Monday, September 24, 2012
When is a Reading Worth Doing?
Jeannine Hall Gailey asks this question on her blog today and I think for poets and writers, it's a great question-- When is a Reading Worth Doing?
First, I'll give you the lowdown-- Jeannine and I live in the Seattle area and that means immediately, we're both up against traffic and parking. Unless you're in a real live bookstore in a strip mall, parking around here sucks, um, I mean, is difficult.
Second, I added a little extra challenge to the mix when I decided the city was getting to busy and moved to a location in Western Washington that required either a ferry ride or a very long bridge to get to. So, when I'm asked to read someone in Seattle, I immediate have to add $28 (a round trip ferry ticket) into the mix, plus gas, plus snacks (always add in snacks).
But this is us. These are the details of our lives.
How do you know a reading is worth doing? Below are a few questions to ask yourself before saying yes.
1) How did you feel immediately when asked and would you do the reading if it was in 4 days?
****The reason I ask this is as humans we tend to put off what we don't like.
If you're asked to do a reading and you find yourself scheduling it a year in advance, you may not want to do the reading. When that year approaches and you may find yourself feeling exactly like what you did when you were asked, "Thankful to have been asked, but really not wanting to do it." If this is how you're feeling, then you need to say no.
You do *not* want to be one of those poets who says yes, then cancels.
That is the worst case scenario. Canceling is bad on everyone, so if you're not liking the reading offer now, you won't like it in 10 months.
2) How much is it going to cost to get you there?
*******Okay, this is something I think about a lot more these days due to ferry fares and gas. Am I going to spend $90 to drive somewhere to read to three people? If the answer is yes, then I have to say no. Here's why--
a) I don't have enough money to do those kind of readings.
b) I don't have the emotional strength to do those kind of readings.
c) I don't have the time to take away from my other priorities to do those type of readings.
If you're a poetry host and you know your readings don't get a lot of people in July, don't ask a poet who has to travel far to be your July reading...it's disheartening and expensive.
If you're a poet, ask the person who asked you to read, "How many people normally show up for this reading?" before saying yes. Or ask for a 1) place to stay 2) stipend/honorarium 3) expenses covered or 4) all of the above.
3) Are you a newer poet/author and *need* readings?
Basically what I'm saying here is, do you need practice and/or want some experience reading? Or do you have a new book and need to get it out in the public? If the answer is yes, consider doing the reading if it's not too far away or too much out of pocket (see question 2).
You may not want to do the reading because you're new at it...this is *not* a reason to say no. In fact, this is a reason to say yes because it will help you get better.
When I was a younger poet, I did readings all over the place (thankfully, gas was 89 cents a gallon, so I could), but these small or large or crazy or drunkpeople or nonpoetryreaders or empty bookstore readings allowed me to gain confidence and become a much better reader.
It allowed me not to stress about a reading, but to create interesting readings because I did so many and learned from them.
Readings can be a lot of fun and the *only* thing that helps take away "fear of reading in public" is reading in public.
New poets and authors should take more readings just to get a feel and understanding of how to do a reading well.
4) Does it make your heart sing?
This is my Mary Oliver way of asking, "What does your inner voice say? Am I excited about this reading?"
We each have different places and occasions where we want to read--know them.
I love to read on important event days in my life-- Sept 15th (the anniversary of my father's death), National Poetry Month, special events (like my upcoming Oct 6th reading in the Alexis Hotel where I'll read in my pajamas with 3 other people).
I want to be part of the unexpected.
I want to read to people who want to hear me.
I want to have fun and help others have fun too.
I don't just want to read to hear myself again.
As an introvert, readings don't invigorate me, they tire me out--so when I say yes, I want to give my best and also want my best.
We each need to know our reasons for wanting to read and to know they are all valid.
If you get an emotional high that you can't explain from reading, take all you can because it's cheaper than therapy!
If you don't and reading make you tired, choose the best ones.
If you're afraid to read, then maybe read a little more, push yourself out of your comfort zone, see what happens.
But just know why you're saying yes, and when you say yes, keep your word.
And if by chance, you have to change a reading date or cancel, when you contact the host, have one or two friends as backup people s/he can have read in your place. No one wants to be left with a blank space on the schedule because you cancelled. Mind the gap, as they say in London. Fill up the space you left.
I will say, many times when we're asked to read we don't know what to say... that's okay.
Tell the person, let me think about it and get back to you.
Let me check my schedule and get back to you...
If you look at your schedule and think, "Wow, I have a lot going on that week," either ask for another date when you're not so busy, or say "no" if you think you're going to feel overwhelmed and want to cancel.
Be true to your own self and feelings. But be honest. Don't just say yes because you think you have to or you felt honored to be asked or you didn't want to hurt the person's feelings or you thought you might feel better about it later or because of ego.
Say, "Let me check on that and get back to you..." Sleep on it. Ask yourself the next day how you feel about it and if you can afford it, and then reply.
It's okay to say "maybe" and follow up.
And learn from your mistakes.
Added Note 9/25/12:
Martha Silano just commented about asking for a stipend, which is a great idea and made me think of this my own rules--
1) If I'm asked to read on this side of the water where I can drive an hour or less to get to my reading destination (and do not need a ferry), then I say yes.
2) If I'm asked to read at a place that requires ferry travel, then I try to get a stipend to cover expenses.
3) Because I hate driving/traveling, anything that takes over 2 hours to get to, needs to have some sort of stipend/honorarium/expense coverage.