The first reading I ever did was in New York City. I was 28 and traveling around the country. I was so lucky to be invited to that event, at a really cool bar on the Lower East Side, and in the weeks leading up to my appearance, I rolled that evening around in my mind: The laughter, the outbursts of applause, the sounds of admiration that would greet me. Of course none of that happened. The audience was mostly silent. My jokes weren’t that funny. One girl made a loud “woot” sound when I said I was from Austin, and I was grateful for the noise. Afterward, one of the evening’s curator’s reminded readers not to go over their time limit, which felt slightly devastating. Nothing went wrong, really, but my insides sank. I felt a crushing let-down, and afterward, I swore off readings because that is what I do when I am hurt and disappointed. I storm out of the room.
But I calm down, and I slink bank, and a year later I did another reading, also in New York, also at a really cool bar, where the crowd was not silent at all. They laughed in all the right places. They clapped unexpectedly at times. They were an ideal audience. (They were pretty drunk, and for that matter, so was I.) Someone took a picture of me at that reading with the other writers, who were all from The Morning News (and continue to be good friends), and I have that picture framed in my living room, because I just look so happy. I was, man. I was beaming. High as a rapper, with teeth stained purple from red wine and the most victorious grin on my face. Nailed it.
Since then, I have done a handful of readings, and they have never been as bad, or as good, as those two. They’re usually fine. It’s an interesting experiment to hear how an audience responds to a piece of writing that was never intended to be performed in the first place. The words I write are meant to be read by you in a room very far away. I don’t want to see your eyes glaze over, I don’t want to see you skip ahead. But then, I think: Why wouldn’t I want to see that? So I could get better, you know? I definitely can sense where a story drags when I read it out loud. I learn which jokes tank, and I eliminate them. I see when my words are too big and heavy. When I’m just showing off. It’s all valuable information, and if you can quiet your insatiable ego needs, it can be a good time. (And if you can quiet your insatiable ego needs, please tell me how this is done.)
Tonight I’ll be reading a story I wrote for Salon called “Lush for Life” at the “Best of Oral Fixation” show at the MAC. If you live in Dallas, and want to come, it’s at 7:30pm. If you don’t live in Dallas, and want to say a little “woot” for me, I’d be grateful.