On Being the 20th Person to Read from New Work in the Middle of a Weeklong Writing Workshop
July 1, 2015 § 4 Comments
When Sharon Stephenson went to the podium at the end of a long night of student readings at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops we all secretly glanced at our watches, and then she read this (read or listen):
A multi-genre reading with more than, say, five people is an example of how relative time can be to the observer. Time dilation only goes one way, as Albert Einstein and Hendrick Lorentz make clear in their papers. Therefore, three minutes can sometimes feel like twenty, but never does three minutes become anything less than three full minutes.
In terms of nerves, the twenty presenters should fall on a broad distribution. Some may drink a glass of wine in their dorm rooms to calm themselves on their presentation night, but because they are drinking alone and the dorm rooms are universally depressing, perhaps they will drink two glasses or even three, rationalizing that a glass of wine these days is relative to the size of the glass and they are drinking out of an old paper coffee cup, and that makes them sad. Others may wish they had something stronger that won’t make them smell of cocktail parties. Vodka. Xanax. They may find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time wishing they had some.
Many presenters on the distribution of twenty will be incapable of listening with intention to any of the readings that precede theirs. Instead these presenters will be overly concerned about the material they will read, even though they are holding their poetry or story or essay on real paper, double spaced, in an oversized font, decorated with highlighter. They may also be disturbed by temperature fluctuations in their extremities, issues with saliva levels in the mouth, questionable happenings in their GI tract.
Those who took Xanax or consumed alcohol may second guess their earlier decision, a decision that seemed so reasonable a few hours ago. Instead of listening with intention to the readers preceding them, they could be correlating their physical symptoms, increased perspiration, for example, as side effects of self-medicating with alcohol or Xanax.
Very few readers are delusional, but they do exist. In fact, one stands before you now, an outlier on the distribution. We rare delusional readers believe that perhaps this specific event will be magical. Our voice, our cadence, our brilliance on the page, will be memorable, so memorable that perhaps a member of the audience will text their great uncle, who is perhaps Garrison Keillor. Garrison Keillor, who is 72 years old, is probably considering retirement and worried about the future of A Prairie Home Companion. Perhaps the audience member will text Garrison Keillor and tell him that he should not worry – this 20th reader at the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop has it all buttoned up.
Sharon Stephenson is a nuclear physicist with over thirty peer-reviewed articles. She also writes literary nonfiction and has gotten some of it published thanks to teachers like Rebecca McClanahan. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Fourth Genre, Shenandoah, Hippocampus, Redivider, Connotation Press, Referential Magazine, The Dead Mule, Pure Slush, and real: stories true. Sharon lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where she walks to work and teaches the next generation of scientists as a professor at Gettysburg College. Read her blog at http://www.strangeandcharming.com/, tweet her at @Sharon_Steph