It was the first and only writing class I would take in my adult life, and there I was, having written for over fifteen years, about to read my fiction aloud to strangers for the first time. I had written and performed my own theatrical production, I had given poetry readings – but no matter. This was a very autobiographical novel – the first of its kind I had ever attempted – and it was the first book I had written that I felt really sounded like me. What would it mean if no one liked it? I read my pages, set them down, and waited. As always, the work was greeted by silence. Who would be the first to speak? Who would risk offering his or her opinion if no one else agreed with it? Finally Amanda, a very bright psychologist/novelist spoke up:
“I don’t get it. What’s the narrator so upset about?”
And then another: “I don’t get it either. It’s like there’s no plot.”
And then another: “I couldn’t really follow it. So the narrator’s upset because his girlfriend left? That’s it? I don’t get it.”
On and on until half the class had spoken, and half the class didn’t get it. I checked my pulse: I was still alive. That was something.
And then, from behind me, Nick cleared his throat. Nick was the most experimental writer in the class, the most surreal. Sometimes when Nick spoke, his voice warbled a bit, as though someone had just finished choking him.
“I don’t know,” he warbled. “I liked it.”
Then Asa. “So did I! It was funny.”
And then Pete: “I didn’t care that there wasn’t much of a plot. I just like listening to the narrator.”
When it was over, the class was evenly divided: A perfect result. I was back exactly where I had begun, having to decide, just like my classmates, if I was willing to use my voice whether anyone agreed with what that voice said or not.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com