. All have good writing. They just don't hit the right note for the night and don't hit the right note for the audience. The audience is looking for hope, for possibilities, for a connection. The writers give some mix of self-promotion and despair. As the third author steps up, Voice comes in. In jeans and sneakers and a T-shirt. Most people don't know her yet. But I find myself watching her, not just because everyone is sitting and she's coming in. She slips in and sits next to me in the front row.

"You're late," I say, smiling. I've always been smiling around her, it seems.

"How's it going?"

"Not good, so far. You're going to have to save it."

The third reader might be the worst. Voice, silent in the chair next to me, radiates frustration. Is that body language alone? Why are some people able to make us feel their feelings?

I get up to introduce her. Middling applause. People are frustrated by now, and she's another unknown quantity. But where the other speakers sat on a stool, she stands in front of the mic. She plants her feet, and sings a few bars of a song, acapella, and brings everybody back. From that second on I can reproduce the tune from memory.

She introduces herself, and talks for three minutes, and in three minutes says all of the things the audience needed to hear, that they hadn't heard for the previous hour.

She sings another two songs, and the night is saved. You can just feel it. Everybody can. Even the authors who she was supposed to introduce and, instead, upstaged. They feel more rescued than resentful.

"Well, you did it. You saved it."

"It did need saving."

Where does it come from, this power? It's partly skill or talent, to be sure. But in her case, it's just real. Her words come from a place deeper than most people can go, but when they come out that rawness and realness has been worked up by a master of the craft. She feels it, and makes you feel it too. And even when we fight, I don't believe she's being manipulative. I get dragged into the dumps because those around her just feel whatever she's feeling.

Maybe that night is where it started, for me. Not for her, so she tells me. For her it was earlier.

And is that it, am I just impaled on her power (I thank Colleen McCullough for the phrase)? No. There's more. I'll tell you.

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