Michelle finished her writing class this month at The Muse Writing Center. She’s continuing to participate in the memoir class where we met. For a mock “graduation”, the teachers encourage the students to read a five-minute clip of their work at a reading sponsored by the school. It’s held at the local Ghent restaurant, Lola’s. Michelle always volunteers to read. We agreed it’s good practice for when her book hits the bestseller list and she’s famous. 🙂
I arrived 15 minutes early, unlike my normal 15+ minutes late to our weekly meetings. The restaurant abuzz, and the smell of Caribbean cuisine wafting through the air, I spotted Michelle at a table reserved for 16 of her closest friends and biggest fans.
I’d never been to a reading before. I knew what they were. I politely ignored the email asking for volunteers when I attended the class. I felt partly that my work simply wasn’t ready to be read, the other part of me had no desire to sit through 2 and ½ hours of listening to other people’s work.
One by one, old and young, men and women stood among fellow writers to share their creations. Words flowed about dogs that needed baths, the smell of lover’s skin, a parents’ fight waking a child, the memory of a tangerine tree in a neighborhood where someone grew up. Michelle’s work told the story of a heavy subject, serious and heart wrenching. I video taped the faces of the audience to catch their reaction when she delivered the last line that cut like a knife, deep and slow.
As the writers read, I found it most interesting to turn and watch the audience. Their laughter, their mouths agape, the sound of heartbreak at Michelle’s last line were what writer’s long for most. A reaction. A connection. Haven’t you ever drug out the last few chapters of a book because you didn’t want it to end? Because you felt you were losing a friend? Because you now knew that person?
After all, we write not only to tell a story, but to have you hear us. I’ve heard writers say, “I have to write to get it out of me, and onto the paper.” But I don’t think that’s the sole reason. It made me think of a comment I’d heard Oprah say as she nears the ending of her talk show host era. One of the main lessons she’d learned while doing her show was that people wanted to be heard. My freshman college English teacher told our class a similar line. “Everyone has a story. If you take the time to listen, you’ll learn. Write these stories down– don’t let them get away.” She said this with such conviction and excitement; she changed my life forever.
I realized everyone in that room was reaching for a human connection. I could almost see the hand of the writer reaching into the audience, as he or she read, and those sitting at their tables reaching back with their reactions. When the hands clasped, magic occurred.
Michelle’s reading shook the room, left us all speechless and as I sat down across from her, I basked in the presence of genius. Her friends gushed, and she smiled, making jokes, retaining her ever-present humility.
I witnessed the human connection first hand.
I want to hear the story.