Saturday, April 25, 2015

TL;DR Reading in Public Is Fun But Weird

Prior to March of this year, I had read my work (aloud) in public zero times. As of Saturday, I have done so twice. Here is video of me reading from my essay, "This is Not a Safe World", at The Last Bookstore on Friday, April 24th.

I am not as short as I appear to be.

You can find the entire essay in the 2015 issue of the Southern California Review, which I know you can purchase in person at The Last Bookstore and which I'm assuming you'll soon be able to purchase at this website, although the new issue's information doesn't appear there just yet. Like I said in the last post about it, the essay's very personal, trigger warning, yadda yadda. I'm not ashamed, I just don't want to make you uncomfortable.

I can't tell you what a weird, heady, impossible experience it was to do this reading. In the car on the way home, I yelped "I'm confused!" more than once in trying to explain to Matt how I felt and thought about it.

The prior reading took place at CSUN on March 20th and was in honor of the spring Northridge Review's release. Even though I'm happy that the story appearing in that issue finally found a home (it's the oft-rejected story that guest-stars in this post), I failed to blog about that reading or promote it here. Now I wish I had, because the two experiences were quite different.

I love reading aloud. I really love it. Part of the reason is that it requires some of the fun aspects of acting without the less pleasant or more difficult ones, but it also involves thorough focus on words and language, which, hooray. Reading my own work aloud is an odd sensation, swinging through multiple moods and observations. I concentrate somewhat mechanically on saying the words correctly, on accentuating the appropriate words in a given sentence, on making sure I convey meaning and mood as well as just using my voice to say things. In the thick of that concentration, I also notice sentences or turns of phrase and either a) think with pleasant surprise that they're good, b) recognize them - accompanied with multiple memories and emotional key changes - from the experience of writing them, or c) perceive the plastered holes and tiny failures of my revision process.

"Safe World" was written a long time ago (my computer tells me that it was fully two years ago, early May of 2013, that I created the draft document) (and, actually, here's a blog post partially about it) and has been read by me pretty damn often in trying to discover why it kept getting rejected. It's also been revised quite a few times. I had no problem reading the first 800 words or so aloud and making them entertaining, little fear that I would have to say this or that just right in order for the audience to understand.

Reading my short story, which is called "Tunnelvision", in March was a different thing altogether. Although I'm fond of that story, I was astonished to find, when practicing for the reading, that the first 800 words or so weren't especially good to read aloud. The number of times I've read "Tunnelvision" probably reaches toward the triple digits - like "Safe World", it got rejected so many times that I pored over it to try and figure out what was wrong - but I'd never tried to read it aloud. If I had, I might have discovered that the whole beginning could have used pitching and rewriting. I still feel kind of funny about this, because I had utter confidence in that admittedly strange and hostile story until it came to the point of putting my vocal cords to it. I was stuck with what I'd written, so I cut a number of sentences and came up with a strategy for reading what was there. But I didn't feel good about it beforehand and I didn't feel much better about it at the podium.

(The tunnel is figurative)

There's more. The Last Bookstore is so wonderful that I've given up trying to explain and have just started saying as soberly as I can that you should take any opportunity to visit. Some time ago I went to a reading there featuring Mallory Ortberg and Roxane Gay and Antonia Crane and several other incredible women, and I daydreamed (evening-dreamed) about what it would be like to read at that microphone. I couldn't believe, right up until I was sitting in the folding chairs before the stage on Friday and waiting to hear my name announced, that I really would ever do so, and then there was my name, and then I was at the microphone, and then they clapped for me and I sat down and, later, went home, having read at that microphone. I really did do that. There's video to prove it.

Reading my work at The Last Bookstore was not a  goal of mine. Not specifically. It was a daydream, but not a dream; not a thing I took seriously as an objective. Sort of a pie-in-the-sky oh-if-I-only-could fantasy. The fantasy came true, and now I don't know what to do with that experience, where to file it or how to feel about it. I'm proud, but not elated; mostly I'm just confused. Did it actually happen? Was it a big deal? Am I different now, having done it? I don't know.

After the CSUN reading, I felt satisfied that I'd gotten some practice at reading my work in public, displeased at the things I'd forgotten to do at the microphone (thank the publication, say the goddamn name of my story), and content enough with how I'd read. I was still discomfited at what practicing "Tunnelvision" aloud had shown me about it, but I thought I'd read flashily enough that it wasn't too noticeable.

This time, at the SCR reading, I was very happy with how I'd read and the audience reaction. I hoped that the people in the folding chairs would be interested in reading my entire essay after hearing the excerpt (I knew no one in attendance except my husband), but I was too nerved-up from the events of the evening and worn out from a truly weird week to stay and hobnob. And I was totally discombobulated about the whole affair in a way that I cannot say was similar to the CSUN reading.

Driving home with Matt, I tried to make sense of the fact that I'd read my writing publicly at one of my two favorite places in the world.

I couldn't.

So I got home, ate some ice cream, drank some champagne, and went to bed. Sometimes creature comforts are what there is to lean on when life takes an unpredictable turn.

And sometimes you have to step right back in again

Yet another post ending with "I don't know". There's got to be a point where I'm not just stumbling through this business of being a writer.

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