Moments Fine and Not So Much

Mary Poppins (film)

She was the Mary Poppins of lesbians...

Oh, that first morning after the sex, as she wakes me up and says, “I was disappointed.”

Okay, that was not one of the finer moments of my life, but one of the marvels of writing is how you can transform such a lousy “life” moment into a fine writing moment. The thought occurred to me last Saturday as I stood at a podium reading the opening line from a new essay I’m working on called, “When There Was No Song.” I had the pleasure of hosting a public reading with my fellow Solstice MFA Alumni to close the January 2012 residency on the campus of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. With more than 50 alumni in this young MFA program, Director Meg Kearney and Associate Director Tanya Whiton invited back graduates to celebrate together and with current students.

Ever since I hooked up with Solstice writing programs in 2007, and with Meg and Tanya, I have experienced some of my finest moments as a human being and as a writer. Both MFA critics and proponents often leave out that part of the experience – that a supportive MFA program not only helps you grow as a writer, but as a person, realizing dreams and talents and desires you didn’t even know you had. In a program like Solstice, there is no cookie-cutter writing formula; in other words, we do not all sound alike, trust me.

Renee said, “I was hoping you were into S&M. Not anything hardcore, but spanking, leather, domination. Maybe you could tie me down to the bed posts.”

Well, maybe if it had been these two...

Life hasn’t always been easy. I have a history of panic attacks and agoraphobia, which thankfully, I have under control most days. But I’m an awkward woman, sometimes smooth, and sometime goofy in my mannerisms and movements. Between panic disorder and my propensity to trip over my shoelaces, I can be quite hilarious or ridiculous. But as a writer, I try to capture these moments, especially the most awkward, and tell the story about them, the situations and setting in which they occurred, the people involved in them, the emotions evoked or suppressed, the thoughts that inhabited some of my most embarrassing experiences. Because I think those awkward and un-fine moments are the most revealing, and in writing become the finer moments of my life.

I love to write. I want to publish more of my writing. What writer doesn’t, truly? But I love also to read out loud to an audience. I’ve learned that in recent years through my association with the Solstice MFA program. Although I suffer from “stage fright,” and spend the day nearly hyperventilating waiting for my turn at the mike, once I’m up there, I bask in the attention, like a puppy just brought home to the kids. I roll over on my back and beg you to rub my tummy and coo over me. I love being up at the podium and trading energy with the audience of listeners, readers, and fellow writers. Last Saturday at Solstice, we had a heartwarming full-house for the alumni reading.

As host of the event, it was wonderful to see and hear eleven of my fellow alumni strut their literary stuff in the Founder’s Room at Pine Manor. Thank you to Hannah Goodman, Faye Snider, Gloria Estela Gonzalez, Carol Owens Campbell, Melissa Ford Lucken, Melissa Varnavas, Laura Jones, Laura Snyder, Mike Miner, Jim Kennedy, and Maryann Jacobs Marcias. Your readings were well-crafted, beautiful, startling, and impressive. And strikingly individual.

Renee seemed to drop in by hot air balloon, floating to earth with a purple umbrella unfurling through soft clouds, the Mary Poppins of lesbians, all cheery-faced and upbeat.

Reading aloud is an expansion of my writing vision – writing is not just an activity to create marks on a page to be consumed privately and silently by my readers – but an oral performance and aural experience.

I believe the alumni event was one of my best readings to date, given the feedback I received at the event and continue to receive. While what I read may not have been the best written piece I’ve ever read aloud, it may have been my best performance. I think all the practice has improved my reading aloud skills; it certainly has fueled my desire to read and perform. Since joining Solstice, I’ve read to an audience multiple times – in the last year, I’ve read in Colorado at the Wet Mountain Valley Writer’s Workshop; at the Luckart Gallery in Newton, MA (thanks to Faye Snider) and for the 7th time, at least, at the Solstice MFA program.

I continue to buzz on the kudos I received after last Saturday’s reading, the buzz of the audience, one of the few forms of getting high I can tolerate. I think I’ve made at least ten new FB friends, just from reading for five minutes. Talk about language connecting us to one another. All of you who were there, you shot me to the moon with your responses. And you shot me to the moon at a time when I really needed it, having faced a barrage of rejection letters at the end of 2011. I felt like a loser and you all made me feel like a rock star.

Progress Theatre, Reading

What kind of performance am I talking about?

I intend to pursue something I’m calling “performance reading” or “monologue” performance and I will research the concept. I have a few contacts that are involved in such performances and will talk with them soon. How can I become a part of this extension of the word on the page? To the word on the stage? I’m not talking about stand-up comedy and I’m not talking about being an actor in a play. I’m talking about something in between. I’m still working it out in my head. If you have any ideas, please do comment. And if you don’t have ideas, please comment anyway!

I’m happy to say I will be reading alongside some fabulous writers in early March at two events: This Page Intentionally Left Blank: A Kickass Reading and at The Connotation Press: An Online Artifact reading. These readings take place in Chicago as off-venue events related to the gathering of thousands of writers attending the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) weeklong conference. I’m so excited to expand my reading audience to this city in relation to the AWP Conference. Additionally, I’m researching writing workshops and retreats where reading out loud is part of the package for attendees. Right now, I’m looking into the Kenyon Writers’ Conference because it allows for this, plus you get to work with Dinty Moore! Or, I may decide to go back to The Wet Mountain Valley Writers’ Workshop and work with Abigail Thomas. Can’t lose. I also need to find a local retreat where writers write (not critique) and read to one another, a quieter performance.

“I guess I could try some S & M, but I’m afraid I’d laugh,” I said.

“Laughing would be okay.”

As I stood at the podium at Pine Manor performing my reading, absorbing the audience reaction, I realized this was one of the finest moments of my life. Although this blog entry is not particularly about agoraphobia, I cannot help but emphasize that the woman at the podium, with her MFA, reading her work in front of a full-house, was the girl who could not leave home at age seventeen. This is how far a person can come in a lifetime. Even further, I have no doubt. And this, too, is part of what the MFA program taught me.

I hope soon to have another blog entry more geared toward agoraphobia, since that is what I am writing about primarily in 2012, and in the next blog entry, we will see one of my not so fine moments, perhaps several of them, that I hope to turn into fine writing someday.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for listening. Thank you for being there when I needed you most.

About Cindy Zelman

Creative and Freelance Writer
This entry was posted in Agoraphobia, Facebook, Panic Disorder, Performing, Public Readings, Reading, Reading Out Loud, Solstice MFA Pine Manor College, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Conferences, Writing Retreats and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Moments Fine and Not So Much

  1. OpinionsToGo says:

    As usual, I loved your post! You make writing and reciting sound so exciting (a little poem but, I digress!) Wasn’t the “Vaginal Monologues” a piece that was recited by everyone, everywhere?
    Perhaps, you could write and read something that a whole lot of people would also like to read to an audience…just sayin!

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      I tried to reply and had some very awful iPhone dictionary typos. Hope you didn’t get that in email. Something about a snotty post, omg. I meant to say thank you, Joanne, for reading and being so kind and helpful. The Vagina Monologues. Yes, good suggestion. Hugs to you. Keep reading.

      Like

  2. Writing Jobs says:

    This was a very nice post. I enjoyed reading your blog today very much.

    Love to write?

    Check out these Writing Jobs

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Thank you for reading.

      Like

      • Cindy Zelman says:

        Hi Carol,

        You always leave me the most beautiful comments. I am speechless. I will need to print out your comment and hang it up in front of me to read every time I feel down on myself. Thank you for your advice to contact M.L. Leibler and Marlyn Kallet. I never would have thought of that. I cant sing like M.L., hahaha… Maybe they will have some advice for me. I hope if I can get this going, it will serve as a platform to help me publish a book. I forgot to mention that because I was caught up in the pleasure of the experience. When/if I do get a book published, I will be asking you to review it!!! Thank you again for your very beautiful comments, Carol, which I have no doubt, are a reflection of your soul. xoxoxo

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  3. Carol Owens Campbell says:

    Cindy, if Renee was “disappointed,” I wish she could have heard you read the funniest, most poignant, most irreverent piece at the Solstice MFA Alumni Celebration. You were the antithesis of disappointing. In fact, you gave us all “pleasure.”

    Your reading was hysterical, Cindy, your essay brilliant. You were the perfect hostess serving us the most delicious dessert. After the event ended, audience members raved about you and quoted your essay. Talk about success! I’m still applauding you.

    Cindy, I love your idea for performing this piece and others you’ve written. In the grand tradition of M.L. Liebler and Marilyn Kallet, with whom I encourage you to contact for guidance and for the possibility of joining them for future gigs, your performance of your essay is unforgettable. Your reading was so self-deprecating, I imagine everyone wanted to {{hug}} you after the reading and assure you of their enjoyment of your essay.

    Having hugged you that night myself, I now most want to celebrate you, Cindy, with my words of awe. I remember the first time I heard you read during that long-ago residency at Pine Manor College. I was so impressed that someone who seemed a bit shy would be so brave to read in front of her peers.

    Later when learned of your panic attacks and agoraphobia, I felt reverent. Your ability to stand behind a microphone, look at the crowd in front of you, read your writing aloud, and not freeze earns my my utmost admiration, Cindy.

    You are a writer and a speaker who never disappoints.

    Cheers,
    Carol

    Like

  4. Hannah says:

    Cindy, I would attend every one of your performance readings should that become your thing. I would be a roadie and Fan Club president. I was so blown away by your reading and by how much you have grown and developed as a writer since just a year and a half ago from graduation. Bravo and THANK YOU for making me laugh that night!

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hi Hannah,

      Thanks so much for reading my blog and for your very generous comments. As we discussed, I will spend the next 20 years apologizing for cutting off your own reading, which I hope you realize was fabulous, until the very end when I flustered you. You did a great job of opening up the night. Thank you for that.

      I don’t think you’ll have time to be my roadie or the president of my fan club, since literary success is knocking at your door. I have a feeling you’ll be directing/producing movies of your wonderful books, while I’m out at some dive doing “peformative reading” just for a fix of applause. How pathetic am I? Hahahaha.

      I’m glad I could make you laugh that night. Laughing is never a bad thing, well, not usually. Thank you, too, for your kind words about my growth as a writer.

      xo
      Cindy

      Like

  5. Geen Grey says:

    Oh how I wish I could have been there to hear you read Cindy. I can picture it though. I’m sure you were fantastic! It’s good to read about your good moments, and your branching out as an artist. Keep it up.

    Like

  6. Kathie K. says:

    Hi Cindy,

    It’s me again—the fan who accidentally stumbled onto your site and never left! I came across something you might be interested in: On February 14, this book called, “Agorafabulous: Dispatches from my Bedroom” is being released on Amazon.com. The book description sounds similar to the type of writing you’re doing. The author, who is agoraphobic, shares her personal stories and struggles with agoraphobia through humor and self-reflection. It may be additional inspiration for you to release a similar book.

    Kathie

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hi Kathie,

      I’m still so happy you stumbled on my site and never left!

      Thanks for telling me about that book. I’d heard something about it, but you’ve provided the details. I must order it when it’s available (have I already? I may have pre-ordered) to see how this woman tells her story. I hope there will be room for another book on the subject. She may have beat me to it. We shall see. In any case, I agree, it will be a good resource for me, and hopefully, an inspiration.

      Kathie, I hope you have been well and I hope to see more comments from you.

      Take care,
      Cindy

      Like

  7. natasiarose says:

    Cinnabear, you have some so far and I’m so proud to have you as a friend. 🙂

    Like

  8. I had lunch with my writing buddy Ann Detwiler Breidenbach yesterday, and she mentioned you and sent me a link to this blog post. I checked out a few posts while I was here, and I’ll definitely be back.

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hi Bridge,

      Ann told me you might be in touch. I’m so happy to hear from you and that you might come back to read more! I assume you’re a writer, too. Do you have a blog? Thank you for the nice words and keep in touch. Cindy

      Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Of course, now I’ve Googled you and found out how accomplished you are, Bridget. I’m honored that you stopped by here. Thank you.

      Like

      • I don’t have a blog, Cindy, but I admire those who do. I’m strictly a fiction writer, and any blogging I’ve tried either tends to evolve quickly into a journal (and I’m not that interesting) or veer into exaggeration, then hyperbole, and before you know it, outright lies. Best to stick to fiction.

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      • Cindy Zelman says:

        Hi Bridget,

        You made me laugh with your comments. I’m sure you are very interesting. I’ve never been able to write good fiction so I stick to the stories of my life, which people seem to enjoy (most of the time.) I look forward to further investigating your website. A Lambda Literary Finalist? That’s impressive. I hope to chat more, if you’d like. My email is cindy.zelman@gmail.com.

        Stay in touch.
        Cindy

        Like

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