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.
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.