What was I doing here?
It felt like a strange fish-out-of-water state to be in, but there I was.
I’ve already jammed so much into less than a week over this first week of March: a visit to Ottawa, seeing my aunt in her new home, and last night I visited Lucinda House.
I have wanted to write about all these things and more, but it all feels like too much for me to focus in on any of it.
My original statement today applies to all of these, but I must find a way to narrow it down somehow here tonight.
And so, as I asked myself once more, for the umpteenth time in less than a week:
What am I doing here?
I realized, so many times since March began that I have been weighed down by discomfort, but often the most important and valuable experiences in life will do this.
On World Book Day, 2015, I sat in an old house, now a part of a university, but in the moment it almost felt like I was transported back one hundred years.
Just being in an old house like that, surrounded by a room full of mostly women and reading to each other…
Wrong or right, I pictured the one scene from Gone with the Wind, where the ladies are tensely awaiting the return of their men.
The husbands were off, somewhere, taking justice into their own hands to defend their women.
As they were doing this, to make things safer, the ladies sat with their knitting as one proceeded to read aloud to the group.
Yes, the strangest thoughts come into my mind at the oddest of moments.
Yes, I can admit that, but being that yesterday was World Book Day and Sunday is International Women’s Day I had both books and women’s issues on my mind.
Of course, there were a few guys in the room this time, which made them the minority in my particular case.
Recently, I heard there was going to be a reading going on from a blogger I follow. I have been trying to read more Canadian and local literature lately. This particular blogger and writer does readings around the area and I wanted to show my support to her, to thank a female writer of books, something and someone I greatly admire.
I have been reading her blog for a while now, but I wanted to have the chance to put a voice to the words, an actual voice to the writer’s voice I have come to know so well on her website.
The evening started off on, what I can admit wasn’t the best note when I showed up in the middle of her reading. Not a great first impression to put forth toward someone I admire for the work she does.
I know what it must be like to be in the middle of speaking about that kind of hard work, a person’s life’s work and one’s passion and to have people walk in right in the midst of that.
I apologized upon meeting her, at the end of the evening, for doing this. She was quite gracious about it, but I made sure to let her know I did not intend to be at all disrespectful. I wanted her to know how much I really did want to hear her read from her newest novel, to meet her after reading so much about her life all these months.
She was great and she even made sure to signed one of her books for me: just one Carrie to another Kerry.
I am not a people person. I am not naturally outgoing and felt awkward all evening. This started, after walking in and hoping to be quiet while removing all winter items of clothing and taking a seat in the room, trying hard to disrupt the reading in progress as little as humanly possible.
I had been dealing with my issues with being arround old buildings all week long, facing them head-on.
First, through spending time in secondhand stores and old jails in Ottawa…to this particular evening, in an old house.
I could hear the age of the house I was in with every creek the floors made under my own feet and under the feet of the authors who shared their readings throughout the night.
I heard the floorboards make that signature creaky old house noise with every side-step each speaker took while standing at the front of the room.
I felt out of place. This was mostly a university setting, on a campus, attended overall by professors and literature students.
The professors were older and the students were younger. I did not feel like I belonged there; hovering, by myself, somewhere in between these two demographics.
As I stood in the kitchen, I felt a little less awkward getting a drink and some fruit because I had a brief break from having to feel like I fit in with those of academia out in the other room.
Suddenly, one of the only few guys in attendance spoke up to a few early-twenty-something female students. Apparently I wasn’t quite as alone as I’d first thought.
There was a hint of flirting I detected in his voice and also a hint of his own awkwardness, as he spoke to these young women. He was a poet, yet not a university student like they were. He clearly loved literature, or he wouldn’t have been there at all, but in his voice and in the words he spoke was obvious his own feelings that I too had been feeling.
Apparently, we all had our own version of the fish-out-of-water feeling going on.
I didn’t want to feel any pretension or any inadequacy. I didn’t want to feel like the act of writing and sharing that writing with others, female or not, was at all frivolous or pretentious.
I didn’t want to feel like it could have been one hundred years ago: either because of what women chose to do back then was treated less than at that time or even still today, in my own mind. I wanted to feel like what I was doing was worthwhile.
So why then did I feel like I was having to justify my own reasons for being there to myself or to some unnamed observer?
As I listened to others read aloud to the group I thought about my own writing and that need to write I feel pressing on my soul, stronger and stronger all the time.
I felt the discomfort of the words Carrie read from the pages of her own novel ring true in my own life. It all felt way too universal, these feelings, as she read a segment where her female protagonist is more than one hundred years old and living in a nursing home. I felt her words touching a nerve still much too raw in my own heart, after visiting a female family member of my own just the other day, currently living in just such a place.
This was perhaps only some fictional character in a book, but it was real to me and those I love, and more than likely to the writer/reader/speaker herself.
I did not get a chance, due to my high level of awkwardness in social settings, to let her know just how much her words had affected me. I don’t think I could have put it into words there and then, even if I’d wanted to. I am barely doing a coherent job of that here and now.
Next, I listened to the way the professor in residence went on to read her poems, which she had turned from academic, scientific journals and articles she’d come across from others, into the most beautiful lyrical, literary writing of her own making.
She had written about the type of symbiotic biological relationships that go on in nature, and something about pollination, the sorts of relationships I’d written about on visiting the creatures at the aquarium that opened in Toronto a few years ago.
Then she read us a poem she’d composed about the way different bee colonies fight for supremacy (not all creatures choosing to live such a symbiotic existence alongside each other.
Finally, I listened to some of her young creative writing students stand up in front of a bunch of strangers and lay it all out there.
They spoke about going out on their own for the first time and about unwanted attention from the opposite sex.
They shared short stories/poems about things I could hardly relate to, such as homelessness and living and surviving out on the streets.
One of the girls had even coined herself:
“the unofficial poet of the bus”,
as the place she’d found time or inspiration to write had been on Greyhound trips.
From the pain of lost love, the pressure to try and live up to society’s pressures and norms, and horrible tales of experiences with crackers and bedbugs…all terribly relatable to me or stuff made up of my worst nightmares.
This was all with such truth and vulnerability that I had to stop myself from physically shifting in my seat with discomfort. It made me really focus on the glaring obviousness of revealing things so real and personal in such a public manner, to a living room full of strangers.
It made me wonder if I could do that. Could I share things just as private and personal? Would I have the same raw nerve and guts?
How much of it was about themselves personally and how much of what they were speaking was about someone else?
I wondered who the one girl was referring to when she spoke of broken promises and one-sided love. Did the person she’d written about know she had done so and was, at that very moment, divulging so many intimate details that likely only the two of them had yet shared?
Then I imagined myself up there and how I would myself handle the nervousness and all those people staring and listening so intently. I could imagine, amongst all that, at the same time a huge rush that must be produced from doing something so freeing and open-ended.
It’s interesting to observe those listening around me in a situation like that. I suppose, to show that they are being heard and have had some kind of a positive effect, some people feel like it is only polite to produce even some small noise of appreciation, a murmur of awareness.
I shifted my eyes and attention: from the one speaking to us all about their writing, around to my fellow listeners, and back again.
I think it’s happening more and more as I feel I have lost more sight, but often, as in cases such as last night, I feel more and more self-conscious about where it is I am looking. It seems like I have less and less to focus my limited vision on.
This simply added to the feeling I often have, again like last night, where I feel both invisible and like I am standing out horribly in a group of people. The only way, I’ve been told I can possibly eliminate this, is to keep repeating this again and again.
I suppose this is why I read and why I write.
This all played back to the fact that I wasn’t sure I belonged there at the author’s readings, or literary evening, or whatever it is you want to call what last night was.
How important was what we were all doing there last night and the work and the time and energy people put into revealing such stories about ourselves?
I wish I could have held off to write all this down until I was certain I could place each point I wanted to make into its proper day’s blog post, with the correct topic, on the appropriate and the best day for each.
However, I waited this long before posting on my blog this week, not because I didn’t have enough things to write about or enough to say, but because I’ve simply found I’ve had too much.
I can always find enough topics to write about, even if I wrote for one hundred World Book Days. The same goes for International Women’s Day a couple days from now.
I did find myself sitting in my nephew’s bedroom the other day, watching him pulling his books down and tossing them this way and that as I pondered my relationship with books and why I love them so much.
Then, I thought about the same questions last night as I held my newly signed Carrie Snyder original in my hands all the way home from the reading.
I miss sunny mornings in the library when I was a kid, surrounded by the innocence of children’s literature. I sat and held a copy of a Grover storybook for much too much time the other morning and I capped off World Book Day holding a book from a local, Canadian author for my collection, thinking that I may not be able to read print books like I used to as a child, but that on a day like March 5th, they are no less valuable and meaningful to me now than they were to me back then.
Maybe I will find the courage, because that is what it is, to read my stuff in front of a group of my peers some day.
And maybe I will have books of my own to give to someone requesting them, who may just have come out to meet me and to hear my words on a World Book Day in the future, just like I did for Carrie last night.
For more on Carrie Snyder check out her website below:
Happy World Book Day and International Women’s Day to you all.