Randon Billings Noble is an essayist. Her work has been published in the Modern Love column of the New York Times, the Georgia Review, Fourth Genre, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere. Her essay collection Be with Me Always is available now.
Training for Touring
After the writing, the copy-editing, the page proofs, the querying of bookstores, the sending of galleys, the waiting, the wondering, and the worrying, I was already tired. But next up was book tour and I needed to be in better shape for my 17 cities in 12 weeks. I decided to train.
I’m not athletic by nature so I tried to take the easiest route possible. I went to bed at a reasonable hour to get as many consecutive nights of good sleep as I could. I took a daily multivitamin. I read an essay out loud each evening to build up my voice. And I ran—or walked—on a treadmill every other day.
This last one was not appealing to me. I had never built a successful exercise regime—not for health and not for vanity. But I thought I might be able to do it for book tour.
So I made a playlist that included three songs that both fit my stride and made me feel like John Travolta strutting down the street at the start of Saturday Night Fever (with his red boots and folded pizza slices). These songs, starting with “The Final Countdown” and ending with “Eye of the Tiger,” got me pumped for running as well as the idea of reading in front of strangers. Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” was a mid-run favorite. I thought as I ran that while I might not see a million faces on my tour, I’d see a hundred, and yes—I’d rock them all.
What I didn’t know then is how nervous I would be for my first readings, and how remembering my time on the treadmill would help. As I sat in a bookstore’s staff room, or behind a shelf, or in the hall of a university building, I could hear the pulse of these songs in my head, hear the lyrics urging me on, feel the belt underneath my feet forcing me forward step by pounding step. And then I would be introduced, invited to the podium, and I would read.
One thing I read was my essay “Camouflet,” which is about being a flâneuse—a female flaneur—who walks, often city streets, and looks at things. George Sand was an early example, as was the street-haunting Virginia Woolf. But walking the avenues of my city and looking at all the storefronts and trees and sidewalks and people was very different from running the treadmill. On the street I was looking out, but on the treadmill, in my apartment building’s basement gym, I was looking in. I never turned on the TV but used its black screen as a mirror to see my blurry bobbing head as I walked other streets with Survivor, left the ground with Journey, and imagined my book tour as (a far less glamorous) Bon Jovi. Walking out in the world helped me think as a writer, but running the treadmill—inside, proscribed, controlled—helped me imagine being a reader.
After the first couple of weeks, the first few cities, I got used to reading to an audience. I didn’t need my internal soundtrack to get ready. But occasionally a line or two would float through my mind:
I been everywhere, still, I’m standing tall …
Had the guts, got the glory …
Will things ever be the same again? [cue synthesized horn riff]
And I would smile, thinking of the long road I walked to get here—at the podium, on the stage, here in these words—to share my work with you.