There’s the flasher who lives next door There’s the bum on his bar room stool They wish me luck on my way to school
Last week, along with many other contributors, I read the essay I had published in the spring issue of Welter Journal at the launch party at the University of Baltimore. I went NOT because it’s a breeze for me to stand before an audience, reading a very personal piece. Au contraire!
I said “yes” (along with requesting to read near the beginning, but not first), because it’s hard and because my father at heaven’s No. 1 bridge table, still guides me with the Robert Browning quote he has guided me with since I was a little girl: “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
I went, too, because another piece in which I opened a vein had recently been published in another University of Baltimore journal. Virtually no editing was done on it. The dream editor–a writer and Baltimore writing professor—and I have been in touch. She asked to see more of my work. Since she oversees Welter, I had a hunch she’d be at the event and I thought it’d be fun to meet.
The week before the party as I practiced reading my essay aloud at home, I heard the voices of Miss Johnson, my 7th grade English teacher, telling me I don’t enunciate and my mother telling me I don’t speak as slowly as Phil Donahue. When it came time to head to Baltimore, while not quite Zen like, I was enunciating and reading as slowly as Phil.
Walking into the almost filled Baltimore party room—10-12 round tables with 10 seats at each—I had no time to get nervous. K, the writer/professor/editor, recognizing me from my picture with the last piece, rushed to greet me with an enormous smile and hug, and introduced me around. Her delight in meeting me was so genuine. I liked her immediately. I felt safe.
It got crowded. Extra seats were put out. Well over 100 people showed up. I knew from previous readings to sit in the front so I didn’t have to worry about tripping to the lectern. Another reader—looking a little scared—was already at the front table with her family. We talked.
I was Reader #4. The first three were wonderful. Talented. Glancing out the window as I listened, I thought of two things: 1. the Merce Cunningham Ballet I took my daughter to when she was little. The men came out in beige tights. My daughter and I started laughing. One of us—not the cute, little blonde—couldn’t stop. 2. the movie “Harold and Maude” had been on television the night before the Baltimore trip. Cat Stevens’ “If You Wanna Sing Out, Sing Out” echoed through my mind.
No reason to take this or myself too seriously. Very lovely, human people surrounded me. I wanted to sing out.
I did. Once I started reading, my material and I were one. I paused in the places I wanted. Got laughs. Enunciated well. I actually found reading my work aloud fun. Afterwards, the other writers and I schmoozed as we signed each others’ books. K andI spoke before we hugged good-bye.
Thank you Cat Stevens, Robert Browning, Dad, and men in beige tights. What a swell party it was!
I promise Baltimore That someday when I take to the floor The world’s gonna wake up and see Gonna wake up and see Baltimore and me.