Conquering my fear of readings
At the very end of last semester, my friend Daniel and I held a joint reading of some of our work at the Cat in the Cream, a cozy student coffeehouse and performance space in Oberlin.
Doing a "senior reading" is, as far as I know, not required of creative writing majors, but it is something we all generally began dreaming about and planning for the day we declared our majors. Some do their readings in tandem with someone else; others do them on their own. Either way, it's do-it-yourself organization, and a fantastic opportunity to get to share your writing with friends, family, professors, and anybody else random you can get to show up.
Several days before the reading, as I was putting flyers up around campus for the event, I ran into a good friend. She told me how excited she was about the reading, and went on with something to the effect of: "I feel like all you creative writing majors have this separate writing world you live in sometimes. It's obviously such a huge part of your lives, and yet most of the rest of us never get to be a part of it."
This, of course, is truer for some creative writing majors than others. Daniel, for example, loves doing readings. I, generally speaking, do not. For whatever reason, I tend to share very little of what I write. Don't get me wrong, though; I write copious amounts of letters and emails to people, I've done blogs on and off for six years, and I keep a regular journal on my own, parts of which I'll read aloud to unsuspecting roommates and friends sometimes when they appeal to me for sympathy, advice, etc. (I usually feel I can dig up something from my past that I've written about that relates, however tenuously, to what they are dealing with at the time.) But when it comes to the stories, poems, and creative nonfiction I've turned out for my classes over the past three and a half years, I rarely seek an audience beyond the professor and the workshop group itself.
The idea of reading my own work aloud always fills me with a certain amount of terror and dread, so almost by reflex, I tend to avoid it. But given that I had years to psych myself up for it, I approached this particular reading - the second or third that I can recall doing ever, and certainly the first where I was a so-called headliner in the whole event - with a tremendous amount of excitement.
Daniel is one of my best friends at Oberlin. Our year (class of '09) was the last in which you had to have an .edu email address to get on Facebook, and incoming freshmen at Oberlin didn't get their .edu accounts until orientation week, so our Livejournal community was the closest we could get to pre-Oberlin communication; none of this Facebook group business (let's be honest, I'm jealous of today's incoming classes!), so we vaguely got to know each other on LJ before August rolled around. Months later, with our friendship finally grounded in real interaction, we began scheming to do a joint senior reading on the then distant horizon of our graduation.
Of course, my graduating a semester early threw a hitch in things, but gracious as he is, Daniel agreed to go ahead and do the reading together in December. We nailed the date down with the Cat, and set to work advertising the event. Doing publicity for it was half the fun.
We designed posters, sent out personal invitations, made a Facebook event, and spread the word as best as we could. Even so, we weren't sure how many people to expect, and ultimately, were delighted by the turnout! Ours was a mash-up of different genres - poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and so on - alternating between sentimental and witty, somber and light-hearted, but all with good humor and fun.
Since being a mid-semester December graduate at Oberlin is fairly anti-climactic (I'll walk with my class at the commencement ceremony in May anyway), the reading easily became not only the culminating event of the semester, but that of my entire college career at Oberlin - the first time in all my years here that I shared my writing with people who've known me only as a friend, a classmate, an intramural soccer teammate - but never before in the context of me being a writer. Though I still prefer my writing not be my sole defining characteristic, it was an exhilarating experience to be up in front of all these people I've met and grown to regard as family over the past few years in Ohio, making them laugh and sharing with them a window into my mind.
I may just have gotten hooked on this reading-thing...