My Night as a Writer/Performer

by MAWP student Marianne Chrisos

Last Friday, I attended and read at the Threshold Literary Journal 2011 Launch Party. My piece, a creative nonfiction essay called “Solving for X,” was published in the back of this bright and shiny bound-up creature. I am honored and excited. Threshold is a pretty neat thing. And it was a pretty neat night.

I had two drinks because they gave me two drink tickets at the door, and I felt it would be wasteful to not use them. I also had to read an excerpt of my piece on stage, using a microphone that was taller than me (though I did ask the editor to point that out to someone so I would not be wildly and horribly shamed, and it was lowered to a reasonable height). I felt this would help me feel more comfortable about my first public reading – I was excited to be reading, but very nervous. I somehow forgot I’m not a particularly coordinated person when sober, but still managed not to go boom. I also forgot that you can’t actually see anyone in an audience when you are standing on a stage and there is a yellow light in your eyes. Still, I read, I didn’t stutter or rush, I didn’t trip, I couldn’t see anyone, the mike was at a good height, and then I watched the rest of the staff picks and then the winners of the excellence awards read. A beautiful and successful literary evening.

Threshold is not a national publication – it is extremely local, community, Chicago, university. Still, I’m delighted to reside within its pages. Additionally, it’s a beautiful journal, and I will read it cover to cover, not just out of respect for the other authors, but because the other authors are good authors, and I’m grateful to be published alongside them. One of the things I appreciated about last night was the grateful tone that everyone had for everyone else. People rarely went onstage without thanking someone. I think this is so important, because writing and production do not occur in a vacuum. I don’t think any author should ever forget the hard work that goes into putting their writing onto a page. In turn, the Threshold staff made us all feel very welcome, deserving and talented.

So why was I so nervous? I believe it has to do with the idea of performing versus the idea of being an artist. I have a huge personality – I am loud and witty and say things without thinking sometimes, but this has never been an attempt to gain attention. This is my genuine personality, the McDonough-Chrisos genes, some kind of flair for drama or a DNA of sarcasm. The idea of standing on a stage reading something I’ve written and having people watch as if I deserve some kind of attention for simply writing – that is different. To me, that feels like a performance. And while I am learning that does come with a professional artistic lifestyle and am even grateful for it, I do not feel deserving of any kind of attention.

It’s not a confidence issue – I can hand anyone a piece of mine at any time and have them read it. I’m not a shy person in any regard. But there is a disconnect in my head between standing up and reading my own work to a group who could be anywhere else doing anything else and asking them to pay attention, to care, versus their choosing to read my work on their own time. It feels like a performance and I had not yet connected that to professional writing.

However, all other art forms seem have some kind of performance aspect. My best friend in New York is a photographer and is showing her work in a gallery this weekend. A coworker of mine has written and performed in several dramatic works and plays. Essays, short stories, poetry. It is not that I forget that these are meant to be read aloud. Perhaps it is that writing and reading are so private, so solitary. It’s not that I forget that oral storytelling is a rich part of literary history – I simply didn’t think I would get a chance to partake.

So what do you think – how much “performance” do you think goes into art? Do you think there is always a correlation between the two, at least professionally?

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