This is a zig-zaggy story about things I’m going to want to keep in mind come January, when I’m sitting under a blanket on the sofa, wearing the same sweatshirt for the third day in a row, sniffing old candy canes because I read somewhere that peppermint is a stimulant. Stay with me here:
Back in the summer, when the first leg of the little Penguins with People Problems book tour wrapped up in Asheville (shout out to the indie bookstore: Hey, Malaprop’s!), I was feeling rather treat yo’self. So I decided to celebrate with a fancy facial before driving back to Tennessee. Now, I know damned well that my sensitive skin has never been able to handle exotic emollients, so I’m not sure what made me think I could subject myself to an hour of greased face-massage with no consequences, but there you have it. Predictably, my momentary lapse of self-awareness caused me to break out the next day in a flesh-eating rash. My eyelids crusted over; my chin got all spotty; my cheeks turned red and angry. I looked like a very ladylike zombie.
Can you guess the first thing I was scheduled to do upon arriving home with leprosy-face? If you guessed a screen test for a TV show, you are tragicomically correct. (But not a zombie show, although it would have been a perfect day for that.)
Here in Nashville, our public television station recently decided to reboot a popular interview show called A WORD ON WORDS. For 42 years, it was hosted by the late John Seigenthaler, who in addition to being a trailblazing journalist, political figure, and public servant was a voracious reader who loved chatting about books with guest authors. The folks at NPT had asked early in the summer if I’d be interested in hosting the new show. “Sure,” I’d said. “But you should probably know I have absolutely no camera experience whatsoever.” Thus, the screen test.
And that’s how I came to be sitting under lights, with rashy face and no makeup, squinting into the space in front of me, going, “Look where? Am I allowed to move my hands? Can you hear me? WHAT ABOUT NOW?”
Believe it or not, NPT decided to hire me. The great news is that my skin was mostly healed by the time we started filming (although you can tell in my first episode that I was still kind of puffy from the steroids). The even greater news is that I’m not going it alone. My co-host is none other than the beautiful and talented JT Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of thrillers such as What Lies Behind and the forthcoming No One Knows. She also rocks a pair of smart-girl glasses like nobody’s business. See:
Episodes of A WORD ON WORDS will air on Nashville’s public TV station (just like Downton Abbey, pretty much) as well as on the website, starting this Thursday, 10/29 and continuing throughout the year.
Speaking of work and unlikely events… This month was insane. All of the following happened in the first half of October: I had a blast speaking at the Southern Festival of Books and the Texas Book Festival; I kept running into Margaret Atwood everywhere I went; and I successfully wielded a handheld microphone on multiple occasions without accidentally throwing it across the room. Then I got to enjoy a signing at another great indie bookstore (hey, BookPeople!); a lovely dinner party in honor of Ruth Reichl, where I brought a fruit salad no one ate; and a very jolly encounter with Elizabeth Gilbert. (Speaking of which, I interviewed Liz for my day job — my other day job, not the TV one — and she said some smart things you might enjoy reading.)
Three months from now, when I’m feeling that hopeless midwinter drag because it’s getting dark at 3 p.m. every day, the voice of past-me will say, “Hey, remember that time when it was October and you got to see all your writer friends and Liz Gilbert called you ‘brilliant’ and you told Margaret Atwood you loved her hair and your TV show was announced and you made that fruit salad?” and January-me will be like, “No, that was never real. The sun is gone. I’m a dirty old sock, and I’m never getting out of bed.” And then past-me will go, “Yes, it was real, you dummy. Look — here’s proof.” Then I’ll remember that winter is temporary and everything is cyclical, I’ll have some coffee and wash my hair, and I’ll snap out of it. And that, my friends, is how time-traveling self-preservation works.
Anyway, if you’ve learned anything at all from this, let it be not to get a facial before anything important. Meanwhile, I’ll probably be back to talking about fashion ads and whatnot before long, so stay tuned. And keep reading.