Last week—during the week—there were no fewer than 7 readings in Houston. And readings—and their high frequency and quality—seem to be a perennial source of confusion for writers in this city. Bring up readings to a student in the Creative Writing Program at UH and you’ll likely hear either excitement: “I know! I can’t wait,” or quiet guilt and dread—as though each reading torments like another book one hasn’t read and, you know, really should—“Gah, I haven’t been to a single one yet.” Trying to navigate this writing life that I’m supposed to have—which I’m learning means “that I’m supposed to make for myself”—is not what I expected when I was dreaming about it in my Business Statistics class three years ago: drinking coffee and letting brilliance flow from my fingers for hours a day.
Nope. When the time comes every day for me to write it’s like, I don’t reeealy have to write today, right? Which may not seem like a compelling argument right now, but that argument comes—from the Devil, I think—via my sleeping self at 6:00 or so in the mornings. And I’ve proven pretty much unable to beat it so far. That adds up to a lot of days of not-writing. And when I do sit down to write—when I steal a few minutes at work or in the afternoons or evenings (something gave me the guts this past Sunday afternoon)—writing turns out to be hard work. More simply put: writing is work. Like real, actual work. Amazing.
Which is one of the new things motivating me. I don’t want to start a discussion on theory, per se, but reading some Lacan these past couple of weeks and realizing how writing and language is a real thing—as real as the material, as stable in the world as the breeze—is helping me to understand the work we do as writers as real, actual work. With power and suction.
In a way, readings are what got me into this writing world. And they are what bring me back when I lose track of what I’m doing. Little of what I’m doing would have happened had I not first read or heard and felt joy—or sorrow or amazement or association or tickle, but those are joy, too. I got this something in me whenever I would go to readings during my undergrad, and I couldn’t get enough. You’ve been there, I hope.
Last week, I had the great joy of reading at the Musical and Literary Ofrenda—a celebration of the Día de los Muertos, put on by Inprint, Lawndale Art Center, Houston Hispanic Forum, ROCO, and Musiqa that intermingles original orchestral compositions and original readings that honor or celebrate or mourn or pray for the dead. It was only my second reading in Houston, and I felt like the whole evening was a gift to me and a gift to my dad and my grandparents—the subjects of the essay I read that night. There is magic in the tradition of the Day of the Dead that seems to welcome all approaches to dealing with death—mourning and meditation and celebration and etc. At the introduction of the event, our host cited how, for the yearly holiday, people will decorate graves and party in the cemeteries. Somehow the whole thing is beautiful and morbid and surprisingly not macabre—a fear of many white, middle-class evangelicals like me.
After that reading, I went home to grab a bite to eat and then left for a house reading at UH professor, Michael Snediker’s house. Dara Wier, a dear friend of his who heads the creative writing program at Amherst College is also a celebrated poet and happened to be in Houston. I found my way to Michael’s Montrose loft, fumbled with the intercom at the door and eventually walked into an apartment full of people and wine and this wonderful, manna-like bread and soft French cheese and a stack of books that Dara decided to give away to the people at the reading.
I remember one part of one line in particular from Dara’s reading:
…a little like jasmine tea spread over the galaxy…
That line was a gift to me that night and is again now. Since the house reading, I have turned inward and remembered it when I have wanted to remember something about why it is that I’m doing what I’m doing—why I’m devoting my life to writing. Readings, for me, brought me into the writing world like this: they gave me a place to look for, and find, an invitation to think and feel and learn that there’s someone just right there who has been feeling what you have been feeling—or maybe they show you a whole new world—and who has been able, somehow, to put that thing into six disparate words fused in the brain and licked into the air.
I guess that is one of the things I have learned about writing since I’ve arrived and started my MFA: that writing is real, actual work. And it is really, actually important. And it is easy, when I get out and go listen or read, myself, to remember that.