Friday, March 11, 2011

Public Reading Tonight

My writing class - which feels more like a group than a class - has a public readaround tonight.  I don't mind at all and actually feel very comfortable lately reading my stories out loud in my small group.  Reading to the large group of maybe 15 or 20 women makes me uncomfortable.  Tonight there are 20 readers and presumably 40 or more total people in the audience including the people reading. 

Initially, I was going to read something new, something I recently wrote that is part of a collection.  But I don't want to share it out loud just yet - not because I don't think it's good.  I just want to keep it to myself - or my small group - for now.

Instead, I decided to pull something out of one of two short stories I have been working on revising.  One is a story I wrote last spring - my first short story that wasn't intended for the eight year old crowd.  I found the electronic copy this week and was surprised at how much my fiction has improved over the last few months.  It was a good story, but a little rough.  I selected a section that I could read and then read through another story so I would have options.

The other story is one I have been struggling with.  It is a fictionalized account of the time I visited my grandmother just before she died of colon cancer.  I had the story planned out in my mind and the chapters laid out exactly how I wanted them to go.  The thing is, I wrote it on paper in a journal or a notebook and have misplaced almost all of it.  The last time I worked on it, I wrote the ending in my daughter's piano teacher's living room while my daughter was having a lesson.  Before the lesson was over, I found myself crying out loud, sobbing, so overwhelmed with emotion that the best I could do was walk out to her front porch and get myself under control.  I lost that chapter - something Freudian at work for sure.

So I started to rewrite it and had one chapter that I felt I could read out loud without crying in front of a room full of strangers.  I read it out loud, revised it, read it again, and called my husband and read both pieces to him.  He liked the one about the trip to see my grandma before she died.  I did too.

I called my mom to see if she could maybe babysit so both my husband and daughter could come to bolster me up emotionally while I read.  She said maybe, probably.  After I got off the phone, I wondered if maybe she would like to come.  I thought she would like the story, that she would get it and appreciate it.  The last time I offered to let her read a poem I wrote, she started to fold the page and shove it in her purse without looking at it.  The last time I told her I was writing a novel and had finished a novel-sized children's story, she basically changed the subject.  I thought this would be an opportunity to share this with her, to give her an opportunity to see me for just three minutes, just this once.

She declined.  I was hurt as usual and wondered why I keep putting myself out there like that with her.

Then she called back.  She said she would love to come but was embarrassed to admit she is afraid to drive at night.  I offered to pick her up, which solved the problem.  I asked her if I could read it to her over the phone.  I did and by the end she was sobbing hysterically - and it wasn't even the sad part, not even close. 

I told her it was fiction.  I changed the names.  It wasn't real.  I asked her if she would cry if she heard me read it out loud in front of a crowd of strangers.  She said she absolutely would.  So I asked her not to come.

To my mother, my sort of made-up story was real and brought visions of her parents back as if it all happened yesterday.  To me the story is sort of real too for the same reasons.  But it's not real.  Tonight I will believe it's not real, and I will try very hard not to cry - not much anyway. 

I assured her this is the closest my fiction comes to touching my real life.  This story is impossible to tell without making it not be about me, but I really want to tell it.  It's still so painful and too close - even after 20+ years.  I told her my other stories have bits and pieces of things that happened in my real life, but they are truly fiction, not just the names.  I don't want her to worry that I'm writing about her - I'm not. 

I told her I did include that part about the time when she took away my baby tender love's food packets.  She thought that was funny.  I told her how proud I was that my husband said he thought my sister was pure evil after reading one of my chapters.  I smiled my biggest smile and told him it was absolute fiction - it never happened; it's just a story.  And the character in the story isn't my sister; she's the main character's sister.

My mother told me she had many regrets.  I told her I did too.  Athough she isn't going to be there to support me reading the story, I am very happy that I shared it with her and that she appreciated me for bringing back her parents for just three minutes.

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