Friday morning Josh asked if any of us were going to read at Open Mike that night. Three of us raised our hands; Linda, Margit and me.
“Let me give you some tips for reading,” Josh said. “Tip Number One; read short. Always leave them wanting more. If you have twenty minutes, read for fifteen. How much time do you have?”
“Four minutes,” we chorused.
“Okay. Read for three. Second Tip, read slowly. People get nervous and go too fast. Make it a point to slow down. And don’t read a lot of description. The audience gets impatient with a lot of description.”
Great. Excellent advice. If only I had known these tips a week earlier when I was rehearsing my exactly-four-minute-long section of narrative that dripped description. Another new experience, I thought, destined for failure.
Mary and Lorelei had planned to go for drinks at the North Coast Brew Pub around six. Open mike was at six. I told them I might join them when I got done.
The North Coast Brewery makes, among other things, Old Rasputin Stout, and eight or nine other beers and ales. The brewery itself is located on the ocean side of Main Street and the pub and grill is right across the street.
Mary put out an e-mail to the whole group. It was a no-RSVP-required kind of thing.
Friday afternoon I attended the afternoon session, presented by Peter Orner. It was supposed to be on “Zeroing in on the Moment.” I assumed this would be, like all the afternoon sessions, a lecture on craft; specifically, how to slow down your pacing, focus your attention (and the reader’s); how to create, in fact, a “moment” in your work.
Instead, Orner’s talk was on The Best English Writer You’ve Never Read; Henry Green. He talked about Green’s book Loving, and a “moment” from it; two serving girls, waltzing, in a deserted ballroom. He had a handout with the passage and it is beautiful. I came away convinced that I should read Loving and Party-Going. From the craft angle, the only thing I could come up with was a short story title, “The Waltz Scene in Henry Green’s Loving.” I don’t have a story to go with it.
By the way, if you Google “Dance scene/waltz scene in Henry Green’s Loving” you will find the text of the passage, and even without the context of the book, it is lovely. It is a moment.
Open mike has always been held in The Grind. The Grind is the coffee room, where the meals were served, a room I always remember as being the shape of a pie wedge because of one curved wall near the front. It’s really rectangular, with long windows facing out to the headlands. When I rehearsed at home, I imagined standing up in front of a microphone with the view of the headlands to my left.
Instead, this year Open Mike Night was held in the large room where most public readings are done and welcoming comments were given. The conference was small this year, and they did several things to save time, energy and labor. One was to move Open Mike to the room that already had the microphones and sound system set up.
Patty, standing, far left.
Patty was our time-keeper and facilitator. First up were the scholarship and contest winners. About eight of them read. One Philipina-American woman read a selection from a memoir. It was called “Eat All You Can.” “Eat all you can” is the Philipine slogan for a smorgasbord, where in America we say “All you can eat.” This passage, describing her first trip back to the place of her roots, used “eat all you can” as a metaphor for an approach to life. Another woman read a funny bit about the National Guard group in Visalia, California in the early 1960s.
Several people read poems. Linda read the emotionally intense prologue to her latest novel. A slender, silvery-haired woman in her sixties read about being in various mental hospitals as a child.
Most people had not timed their work and Patty’s little timer was chiming long before they were finished. The Visalia lady stopped reading in mid-sentence and left the podium, but others were more bold and continued on. Some people had rehearsed or were natural readers; many had not. Plainly lots of people were nervous.
I had signed up first on the regular list, so Patty called me up after messing up my name. It shouldn’t have been that hard; she had introduced another Marion about ten minutes before, and done all of the “not a librarian” jokes. How hard could Marion be a second time? Anyway, I went up to the podium. I could feel my heart beating, but my hands didn’t shake. My nervousness was manageable.
I chose a section from a fantasy short story I just finished. It had some fantasy elements, interesting characters (I hoped) and some humor (again, I hoped). I read for four minutes. I had good eye contact, I read slowly. I got laughs in all the right places. On the other hand, no one came up to me and told me I did well either. If I had to grade myself, I think I had a solid C, or maybe a B minus, out of this performance.
Margit read a poem about hospital waiting rooms and family members who are terminal. She was close to the end, and it seemed rude to the last three to leave after she had read, so I waited. At seven forty-five we were done. I thought it was probably too late to go to the pub, so my original plan was to go back to the hotel, but once I got in the car, I decided it couldn’t hurt to swing by. I needed something to eat anyway.
Mary and Lorelei were still there, and Linda had joined them with the slender woman who read about the mental hospitals. I ordered a PranQster ale, a macaroni and cheese and extra plates. I had survived Open Mike night.