Maria Dahvana Headley

Our Cleo: Maria Dahvana Headley, author of Queen of Kings, in a quiet pre-show moment with friend

The “Up Late Reading” variety show organized by the Seattle-7 writers, which took place Saturday night, Oct. 15, proved to be a raging success, and came off without serious glitches. No one fell off the stage; no one’s garments malfunctioned. Garth “Racing in the Rain” Stein and I were co-emcees. We had a fine old time trying to be debonair, energetic and glib, while attempting with mostly great aplomb to avoid introducing the wrong acts at the wrong time. High point: A Garth and Erik tango.

The show provided a marvelous opportunity for writers to humiliate themselves. We had a poet in a chicken suit, charmingly leading us deep into the ways of chickenhood; we had a visit from Cleopatra, who brought along a rather large rubber snake; and we listened in awe as our own Jennie Shortridge belted out a wonderful rendition of “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” adapted to the writing life. Her hub backed her on guitar (and pulled off the opening descending riff with absolute perfection), along with the Jose “Juicy” Gonzales Trio, who did heroic work throughout the show helping fill awkward pauses with some truly lovely jazz lines. I urge jazz fans to pay a visit to Juicy’s website, and listen to a few songsā€”it’s good stuff, the kind of music you want playing on your stereo when you kick back with a good glass of bourbon on a cold Seattle night.

Importantly, the show and its associated silent auction brought in about $10,000 in charitable contributions to further the cause of literacy.

And may I just say in closing, the whole thing was terrifying. The last time I’d been in a stage performance of any kind (other than giving talks about books) was in sixth grade, and I still remember the unalloyed fear I felt when I peeked out through the curtains and saw the packed auditorium. That moment often comes back to me in nightmares, as does the classic dream where I’m supposed to take the SATs, but cannot find the right room.

I was terrified all day Saturday, anticipating the further terror I would feel that night. I kept muttering, “Thank god I’m not a Broadway actor. How do those people live?” To occupy myself and keep my mind off my coming doom, I baked an elaborate French apple pie, home-made crust and all, which used up every pan and utensil in the kitchen. I destroyed at least one saucepan when I incinerated a cup of milk that was supposed to be brought to a gentle boil. I was a culinary black hole. Gordon Ramsay would have had a field day. Although I suppose to him it would be a field-greens day.

What also helped was repeating over and over to myself that it’s good to step out of your comfort zone now and then. It’s a good thing. A good thing.

I survived. And the pie was great.