A number of times I’ve been asked to go to speaking engagements. It was also suggested to me that if I ever complete this novel I’m writing and gets it published (please allow me to dream such a dream, here) that I will probably have to do a public reading–or 10.
I momentarily reconsidered ever writing another word.
I mean geez, is all this work I’m doing going to result in me doing something I loathe the very thought of?
Writing is a solitary event. I sit alone in my office, or chair, or bookstore, or whatever and I write, write, write. I agonize for a while, and finally I push send. You all are free to read, or not read it, as you see fit. For all I know your heart could be full of admiration and love for my words, or you could roll your eyes and stick your tongue out at everything I shared. But, whatever your reaction, I don’t have to know–well, unless you comment with it anyhow.
Reading something aloud is much more personal and intimate.
I spoke with a friend (thanks, Kathryn!) of mine about my concerns. She asked what was it, exactly that bothered me. As most of out fears are often buried beneath a layers of gut reactions and avoidances, I had to really give it some thought. So, she was kind enough to play therapist for me (well, as much as we could manage with six kids running around!) and so I recognized that I am a person who likes to read people. In fact, I think it’s my biggest help in developing my writing. But, not being able to get a read on someone unnerves me.
When I’m standing in front of people reading, it shuts down my ability to get a read on ANYONE in an entire room full of people who are all staring at me.
It goes without saying that being able to pick up on vibes and “read” a situation can be a very helpful skill to have at times. It can, however, be very burdensome. I tend to take on the emotions of those around me quite easily. Just as much as I feel the positivity of their emotions, the negativity of their feelings will often become my own inner dialog.
I think it’s about time I learn to find a way to simply exist within a situation without feeling the need to “read” it.
So, when a couple of friends wrote me within the same hour to tell me I just had to read something at this local woman’s open mic night, I knew it was time.
I agonized about what to read for an entire week and then I finally decided to rework some of the wording on a post I made for this blog called “Remembering Ed”, to give it a better spoken flow.
When I walked into the restaurant where the event was planned, I was shocked to see that upwards of 50 women showed up! I had mentally prepared for 10 or 20, tops. I felt my knees go weak. But, I sucked it up.
I found out I was number 22 on a list of 24 performers.
Now, I’ve seen several open mics, and I’ve been to a few readings. But, again, this was the first time I was reading so it felt all brand-new.
One, by one these very brave woman start their various performances; songs, instrumentals, nigunim, comedy routines–even a belly dancer. Some were newbies who were clearly trying to overcome their own nervousness, and some were quite natural in front of a mic. It goes without saying that I fell into the former category, but at least I wasn’t alone. However, after about 10 or 15 performances it became clear that what I brought to read was not perfect for the high energy of the group. I briefly considered bailing. But, as I was stuck at a table, surrounded in every corner by several woman–who themselves were surrounded by even more woman, I knew there was just graceful way out.
And then, it was my turn. I wasn’t brave enough to do the reading without a paper. Really, that paper was the only thing assuring I didn’t go totally blank and have to resort to reciting the first poem I ever wrote, in the third grade:
“Frogs eat flies,
frogs eats fries.
We don’t eat flies,
but we eat fries.”
(I won the much-coveted front and center location on the class bulletin board for that one, guys.)
Finally, it was the last page. And then the last sentence. And the last word. Then the audience, graciously clapped so I walked off the make-shift stage–which was really about a 2×2 foot space with a chair and a mic–and made my way, slowly, through a sea of women to take my seat.
On the way, I was met by about 10, maybe more, people thanking me. Touching my arm. Rubbing my back, encouragingly. Perfect strangers trying to embrace me.
And I froze.
I had no idea that what I read would illicit this sort of reaction, despite it’s somber feel. And I sure didn’t expect for people to think they needed to wrap their arms around me over it. I was completely stupefied.
Once more, I considered running out of the door–but again, a sea of wall to wall women prevented that. So I just smiled and I sat down, feeling a little exposed. Like, maybe I’d shown all of my cards. Shown too much. Like when you wear that skirt that’s just a little too tight, but you’re sure that you can pull it off so long as you don’t try and like sit on the floor or do a cartwheel or something. But, then your at the store and you squat to pick something up and suddenly your seam rips, and your entire backside is showing and in that moment all you can think is that you would do anything to go back in time and have a do-over.
When the event was over, I was stopped by five or six more woman who wanted to offer their feelings and hugs and I went through the motions of smiling and hugging back. I realized my story was a bit sad, yes, but I also felt it was a good–albeit truthful–remembrance of someone who meant a lot to me. Someone I am really sad to have lost, but also someone I want to remember.
But, all in all, it was a really good first experience, even though I did get a much different reaction than I had thought. And I would probably consider bringing two stories in the future–and deciding which to read after getting to know my audience a little first.