Thoughts on an Evening

Standing in front of a room full of people who write, I felt small. Or large, as if something in me was leaving my body, expanding beyond it, but not in a transcendental way. Whatever the indescribable feeling was, it only registered after the fact, once I’d sat down again.
I’ve read my work to friends and family before. I’ve read it in a workshop setting. But for some reason tonight felt different. It wasn’t bad, per se. I just felt… judged. Maybe that’s the correct phrase. I felt watched, measured, scaled, as if I was having a suit of clothing made for me – a suit that’s only supposed to fit those people who describe themselves as “writers.”
I thought I was getting better about this. Only the other day, I told my mother, during one of our usual, daily conversations, that I wasn’t feeling very nervous. And I guess that was true – I didn’t shake, when I stood there in front of the twenty five or thirty people who showed up. My voice was clear, I think, and I didn’t stumble on or rush my words. It was simple, and it happened, and then it was over, and there was no climax, no feeling of accomplishment.
Is it the comparison? Is it that I was looking at all the other people who went before me and realizing, as each person stood at the podium, that there are so many talented people here?
I felt this way once at the beginning of this school year. There was an event during the first-year’s orientation week that allowed people to show off their talents, whatever they may be. Some people read poetry, some people sang, some danced, some got together with a bunch of others and put on a hastily-put-together piece of a musical. I sat through that evening this year without once feeling like I was a lowly creature – instead, I appreciated everyone’s strengths and felt proud to be part of a school that encourages us to be as zany and weird as we want to be.
But during my first year, when I attended the same event as a nineteen-year old who wasn’t really ready to leave home yet, I felt awful. I felt like the zit on a toad in a pond full of stagnant, poisonous water. There was nothing I was good at, nothing I would ever be good at, and nothing worth aspiring to because there was simply no chance that I would ever be as good as any of the people I was watching were.
Sure, I was clearly in need of antidepressants then. I’m quite aware of this fact now, and in retrospect, it’s easy to remind myself that not everyone was great, actually, and that many people were frankly quite awful.
When I told my mother the other day that I wasn’t nervous, I also told her that I felt like I was legitimately a writer. I told her that I felt that I had the right to read at once of these things, these showcases, and that I was confidant in my conviction that writing is what I want to do with my life.
It’s still what I want to do. I want to write more than anything in the world. And I do write. That’s one of the things that keep me going – I know that I write and that I miss it desperately when I don’t. I know that I’m committed. I know that I can receive criticism if it’s not cruelly given and that I don’t have an inflated opinion of my own writing and that I have a lot left to learn. Usually I’m secure in this knowledge these days. I feel, most of the time, as though it’s a given that I’m a writer, and I know that other people know this about me – it’s not something I keep hidden anymore, and that’s good too.
So why did tonight feel so strange? I don’t know. I was intimidated by some of the talent that I heard in that room. I was put off by some of the overconfidence that I saw, too, because it’s something that I simply can’t feel connected to. But I enjoyed the evening as a whole. I loved sitting in the midst of a roomful of people who all must think that words are beautiful and have power, or else they wouldn’t have been there, reading their writing for all to hear.
So what is it that feels so strange? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just over-thinking things.

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6 thoughts on “Thoughts on an Evening

  1. Erin M says:

    This was so wonderful to read, Ilana, for so many reasons. Partly because you’re such a good storyteller and writer, partly because I can relate to what you describe, partly because I’m so glad you’ve come so far since you were nineteen, and partly for a whole bunch of other smaller reasons.

    Thank you so much for sharing it. =]
    xoxoxo

    • Oh, Erin, thank you! I felt very unsure about posting this, but I decided to do it anyway.
      I also find it so interesting that you say that you liked this because I’m a good storyteller – I usually have such difficulties with writing things that really happen to me in an interesting way, and it’s encouraging to know that you felt I did that here.

  2. Silences after sharing your work can indeed be nerve-wracking, as often I see it happen when I read to my students or different audiences. You think about apathy from their part, lack of skill from yours; the truth is that even if you drill it into your head that you will write for the sake of creation, that you won’t mind the reactions you’ll receive, you will feel exposed and vulnerable. It’s only natural. Remember that when we write and read the fruits of our work to others, we are baring our hearts and in a way our true selves to them.

  3. Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.
    ~Goethe

    I remember when I used to attend a writing group—only six of us, four of which were a decade or more older than myself and one other woman. Each of us had different styles, different approaches, different tastes in books and writing in general. Even knowing these things I was still unsettled any time I would bring something new in to read. I can’t imagine doing that in front of twenty-plus people. You have my deepest respect and admiration for having the courage to hold yourself out there like that.

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