Tuesday, August 08, 2006

When One Must, One Can

Every writer called upon to read in front of an audience has rituals for warding off nerves. Usually this involves wearing certain clothes, bringing good luck charms, and drinking enough alcohol to tranquilize a small elephant. Writers by nature are not performers (why become a writer if you can act?) and fear crowds. When the poet Charles Bukowski had to get in front of a live audience, particularly an academic one, he'd say, "I see a lot of typers in this room, but no writers. There's only one poet in town and that's me." Nothing like a little diplomacy to get the evening rolling. Anne Sexton blew kisses to the crowd (read, a few vodka tonics prior to performance and many after) and Raymond Carver spoke so inaudibly at times that the audience could hear nothing. He was so beloved, however, nobody had the heart to tell him to speak up.

My first reading was on top of a bar called Cool Beans. It was a windy night, and the microphone kept hitting me in the face. I made the mistake of being very sober doing the performance and reading a story that wasn't all that great, one of my first published stories, "What to Eat, What to Wear." It was about a ballet dancer who was dating someone she didn't like and pining over someone who had left her. It was, I'm afraid, the best thing I had. These were the years that "In Living Color" played on television and one of the characters would say about any experience, no matter how trivial, wrote a song about it, want to hear it, here it goes and launch into an impromptu blues song. I kept this in mind as I read and somehow everything became funny, the clink of glasses in the crowd, the song of the coffee grinder periodically firing up, the train going through town, drowning me out for a couple of minutes. I finished, the wind picked up, the microphone hit me one last time in the face. Someone in the crowd sent me a drink. I lifted it up in salute and promptly spilled it all over myself. I was a typer all right, but I was getting there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"The female is skilled at betrayal and torture and damnation. Never envy a man his lady. Behind it all lays a living hell. " Charles Bukowski

Performance Art

1 part vodka
1 splash of vermouth
garnish with olives stuffed with jalepeno peppers

Serve chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions

In answer to Trouble Man's question from yesterday -- What are your guilty pleasures?

I have many pleasures that could be described as guilty, although I find that I don't feel guilty all that much. I watch certain television shows over and over. (Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under) Right now, it's Entourage. I'm totally enthralled by the agent, Ari (Hug it out, bitch!), his assistant Lloyd, and Kevin Dillon (Matt Dillon's brother) playing Johnny Chase, Aka Johnny Drama. I think it's safe to say that champagne also serves as a guilty pleasure.


Anonymous said...

Great story, M, and I love that wicked quote! Reading in front of others is scary as all hell! The water's rough in the beginning, but smooths out as you flow, like you get lost in it and forget about everything else. But the endings are always just as awkward as the beginnings, aren't they? If I ever get published, I might have to take up drinking...at least during the readings, anyway. Cheers to writing and writers! --Robin

Sheila said...

Wow. Awesome post Michelle. I hate reading in front of crowds or even speaking for that matter. I had a speech class and I had to get up there quite a few times and the teacher kept saying oh no you get used to it.. ha. yeah right. cute picture! love that red dress!

Cheri said...

Oh man, that must have been terrible! I'm awful at public speaking so I'll remember to get slightly tipsy should I ever actually read something to a group of people.

The martini sounds great! I was telling Dawn yesterday that I am craving one.

Anonymous said...

Was Bukowski the guy who did readings with a bag over his head?

Bonnie said...

Honey, that's such a cute shot of you and Baby Grouchie--you look **heavenly** my dear, like the fun-loving **angel** of everybody's **dreams** Story time was darling, too. To guilty pleasures, Wheeeee
kiss kiss

luma said...

The college that I made needed to have the conjunct course. I confess that she was sufficiently shy, but with some techniques I am not nothing badly! (laughs) How much to take drunk, it does not roll. If he will be pra to read all good! But one will be for speaking ad-lib, finished in pizza! Beijus

paul said...

O mighty Isis
I'd like to see u read at the Old MIAMI some night and get u some some pizza. R2 C2 my FoxyCajun Queen!

John Ricci said...

Dear Michelle,

Another most lovely post and image of beauty, as always. Bravo! Keep the champagne flowing when you can and the rosaries counted off when you must.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I used to read at Oakland University's open-mike night; however, I'm most comfortable reading in front of a bunch of convicts. Their feed back is brutally honest. Hard to believe, isn't it?

As far as coffee houses, you know you're bad when they're grinding the beans midway through your reading. --Jim