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.

One-Eyed Steve: Part III

“Ah, my little ones, and so, all atremble, I went out into the inn and walked up to the barkeep. The innkeeper always worked at the bar, and half the people in town didn’t know he was the owner of the inn, so friendly a barkeep he was. So, as I said, I walked up to him and told him what One-Eyed Steve had said. I told him the eye-patch man was there to see him and that he better come right quick ’cause I’d left him in the kitchen alone. The innkeeper, instead of lookin’ confused, looked at me with a fierce look and asked if I was sure of what I was sayin’. This was a big man, mind, and I was already feelin’ faint from bein’ so close to that old pirate in the kitchen.

I told the innkeeper that One-Eyed Steve was in the kitchen as sure as the nose was on my face and the sun rises in the East. He wiped his hands on his cloth then, and he took me by the elbow, takin’ me back to the kitchen with him. Steve was still there, and he was pale and sweatin’ again. The innkeeper let me go after orderin’ me to put a kettle on with boilin’ water. As I was doin’ that, I got to hear what the men were talkin’ about.

‘What is it, old man? Is she alright?’ the innkeeper was speakin’ quietly with Steve, and he seemed worried. Steve answered him in the saddest voice I ever heard a man use.

‘Nay. Nay, brother. She left us in the night.’

The innkeeper froze for a momen’, and then he was huggin’ Steve fiercely, and I could hear both of the men weepin’. Me, a boy of thirteen, couldn’t believe these two grown men was cryin’ – I still thought that men didn’t cry back then, and I damned well hid my tears from anyone if ever I had ’em.

‘She had a long life, Steve, and she was happy with ye. Ye helped her and nursed her and fed her and cared for her when no one knew or cared about her anymore.’ the innkeeper spoke into Steve’s shoulder, still weepin’.

‘Aye. She was the best mother a pair like us could ask for, and she tried to be strong till the very end.’ Steve was holding the innkeeper up now, and he was speakin’ fiercely into his face as the innkeepe¬† seemed about to fall over with his grief. ‘I’m sorry ye didn’t get to see her, brother, but she sends her love. She told me so right before she closed her eyes and went to sleep.’

My kettle was boilin’ by now, but I didn’t hardly notice it. Only when the whistle of it made the men look up and remember me did I get the tea and mugs. I splashed some strong stuff into each of their teas – they seemed to need it, and I wanted to do somethin’ to help ’em if I could. Eventually, as you may imagine, the innkeeper had to go back and be barkeep and work the night out. Seems no one knew that the mother was still around – she was in bad shape, or so I came to understand later, and she didn’t want people to see her.

My ducklings, don’t fret, this isn’t the endin’ of my story. After this sadness, I wanna tell ye what happened after the innkeeper left the room. I was still in there, continuin’ to wash dishes as I was told to, when the innkeeper dried his eyes and went back out. Steve was still there, and he spoke to me again.

‘Bet you thought I was¬† a villain and a pirate, eh boy?’ he growled at me. I wasn’t so frightful of him anymore – seein’ a person weep can do that to ye. I looked him square in that one blue eye of his, and I said ‘I thought so, sir, but now I know ye ain’t no pirate. Yer a noble man, takin’ care of yer ma like that.’ One-Eyed Steve looked at me as if he’d never seen a boy before.

‘Well, boy,’ he said, a bit of his wicked grin comin’ back. ‘Ye better not tell anyone a thing about tonight. Nay, won’t do to have the boys comin’ to look for me house. I’m fine with bein’ feared. But as a reward,’ and here he started to laugh a little to himself, ‘as a reward let me share a second secret with ye. Aye, me ma was decent as they come. Still, she had her wild notions when I was a lad, just like any ma.’

And then he lifted his eyepatch. Instead of a mangled scar, instead of an empty socket, instead of even a blind and staring eye – all of which I’d imagined to meself – instead of any of those, there was a reular eye under that patch. The skin around it was whiter, bein’ hidden under that patch, and the color was brown instead o’ being ice-blue like the other one, but it was a seein’ eye alright.

‘Ma seemed to think the boys might laugh at me bein’ all dog-eyed like this,’ said One-Eyed Steve. ‘And then I jus’ got used to bein’ a pirate to people.’ He put the eyepatch back over that normal eye, and left the kitchen the same way he came in.

Which only goes to show, my ducks, that ye never know. Ye really never know abou’ a man by his looks. Not ever. And don’t ye forget it.”

The three little figures on the carpet uncurled themselves from the positions they’d kept during the long story. As soberly as any statesman, they all proclaimed that they “will remember, Papa!” and then were scooted off to bed. The man, though, sat for a while longer in front of the fire, and thought about One-Eyed Steve.

An Exercise

I’ve been researching some writing exercises the past few days and trying to find the time to really work on one. I randomly picked one from a random website – I’ve lost which one it was, or I would post the link – and decided to work on it at work today. I always use the down time between phone calls from customers for scribbling, but more often than not I’m just nattering away about nothing in particular. Today, however, I had a goal.

The writing exercise was simple – there was a picture of a boy sliding down a water slide, and the instructions were to write about the boy: who he is, where he is, what he was doing before and after the picture, etc. I didn’t actually have the picture with me at work, but I could remember it pretty well. For some reason, this ended up being the result – I didn’t follow the instructions very well, but I got an idea and went with it.

A picture frame hangs on a wall, the only ornament in the whole dreary living room. The picture, whose colors are perfectly bright and cheerful in comparison to the gray walls, is a photograph of a boy. The boy is grinning widely, and is featured mid-slide on a wild looking water ride – he’s wearing a bright orange swim-suit and upon closer inspection, you could say that he is laughing more than grinning. In fact, you can almost hear the delightful peals of laughter as you look at the photo.

So the balding man that lived in this room felt – as if the boy in the photograph was constantly laughing at him. So many times the man had tried to take the photo off the wall, and yet, again and again, he could not bring himself to do it.

And so, the man lived out his life, jumping from one hated job to another, never happy with the person that he had become. All his days, the boy laughed in his wooden frame, reminding the man of the boy he had been: so full of hope and happiness. The future had seemed endless then, opportunities just waiting right around the bend. Sometimes, when the man lay in bed late at night, he could admit to himself that the reason he never took that old photograph off the wall was that he needed to remind himself how he had squandered his opportunities, how he had wasted his life. And yet, by day, he never changed a thing, and the laughing boy that he had been shined out of the picture frame forever more, while the man he was dwindled in body and in spirit as the days passed.

Even to himself, the man never managed to explain why he didn’t change a thing. Perhaps he lived in the boy in the picture on the wall rather than in his reality; perhaps he just didn’t know how to change; perhaps he didn’t want to change really; and perhaps, just perhaps, there was no one there who cared enough to help him change. Who knows?