It was just about 16 months ago that I started reading my stories in public.
I scarcely read when I was younger. In fact, I strenuously avoided readings. A professor once told me that the notion of an author giving voice to his/her work by reading it is a recent idea. In the past, authors hired actors to read their work. This made complete sense to me. I wrote to be read by others, not to read.
But I didn’t read my stories for other reasons beyond this philosophical one. I didn’t read because I simply didn’t like to, because it made me uncomfortable. I felt awkward trying to intone an authorial voice, to infuse my work with a voice and personality. I didn’t want to read with a poet’s breathy cadence, yet I also didn’t want to read with the gustatory bravura of a performer. And I didn’t know what other options there were except to read with a flat, banal voice.
I was also scared, perhaps even fearful of shame. I was worried that I’d look up to see blank faces, that my stories would reveal their inadequacies in a lifeless air filled with my stilted voice.
A while back, though, I realized that I needed to face down my demons. I was putting up obstacles where there didn’t need to be any. Even if I was a mediocre reader, even if I was worse than mediocre, I needed to get out and read. Just to learn how to read. Just to participate.
I can’t evaluate the quality of my reading these days, but I’m now happy I’ve read—and that I read somewhat regularly. My initial fears have been quelled. With practice, I’ve even come to enjoy readings. I still write to be read, not to read, but there is something nice about hearing my stories, seeing people’s reactions to them.
I’ve met people and made friends as a result. Recently I read with Peter Coyote of all people at the Why Are There Words reading in Sauslito. No matter what happened at the reading, just doing the reading allowed me to spend an evening with him, talking about poetry and Buddhism. If I hadn’t been there, I would have been sitting at home alone, probably scrolling through Facebook.
And that’s the nub of it. Reading one’s story opens up communities to a writer. And communities are valuable when practicing such a solitary craft.
So I’m happy I’m reading after all of these years. Here’s my bit from Why Are There Words.