Note: This entry went in a totally different direction than where I thought I was headed! It got very long and wandered around a lot. I got into something that’s really been eating at me for a long time, though, and I’d really appreciate some feedback.
I should have my microphone taken away. I recorded several more poems for some reason, but haven’t posted them anywhere because I really love hearing them with the music Sam adds. His editing expertise always makes me sound much better, too! Sam got me worried about copyright issues, which is why I haven’t posted them to Live Readings yet.
I miss readings. Live gatherings of people, closely or loosely connected, who come together to share passages of prose or poetry with each other. Not the sort where people get up at a podium, or an event arranged for a particular author, just friends and acquaintances sharing the joy of the word. If there are authors in the group who share passages of whatever they’re working on, so much the better! If not, well, there’s a wealth of material out there that just begs to be heard, that cannot be fully appreciated on the page. I owe my discovery of G.K. Chesterton to such a group and a renewed interest in Mark Twain to readings.
The crowd I knew who did readings had coalesced around a small, independent Christian bookstore in the Embry Hills shopping center, off Chamblee Tucker Road. Alan is the person I remember best. He and his mother ran the shop, and for a time his grandmother had a knitting nook in a back corner.1Oh, I wish I’d taken the time to sit down and learn from her! But she had to return to the U.K. due to health issues.1 I was in the store one Saturday, I think, looking for the next tape in a video series I was watching—something featuring Francis Shaeffer2Anyone who isn’t familiar with Francis Schaeffer and the whole Dominionism thing should read through the Wikipedia articles or, better yet, some of the original sources. Scary stuff. But it wasn’t scary then, as that was the logical extension of the Christianity in which I was raised. I was enchanted with the idea of L’Abri. I still am. The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Creative Ideas for Enriching Everyday Life by Edith Shaeffer was incredibly influential for me, and it informed much of how I conducted myself in my first marriage. I wonder what happened to it? I’d like to re-read it now, to see if I still like it or if I’ve changed too much. Hmmm. Their son, Frank Schaeffer, has written a book, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back, that sounds like a good read., but I can’t remember exactly what—and Alan said that someone else had just rented it, but I could go to their house to watch.3It was How Should We Then Live!
What? That was pretty weird. I asked when they might bring it back, or if I could get someone to call me when the tape was available for rental again, and he kept pushing at me to just go show up! No, he wasn’t going. He’d seen that movie.
I didn’t know that the extreme loneliness I was feeling at that time showed that badly. I mean, seriously—people in a bookstore were trying to fix my social life? It was one thing when it was Alan because I don’t think he ever met a purely social taboo that he wouldn’t discard without a thought, but when his mother and grandmother started telling me to give it a go, there’d be lots of other people there, etc. it was very hard to say no. I was going to just take the address and phone number, agree to “try” to go, and leave.
But then Bryan came in, and they introduced me to him. He was so very sweet, and approachable, all artist‑y with his long hair and great big, brown eyes! He was also very obviously shy, but trying to make me feel comfortable, which was touching. I couldn’t say no to him, and I couldn’t lie and say I’d try but not show up.
So I went home and then I did show up at The House that night.
There was a group of young adults, three or four of whom (it varied) rented a house and studio space together. Rod was definitely the leader. That was never disputed. Bryan was the guy I got to know best. There were two others who lived in the main house, Jim and someone whose name is escaping me. Dale was around almost all the time. And, um, I’ve lost too many names, dangit! I don’t know how my friend Leigh Ann Whatley found her way there, but I’m glad she did, as that’s how I met her.4Leigh Ann Whatley Lauinger, where are you?! I miss you! And how could I forget Bruce, who lived with his wife and children in Riverdale? I feel rotten that I can’t remember his wife’s name, but they opened their home to us regularly, and it was always worth the trip to visit. I think I had mulled cider there for the first time. I met Ginger (Virginia) Rucker through that group, too.5Again, hello Ginger! Email me!
We can stop here, and say, “WTF??? Are you crazy? You went off to a house shared by a bunch of guys, by yourself, without knowing anything more than that they rented videos where you did?”
I had to figure that anybody who was getting together to watch a theology lecture probably wasn’t going to be too terribly dangerous, or they’d be dangerous in the Jim Jones way, which takes time to build up, so I felt okay about going. My parents even allowed it.6Yes, I was still living in their home, and yes, they still controlled a large part of my life. As far as they were concerned, Christian = Good.
Anyway, I did go. I guess that’s obvious. And I went back. A very informal group of people gathered there on a weeknight for a sort of Bible/theology study thing, and most Saturday nights they did a movie double feature. And from time to time, Rod read.
It didn’t really matter what he read. He could have gone through all the begats and I would have been rapt. He had a gorgeous voice and a gift for oral expression. Fortunately, he had much better taste in material than that! He introduced me to Chesterton and other authors. Sometimes, somebody would burst into the common room so excited about something they’d read that they had to read it right now! The movie or stereo would be stopped, conversations would largely cease, and whoever was around would truly listen. It could be something from the Bible, a pulp novel, or just about anything. We’d listen, all of us. We might go on to whatever we’d been doing before, or someone else might say, “Oh, that reminds me of this!” and read something else out loud. Sometimes a couple of people, or a small group, would peel off to go talk about what had been read.
Occasionally, someone would ask for clarification or expansion if the reason for the excitement wasn’t clear to them, but nobody ever criticized or derided the passage or the reader. It wasn’t a house rule or anything. It just was not done. There was no need for a rule. That’s Christian fellowship.7I know it isn’t limited to Christianity, but if I’d found it more than once I might still be a Christian. We listened and accepted in love. We accepted what was offered, and gave back affirmation. I have never felt that sense of fellowship anywhere else—not in any church, worship or ritual; certainly not in my family of origin or gatherings of friends. The closest I’ve ever come was some of the gatherings of chosen family at our house in Stone Mountain.
Whoa, was that a tangent!
Getting back to that long-lost point? After a while, Alan had the bright idea of actually having reading nights. The first one that I knew of was in the home he shared with his parents. There were so many different things read!8If I were to organize one again, I think I’d provide a whiteboard for people to write down the name and author of the piece they were reading, with pens and paper for others to copy that down. Or maybe I’d email them the list after the event. Anyway, it was always information I wanted! One interesting thing Alan initiated was reading a short story by passing the book around the room. Each person read one page (just one side of the page), then handed the book to the next person, who picked up mid-sentence (or even mid-word, if there had been a hyphenation!) and carried on. It was jarring, but it also brought a breath of fresh air to a story that I thought I knew very well9Something by O. Henry, I think?
There were quite a few reading nights over the next year or so. We were all readers, and while it can be hard to find a movie that everybody wants to see, it’s fairly easy for anyone to find several passages of poetry or prose to share, and vastly unlikely that there will be any duplicates. We did have to rule out Robert Louis Stevenson, though, after one person read what felt like at least half of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Everybody but the reader was falling asleep! The next time we met, the same person pulled out either Kidnapped or Treasure Island, which inspired a mutiny. That wasn’t common, though, and it was done nicely that one time.
Readings take me back to a feeling of a time when people did take time to read. Not just to read, but to experience a book, immerse themselves in the language. They discussed them and cherished them. They read to each other at home, since books were so much rarer, enjoying whatever was read as a family. It wasn’t uncommon for those who weren’t doing the reading to be working on projects, together or separately—mending, carving, quilting, whatever. Their time was spent pleasurably and productively.
That’s so different from my own experience of “family time” as a child that I know I’m romanticizing it, but I also know that doing things together pulls people together, and there has to be a balance of work and pleasure. Shared stories, music, and games gave families and friends springboards for creating more of the above, for being actively involved in something together, and for having real conversations in person and through letters. While there are people who find deep meaning in certain television shows, the average viewer is passively receiving whatever is beamed through her TV set. No interaction is required. It’s very isolating. So many homes have multiple TVs that there’s no reason to negotiate what will be watched—you just go to your own room. More isolation!
I want fellowship back. I want to recreate that aspect of The House that I so loved. I want something like our social circle from the Stone Mountain years. I want to be part of a group that has readings, that plays games together, that makes music, that creates things. I keep reading Kimberly’s description of “Triple C Nights” at her family’s home (crafts, cooking, and cards, I think? or maybe one of the Cs is for cats!), and I’m very envious of her local crew.
I’m fairly sure that I’m gibbering, so I’m going to wait and re-read this tomorrow, then consider posting it.