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.”
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.
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.