The Rain in Maine…

It’s been raining since Sunday. As I write, Tuesday is winding down and it’s been one heck of day. Not in a bad way. No, definitely not bad. But there’s something about days-long rain that evokes an odd disruption in my time-space continuum. By the way, I have no solid grasp on the real meaning of time-space continuum, but it sounded good when I typed it.

Under normal circumstances cloudy, drizzle-filled days bend me out shape. I become cranky and morose, but not this week. I’m waiting. Waiting for the mail to come. Waiting for that package of manuscripts from my fellow workshop attendees – complete strangers who are also waiting for the very same package. We will have one month to read and critique the work contained in those manuscripts then prepare a “thoughtful” two page response for each author in the creative non-fiction group.

Oh…my…God.

It began weeks ago. I’ve been fretting over the fact that my writing will seem glaringly amateurish in comparison to the others. I’ve imagined a group of faceless writers tearing into their manuscripts, enjoying the pieces submitted by fellow workshop members until, one by one, each will turn the page to the section holding my memoir and essay pieces. That’s when my imagination cruelly plays scene upon scene of faculty and authors laughing, perhaps even sneering, as they wonder about exactly how I was admitted. More than one will sit down and compose a scathing critique. That’s what my imagination tells me.

We are required to take a seminar dedicated to etiquette. Specifically, the etiquette of critiquing the work of other writers. In my Stonecoast materials, I have come across at least four reminders that we must be respectful and remember that not everyone shares the same writing style, religion, race or mental state. Okay, I lied a little back there – I added that mental state part because I truly feel the need to represent.

I’m dreading the residency workshops where we’ll engage in an open discussion about the good and the bad…and the bad…

Please don’t cry.

Nerves make me cry. The embarrassment of becoming emotional makes me cry harder and, eventually, I’m reduced to a sobbing mass of snot, red splotchy skin and swollen eyes.

Please, please, please, God…don’t let me turn into a blithering idiot in front of my MFA group.

Once, when I was about 9-years-old, I stood in front of an enormous audience in the 4H barn at the Washington County Fair. Of course, I’m exaggerating. The crowd was probably made up of about 25 people, but it seemed like I was opening at Madison Square Garden.

For some stupid reason, I agreed to perform a demonstration on the proper way to make a graham cracker strawberry Jell-O pie with Cool Whip topping. Fancy, right? Well, through the eyes of 9-year-old me, it was all very complicated indeed! Clearly, I had no real grasp on the situation because when I pushed through the curtains and spotted a room full of strangers gawking up at me, I wanted to cry. It was an odd reaction since, under normal circumstances, I was typically an overly-talkative kid. Yet, my voice was suddenly replaced with the shy whisper of another little girl.

With my head down, as if in deep concentration, I forged ahead and began to demonstrate my talent with graham cracker crusts, frozen strawberries and Jell-O. It was all fine until some old harpy in the front said, “We can’t hear you, dear.” That old harpy set the wheels of disaster in motion. My demonstration was paused while a 4H leader equipped me with a backpack-microphone contraption roughly the size of a Volkswagen and pushed me back toward the table.

I just knew that I looked like a freaky human/turtle hybrid. My face grew hot with embarrassment and washed with shame. The harpy sat looking at me expectantly and without any sign of friendly encouragement. My intention was to resume where I’d left off but, I was told to begin again.

As I drew air into my lungs to begin my spiel, the sound of my breath echoed back to me from the other side of the 4H barn. Despite growing increasingly flustered, I began speaking. My voice, sounding strangely alien and too young to belong to me, reverberated through the crowd and caught up with my ears. I was thrown off by that delayed echo of my voice. My throat tightened and I desperately attempted to swallow my way to safety. My pause, as brief as it was, gave me a moment to focus on the faces of strangers and their expectant gawks. Tears stung my eyes and it felt like an inferno was burning beneath my freckled skin. The old harpy shifted in her seat and huffily arranged her pocket book on her ample lap. Her tightly permed hair refused to move and her glasses threw sharp darts of light at my eyes.

Under her petulant gaze, tears began to flow and my frozen strawberries spilled onto the table in a gelatinous puddle. The unwieldy backpack-microphone loudly thumped the table as I turned, sending my body into an inelegant tail spin. Amplified by the microphone, my sobs echoed off the walls and danced in the air over the heads of strangers. My sobs mocked me.

I was nine.

Now I’m not.

Please, God, don’t let me cry. Send me a thicker skin.

Comments

  1. If it makes you feel any better, I teach writing and literature to semi-adults, and I think your writing rocks. You have a distinctive voice, full of imagery and vulnerability. It feels *real*. I don’t have an MFA, but as someone who likes to think she appreciates quality writing, you are in my top five. Fo sho.

    • That makes me feel sooooo much better, Jessica! Can you stop by each day and leave me inspirational messages just like this one? I don’t know, maybe it’s the self-doubt that keeps my nose to the grind and striving to find the perfect word. I love what I do. I’m flattered to be in your top five. Fo realz.

  2. You are going to be fine. If your manuscripts are anything like what you do here, you’ve got it in the bag. And constructive criticism is good–you’re probably going to learn a lot from it. Good luck with it!

    Btw, love the new site! 🙂 Hooray! I am going to be following in your footsteps soon!

    • Thanks so much, Becky – on all fronts. I’m in a slump lately…maybe a combo of the rain and the unknown of the residency? Let’s pray for some sun on this section of the globe!

  3. Your writing is incredibly addicting. From the moment I start reading a story I’m either crying along with you or laughing my A$$ off thinking about some of these times we experienced. I always knew you’d be a writer! You rock! Love you Kel! XOXOXO

  4. Stop and listen to me….you are exactly where I was years ago! Enrolled in college in an effort to work towards my BA; it lasted almost one year and I allowed myself to get browbeaten at home because of my desire to study Photography. “What was I going to do with it, How much money could I make, What about the kids”..and on and on. Now, I write. In the background, similar comments, up to the kids part, can still be heard. Only now, I’ve refused to listen and hit that “ignore” button.

    You have a talent, everyone knows it and applauds all you share. Go with it, run with it and never, ever, underestimate your potential for great things ahead.

    • Patty, you’re my hero. Without you, I wouldn’t be going to Stonecoast! I honestly think that my self-doubt fuels my words. Yeah…that’s it.

  5. Oh my gosh…your little 9 year old self makes me wanna cry too! Poor baby… 🙁

  6. Jodi D. says:

    When I was nine I was the narrator for a school play. At the end of one of the scenes, I was swept up by the heavy curtains as they closed and dragged halfway across the stage. I can relate to your 4H experience. In one of my stints at college, I took a creative writing class. I sincerely hope the comments from your fellow students are more helpful than mine were. I’m sure they will be, since I was in class with a bunch of semi literate goons who basically would say, “I don’t get it.” Luckily, my professor did get it and made me feel that it wasn’t me. So, I’m here now, like all of the other people who take the time to comment on your blogs, to tell you that you are awesome. There may be an old biddy in the crowd who doesn’t see it. There may be some cretin who will never get it and who may belittle you for being brave enough to open up your heart and soul to us. But there will always be far more of us who do get it, who can’t get enough of the things you write, who wait anxiously for more. Have faith in yourself. We do.

    • *sniffle* By the way…the word cretin will never cease to remind me of Steve Buschemi as Randall in Monster’s Inc. Randall: “Where is it, you little one-eyed cretin?! Mike: Okay, first of all, it’s ” creetin”. If you’re gonna threaten me, do it properly. Second of all, you’re nuts …”

      We like to call the kids cretins, a la Randall.

    • …and is it bad that the image of you getting dragged across the stage made me giggle?
      It is. Especially after your message of support and encouragement. I’m officially evil.

  7. I really appreciate when you share your vulnerable side. To mean you seem confidante and unflappable. The fact that this is really making you nervous is something I admire.
    Keep in mind, most of those folks are in the same boat as you. They are thinking that the reader will go merrily along and screech to a halt when their story is read.
    My hats off to you for jumping into this. I wouldn’t have the guts.

  8. You know something, your writing doesn’t sound amateurish at all. I think you’re going to dodge the bullet on this one. 😉 Seriously though, I know how awful, terrible, unbearable it can be waiting to get a critique of your own writing. I’ve found with peer critiques, you get comments that you just want to sit and read over and over again because they’re so lovely. And the not so nice comments? They’re usually so ignorant they’re easy to blow off.

    P.S. That 4-H story tugged at my heart strings. Pretty sure I was that girl, many, many times!

    • I’m dying! The anticipation of the manuscript package grows more intense each day. You’re kind, Ada. I think that it must be the whole ‘unknown’ aspect – not knowing who they are and what they’ve written just adds to the anxiety. I’m holding out hope for those lovely peer critiques.

  9. Kelli, I know exactly how you feel. Well, not exactly, but almost. I’m constantly comparing myself to other writers, wondering why I can’t be as funny or entertaining or whatever as they are. I can’t seem to pull out of the whole “everyone else is better than me” hole that I’ve been in lately. I can tell YOU though that you’re one of the writers I most admire. I’ve never “met” a writer as talented as you are, and I have NO DOUBT that your peers will feel exactly the same way. You tell a story so well and so eloquently that you’re bound to be successful with your writing. It’s like your destiny. Self-doubt haunts us all, but you can tell your’s to fuck off. Because you are truly a talented writer. I’ve read enough to know one when I read one. Email me if you ever need to vent or rant or a kick in the ass to tell you how wonderful you are. I’m here for ya, kid.

  10. Wow, that story had me convulsing with laughter. I’m supposed to become a lawyer in a little over a year, and after ample opportunity to practice getting up and doing my thing, I still feel very much like your 9 year old self, stammering in front of expectant gawkers and spilling my gooey strawberries all over the table.

    • Totally understand that, Lauren! I spent 15 years working in the legal industry and in corporate legal of a REALLY big company. Plus, my husband is an attorney. Trust me, you’ll stop feeling that way soon enough. Good luck with your final year and the bar exam!

  11. Beautiful! I wanted to read more. Great story.

  12. I’m happy that you shared this post for the Dare to Share link-up. Look how far you’ve come in just a few months! There will be no snot, splotchy skin or swollen eyes ahead for you, kiddo.

    Strawberries? Maybe…..floating in a glass of Champagne when we all toast to your success as a Writer!

  13. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see your name in the link up today! I miss you, friend. And I love that you chose to share this. Patty’s completely right; look how far you’ve come. These days are “ancient history,” and you’re moving toward your future full-speed ahead.

    The description from the 4-H event still gives me butterflies. I HATE public speaking with a passion. I want to growl at that old harpy so bad.

    Thanks for linking up, friend! Love you and miss you!

  14. Awwww, I’m so sorry! That sucks for the 9yo.
    But please don’t be insecure, you have no reason to cry. Ef that old harpy and her bad sense of hearing.

  15. Being in that barn that day, I couldn’t have been any prouder of you. Just as I am now of your accomplishments. We always knew at some point the words would evolve.. couldn’t love a daughter more. XXOO

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