Stepping waaaay out of my comfort zone, I attended the Chicago Writers Conference in September. In the course of the weekend I learned about writerly things and was reminded by every speaker that none of us in attendance was likely to ever get published. The cold, hard truth, they confessed, is that unless you’re a celebrity, an athlete, a known expert in some field, or a mommy blogger who has over 150,000 followers on social media, it ain’t happening.
The speakers scanned the crowd of dejected fiction writers, conceding that if we wrote an Amish “Bonnet Ripper” then, perhaps, we had a shot. These days, literary agents won’t sign a non-Amish nobody, they explained, trying to take the sting away by offering free booze at a cocktail party on night two.
I just wanted my money back.
Then on the last day of the conference, I learned about the Live Lit scene in Chicago. Like Second City did for the improv scene, Story Club, Essay Fiesta, Do Not Submit, and This Much is True are paving the way for storytelling as mainstream entertainment and an artform. Intrigued by the idea that wanna-be writers like myself are crafting narratives for the stage, I attended several different shows in the weeks following the writer’s conference. Each storytelling series has its own vibe and a lineup of storytellers that share a unique flavor profile: Thespian types with well-honed monologues. Open mic-ers acting on a dare. Grizzled Vietnam vets and retired cops telling stories of rehab and resilience. Lonely souls talking about their glory days in the college LARP club. Local authors picking into their “process” while peddling a new book release.
No surprise, I am drawn to unpolished speakers with painful and sparkling prose. I find myself thinking that maybe I could do that. I’ve got stories. Problem is, I can’t do witty. I can’t do that pithy hipster twitter speak either. And I have no comedic timing. Also I stumble over my words even before the wine is uncorked. I’m awkward and, believe it or not, introverted. That’s why I write, I remind myself. Still, there’s something about it that’s very compelling to me. The failed experience might even make for a pretty good story. The night I was rendered speechless by a spotlight and a microphone…
As I write this post, I wave away a memory of my first public speaking freakout in seventh grade English class. I froze. I blanked out on the first sentence and then ran to the girls’ room and hid in a stall. Mrs. Morozink allowed me a private do-over while the rest of the class went to recess looking super-embarrassed for me. I doubt that Live Lit has a do-over policy. I hope there are no hecklers in the crowd.
Jitters aside, I’m planning to give it a go this spring and hopefully some of you will be there to cheer me on. It will take my mind off of the sad realization that my manuscript is languishing in some agent’s slush pile in NYC.
The fact that these storytelling series are filling up the back rooms of neighborhood bars nearly every night of the week confirms that Live Lit is gaining popularity. Everyone has a seven minute story in them. Since I started blogging, I have received some great comments on my website and also many private messages from readers who are responding to my posts with recollections and insights of their own. I gather from these exchanges that many of you have a sweet spot for simple pleasures and small town life and, like me, a yearning to go back to when things were not so harried and high tech.
I think we would all like to pass on stories of the good ol’ days to our kids and grandkids. This thought seized me when my daughter described a special piece of equipment that she used in film class last summer. The teacher found the relic in an old storage closet and the students used it to record sound effects and practice techniques employed by Foley artists. My daughter was fascinated by this so-called “rectangle box thingy with talking tape.”
“Oh!” I slapped my forehead. “A cassette recorder!”
“Um, yeah. So Cool.” she smiled.
There is much to be passed on. Like how a favorite April Wine cassette got eaten by the tape deck in my brother’s pickup truck and we both mourned, knowing that once the ribbon is stretched out and creased, it is impossible to rewind it back into the cartridge with any success. Henceforth, I would be forced to sing “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” with no musical backup on the ride to school.
You may not be ready to jump on stage and be part of the Live Lit scene; but I welcome you to share your stories on my website. I have urged my friend, Amy White, to do this even though she claims she is not “A Writer.” She has a knack for journaling and has chronicled such things as her parents’ fifty year marriage, her spiritual journey, and the first time her son helped her make Christmas cookies. She graciously shared a collection of her musings with me that are funny and heartfelt.
Stay tuned, I will be posting a couple of Amy’s gems on my website next week.
Categories: My Posts