Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mormon grandma in a hip Portland cafe

Tonight I went to the once-a-month literary reading for students in Portland State University's MFA (master of fine arts) program. It's held at a cafe in NW Portland. Called "Backspace." Pretty literary, huh?
I borrowed this cool sketch of Backspace Cafe from this website.

When you get inside the cafe, it's all cool and hip and Portlandish, with a low stage area and a microphone. I was too intimidated to look around to see if there was anyone else in the 57ish age range. Everyone around me was early 30-something. Dressed in hip, cool, Portlandish fashion. Sleek jeans and boots with high heels and bulky sweaters. I was still wearing my church dress with nylons and a little freshwater pearl necklace. Get the picture?

Can you say out of place?

Who cares?

For once, not me, at least not much. I was determined to do this.

I signed up two weeks ago via email to read. I had my 6 pages of thesis manuscript printed out, ready to go. And I had already decided, while driving the 30 minutes into Portland, that I didn't care if I looked like a middle-aged Mormon grandma. That's what I am.


Before I left, Mark asked me why I wanted to read. It's hard to put into words. It's not about attention. It's not about gaining respect from a group of writing peers. Everyone else there was in the Fiction MFA program, and I quite likely will not see them again (unless I go to more of these readings). For me, this reading was more about using my voice to articulate the hard things I am trying to write with my thesis. To say it.


Mark listened to me read my pages last night. Tonight he was tired and opted to stay home, which was fine, because I kind of needed to just go and do this thing on my own. It was raining really hard all the way into Portland. Dark. About halfway there, I started crying. I don't know--it was a mixture of feeling brave and vulnerable and determined and awkward all at the same time. I gave myself a little talking-to and kept driving.

Funny moment - when I found the cafe and a nearby parallel parking spot on the street and managed to slip into it very nicely, thank you, I realized that the parking meters do still work at that time on night on Sunday evenings. Oops. I had exactly 60¢ change with me. I put all my change in the meter and it flashed "23 minutes" at me. For a two-hour reading. In a 90-minute parking zone. I threw caution to the winds and hoped the parking meter goddess would be kind. Do the meter readers really give tickets on rainy Sunday evenings?

I don't remember anything from the first two readings. I was the third one. Yes, the experience validated something within me, something about raising my voice, sharing my voice. I didn't care that no one else was wearing a dress that came below their knees, with nylon stockings. I didn't care that everyone else was reading fiction. I didn't care that I wasn't in on the inside jokes among all the Fiction MFA people who have class together all the time. I was just me, and that was fine.

After I sat down, I was able to enjoy the other readings. There were some fine pieces, stories that are still resonating in my this evening. I am glad I was able to share in their stories. I hope they were glad to share in mine.

And a lovely treat - during the intermission, a former classmate (from a nonfiction writing class) came and chatted with me for the entire intermission. I had a friend in the audience I hadn't even known about!

The event broke up a little before 7:00 pm. The rain had stopped. And I didn't have a parking ticket.

4 comments:

Dorothy said...

When a musician performs, they are sharing the music that is in their heads. When an artist creates, they are sharing their vision of the world, and when a writer writes...well, you get the idea. Creative people have a need to share their voice somehow. And it's not about showing off. It's about recognizing that we are a part of this world, and that we want to communicate our vision with others and become part of a great whole. You were very brave to go and contribute your voice and vision tonight. Bravo!

Polly @ Helping Little Hands said...

I'm glad it was a good experience for you. I'm 30 something and I'm sure I would have felt out of place there myself. ;)

Becky said...

Way to go!

Interesting fact: Ben works on the third floor of that building. He's at Backspace often picking up coffee!

Patricia said...

Kathy,
I'm so proud of you for doing that!
I love your writing. I'm so impressed by writers who share their inner souls, and do it with panache. (Not sure that's the word I want, but that's what came to mind.)
Way to go!