Eyes wide shut

Reading my work aloud to an audience still makes me a bit nervous. Though I've gotten better over the years. I've learned to speak slowly and with intention to be sure my words are loud and clear. I vary the style of my speaking voice to avoid sounding monotonous. And I look up from the page once in awhile to engage the audience.

Most of these techniques are for a listener's benefit. I want them to hear each word and not be put off by a boring tone. But the last technique is really for me. When I look out at the audience, I can see peoples' body language, particularly their eyes, and know how they are reacting to a piece. Are they smiling? Thoughtful? Intense? Falling asleep?

The last time I read to an audience, though, something shifted. When I looked up to engage them, I couldn't see the whites of their eyes because most had their eyes closed. Some of them were squeezing their eyelids tight. Many had their heads tilted back with their chins up as if they were expecting the words to dribble down from the air and wash over them, like a rainfall of story.

It took me some time to realize why this audience was so different than others. But it made sense when I thought about it. These were my colleagues at an artist's residency and they were almost exclusively visual artists. They were not particularly interested in seeing me read. They wanted to ingest my words and process them visually,  as only they could see them. Like on the television show The Voice, they were reacting to craft in its purest form, using their own creative judgment to react to my work without the artifice of appearances. 

It was a raw moment of peer-to-peer creativity. And a reminder of the elasticity of writing. People take in writing using whatever tools or filters they possess. I read the words; they saw the stories. Over in the blink of an eye. Magical.