Surviving Reading Night

Last night was the dreaded Reading Night and, as you can see by the fact that I’m posting this, I survived! (or else someone else hacked my blog, which is just creepy. Gah). I was about as freaked out about this as I’ve ever been about anything. Public speaking is, for me, up there with death and spiders on the Emily-phobia-chart – in fact, those three things make up the entire top tier of said chart. I hated speeches in school, hated seminars in university, hated having to do Toastmasters at my last job. I even freaked out at my own wedding because everyone was looking at me. And in some ways this was worse – this wasn’t me blathering about my department in a company or a bunch of already-said things parroted back for a room of dozing classmates. This was my writing. And it wasn’t even my novel – by which I mean that I’ve had lots of people read at least parts of the novel. This piece had been read by all of one person other than me and that was only to stop me from having a temporary “I can’t read this for Reading Night, this is terrible!” fit.

So when last night rolled around, I was not exactly feeling zen. I hadn’t eaten very much, but I did have a lot of unrelated errands to run yesterday which meant that I really didn’t have time to give the looming event any thought until we were pretty much leaving. My husband and a very good friend (the same one who kept me from setting fire to the story) came as my guests. I had never been to this cafe before but I was happy to see that it was smaller than I had anticipated. But then it started filling up. My class was there, but so were a lot of people from my writing group and it seemed pretty much everyone had brought guests. Which I expected, but still. My hope was that I’d get to go fairly early on and then I could sit back and enjoy everyone else’s reading. No way. I wound up being third from the end.

I had rather stupidly neglected to have a drink before I showed up, so I had to make do with coffee and cookies. Having a lot of other people before me actually worked out – listening to them shut up my inner distraction. When my turn came around, I took the VERY long walk up to the front (I was sitting near the back so had to go around the whole group). Then I sat down, gave my little intro and read.

And it was here that I remembered something very important about public readings. Yes, it is your art. Yes, you are reading something you really, truly, care about. However – and this is key: you don’t have to look at anyone. You’re reading. Your paper is in your hands and you’re looking at that. And that made a huge difference to how sick I felt up there.

I’m not for a moment saying that I wasn’t nervous. My hands were shaking for a good few minutes after I’d finished and I’m sure my face was beet red the entire time (photos were being taken throughout so if anyone did happen to take mine, I’ll know for sure soon enough). But at least I didn’t have to pretend to make eye contact or any other those other toastmaster-y things that I tried to learn during my short stint with them.

And then it was over. While I was reading I was a little startled when I realized I was at the bottom of page one (of four) and I was sure I’d only been reading for about five seconds. Despite my worries about the time limit I didn’t have the rice-filled tupperware shaken at me (my husband suggested bringing a large hook). Then I finished, got up and walked back to my chair. I assume got applause (everyone did) but I was in a bit of a daze so I didn’t hear it. I did hear my writing teacher ask when the published full version would be available though, and that made me pretty damn proud.

And then it was done. There were only three people after me so the night was over very quickly after that. And the final highlight of the night? A complete stranger wandered over to tell me how much she’d enjoyed my piece. So, in the end, a good night. Not that I’m running to sign up for doing anything like that again any time soon, and I’m sure I’ll have another complete freak-out if and when I have to do it again, but in the end I’m glad I did it and I’ll be able to look back on it as a success.

All of that being said, last night was also pretty bittersweet. This “Reading Night” was actually also our last critique class of this semester. I’ve been taking classes with the very talented Brian Henry since we moved here almost two years ago. I’d fallen away from writing a bit and I’d made a promise to myself that once we had settled into our new house, I was going to either find a writing group or create one. So, a week or so after we moved, I googled writing in my town and Brian’s class was the first to pop up. I joined and haven’t missed a semester since…including the one that started this past March when I was 9 months pregnant. These classes did provide the much-needed kick in the pants I was seeking, but they did more than that too. I suddenly found myself within a group of other writers in a town where I knew virtually no one. I’ve made some very good friends in those classes, and I’ve received excellent mentoring and encouragement from Brian (and from my classmates). In short, these classes have been a consistent – and much-loved – part of my life for the past two years.

And now that’s probably going to end.

Fact is, these classes cost money and I’m a stay at home mom now, trying to make it as a writer. While the possibility of my taking the course next semester isn’t completely off the table, it might as well be. And that makes me rather sad. I do have the Wordsmiths (and I LOVE the Wordsmiths!) so I’ll still be meeting up regularly with a group of fellow writers – in fact, many of the Wordsmiths are from Brian’s courses and they do include the friends I met there. But it still feels odd to think that I won’t have this class any more come January. I think there will definitely be a sense of something missing…it already feels that way a bit, to tell the truth.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I might be able to swing a workshop or another full course down the road.