Hamming It Up: Why We Need an Audience

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(Photos by Alana T)

“Listening is an act of love.”

Two weeks ago Morf Morford used those words as he told his story right before I had to get up under the lights. Although I can’t find the person he was quoting, somehow the thought calmed me when I sat shivering in my chair in the middle of a dark audience, contemplating getting up in front of a crowd on the Drunken Telegraph, an amazing community story telling organization in Tacoma. It was my hope that the crowd would love me through that blinding stage light and the story I felt driven to tell.

I discovered a while back that I need an audience. A part of me worries that this makes me a ham. But I’m betting that we all need an audience, large or small — someone to witness us and push us to do things a notch or two higher than we would without anyone watching. Dan Blank, a writing and marketing coach, recently said writers fear apathy much more than we fear criticism. “The reality is that the WORSE thing is that you create and share something, and no one even notices.”

It’s true that I can practice by myself. I can write stories, knit doggie sweaters, bake squash or play Adagio on my clarinet without anyone watching. And sometimes this is best so that I can safely make the multitude of mistakes that I need to make in order to improve.

But I also need the pressure of knowing someone is watching or will be watching in order to push myself to get better.

This is what happened to me on that stage. I had been trying to tell a story about my experiences in an animal shelter for twenty years. It wasn’t until I had the pressure of getting up in front of an audience that I could tell the story and find the meaning in it. The relief of getting the story out was tremendous and only possible because I had to face the fire of getting the story told on a deadline with people watching.

So I keep posting to the blog, playing my clarinet in the community band, and standing in front of students even when my face feels so red hot I could start a fire with their textbooks.

I do it because it makes me better and it makes me feel more alive. I’m so grateful to the love of the listeners, students and readers. I could not do it without them.

 

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Getting the Play Done

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This week a writer friend named Molly Blaisdell wrote a blog post on the importance of play to her writing work.

Before I read her words, I had been stuck on what to post and, honestly, stuck on whether to write all together. I was even having Negative Nellie give it up thoughts.  And those thoughts felt like an even deeper black hole.

Molly’s idea of play rung a bell somewhere just below my suprasternal notch (Can you tell I’m studying with the nurses in my day job? The notch is the dip in the middle of the collar bones.)

As I said, I’ve been feeling off. My teaching job lasted clear into mid August this year. By the time my students and I wrapped up the essays and grammar finals, the back to school sales were about over. My son started tennis tryouts a week later. I got exactly one weekend to go camping with the kids and that was the one weekend in August that it rained. Like Noah needed to come and rescue us.

And my writing routine always takes a whack when I’m out of the teaching groove. For four weeks I could write much more but, as almost always happens, I ended up writing less. The wide open space flattens my pen, I guess.

And then my work schedule changed these past two weeks as school life got going again. I used to work Monday through Thursday with Friday clearly marked as a play day.

Now it’s Tuesday through Friday with Monday for play. Something about Friday is so much more intrinsically free. Friday feels like barbecues and rowdy people wearing Seahawks jerseys. Monday feels more like cubicles and fluorescent lights.

I’d been thinking I needed that play back. Here’s a video of a writer who knows how to play better than some of the kids:

Maybe I need to be more like him and open a non profit with a pirate store at the front. Or convince kids that wasting fruit leads to invasive melons. I bet if I let myself think on it, I could come up with even wilder ideas.

In the meantime, I’ve let myself do some more down-to-earth playing. Sometimes these larks have nothing to do with my stories. Like Molly, I knit. I go for walks with my family, I paint pumpkins, I scour Pinterest for projects and then do a few of them. I paint. I cook. I play my clarinet.

And sometimes, after realizing with a head smacking ‘duh’ that writing needs play, too, I wrap fun into that work. I craft temari balls because they are in my story, I surf for pictures of my characters and paste them into the art book I’ve created for my novel in progress. I go to places my characters would be. And it’s fun. And the work gets better. Not just easier to do but better. Even the play that has nothing to do with my projects somehow zaps new life into the words I scratch on paper or punch out on the screen.

We all know by now that children need to play to learn and grow. I need reminders sometimes that I’m not all that different from the children I write for and about.

And so, I say, hurray. Hurray, hurray, hurray for play. (This is borrowed liberally from Dr. Seuss and The Eye Book — another good source of play.)

If you’ve got a moment, I’d love to know what you do just for the fun of it. I’m asking partly because I’d love to get more ideas and partly because I’ve noticed in writing this that I find joy in the mere thought of frivolous fun. I’m betting you will, too.