Friday, April 3, 2015

Masks & Mirrors

Last night I read with a group of local women writers as part of the Masks & Mirrors exhibition at Cassilhaus. I haven’t had many opportunities to read in public yet, though I’ve attended more readings than I can count. As a freshman at Hope College I loved attending the school’s Visiting Writers Series. The student jazz band would play beforehand as people trickled into the Knickerbocker Theater on 8th St in downtown Holland, Michigan, a few blocks from campus, and I would get there early to listen. Whether because some professors assigned extra credit for attending, or because the readings were just that good (I err on the side of the latter), VWS events packed the house. I was a bit spoiled by this introduction to book events.

In any case, I think my love of attending readings, which began with those readings at the Knick, prepared me to love offering readings of my own, because I know what fun it is to listen to someone else share their craft. Reading in public makes me nervous, especially in the final minutes leading up to an event, yet once I begin there is only me, the page, and the audience. I forget to be nervous. I hope they will laugh in the right places (and not in the wrong ones), that the piece will have its desired effect. But I can never be quite sure it will until after I’ve read it, which is another thing I like about reading in public. When my work is published, I am unable to observe people’s reactions, so I never really know if my words inspired the emotions and connections I hope they will. When I read to you, your reaction lets me know if I’ve succeeded in the ways that matter to me most. Are the words on the page what I thought they were? Hopefully so. If not, I can (probably) fix it for next time.

The essay I read last night had not previously been shared with anyone besides my classmates and teachers when I was at Queens. There was an added thrill for me in the act of sharing something fresh, new -- excerpts from the unpublished manuscript. Part of that thrill is that, though I write for myself in many ways, I also write for readers. I write in order to share what I write. (Mostly. I also write things that will be kept under lock and key f-o-r-e-v-e-r.) So it makes me happy to read to people, and find that yes, as I had hoped, my humor brought them joy, my analysis made them think, my story resonated with their stories, and these connections coalesce into an evening of delight for us all. Reading and writing connects us.

I kept thinking last night about when I took piano lessons, and had recitals throughout the year. Every few months we prepared for a performance. All of that practice -- the scales and arpeggios, drilling difficult sections -- paid off when family and friends gathered to listen to us play. Sometimes things went well. Other times, less so. For my final recital, in high school, I enthusiastically performed Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, only to turn around later in the program and completely blank out on Bach’s Invention #14. I played Bach well enough, but he never seemed to stick in my memory.

Sometimes a performance goes well, sometimes it does not. But either way it has the potential to send the artist back to work with new perspective (needless to say my Bach needed some practice). On this occasion, I found that I wrote something that brought people delight. The experience affirmed that the piece I wrote and shared was successful, in the ways that matter.

I like to write. I like creating things that other people enjoy. It is both humbling and motivating when those two things coincide.