And they call it ‘the flash’…

Thursday afternoon I called in to see my parents.  After we’d caught up on family news, we got to comparing plans. ‘We’re off to Cheltenham tonight,’ I said.  ‘For an open-mic story evening, Flashers’ Club.’

‘Oh,’ said dad, ‘are you reading?’

‘No.  I’m going to listen,’ I said.

‘You’re taking something along though, aren’t you?’ said Ray, when I got home.

‘I’m more comfortable listening,’ I said.

‘That’s because you avoid doing it.  You need practice.’

‘I don’t think I’ve got anything suitable,’ I said, switching on the laptop and trawling through my files.  ‘Most of my stuff is intended to be looked at rather than listened to.’

I did put a story in my pocket. I even found time for a couple of read-throughs, figuring out which bits made me stumble, and making minor changes. I’d done the poetry reading, last year; I sit in front of groups discussing story theory and practice without a qualm, but this was different.

During the twenty-minute drive through lashing rain, we talked.  ‘Is it right at these lights?’

‘No, straight over, then left at the roundabout.’

‘This rain’s getting heavy.’

‘I’ve an idea about your dad’s birthday present.’

There was a five minute dash from car park to street, and the decision about what to order to eat.  It’s so much easier to open the fridge and see what needs using up, than having to chose from a list of tasty dishes someone else will prepare.

‘Where will you be sitting?’ said the woman at the counter.

‘By the window,’ said Ray.

As we settled, two more people came into Smokey Joes, and headed for the glass doors beside the serving counter.

I said, ‘I think it must be open.’  A woman at the next table did too. She picked up her plate of food and migrated through those open doors.

Ray said, ‘You’re right.  We’d better follow, if we want to nab a table too.’

Flashers ClubAlex greeted us with a smile. ‘Three pounds if you read, four if you don’t.’

That’s clever, because it isn’t about saving the money.  How many other events can you find that cost less than a fiver?  Besides, all the proceeds go to charity, so I don’t begrudge a quid.  But, having paid less, not reading would have made me a fraud.

I’d picked one of my shortest pieces of writing, less than a page, double-line spaced, font size fourteen, for ease of reading, and luck was on my side.  My name was not first out of the hat, it was second.  Phew, no time to think, I was up at the lectern, concentrating on my paper and trying not to stumble.

Heart pounding in a way I don’t remember ever experiencing in classes, I tried to breath as I spoke. Slow and clear, I told myself. I concentrated on one word at a time, and followed the punctuation, and wonder of wonders, I arrived at the last full-stop only slightly breathless.

It was done.  I could sit back and enjoy the other readings.

What a selection, aliens, memoir, fantasy, vampires, crime and comedy.  This is why, even if you think you’ll never ever stand at the open mic, you should seek out your nearest story-reading event.

‘The difference is,’ said Ray, on the way home, ‘in class you’re talking about other people’s stories.  Tonight, it was just you, revealing glimpses of your imagination, of yourself. Vulnerability! We don’t do that, do we?’

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14 thoughts on “And they call it ‘the flash’…

  1. Bravo Cath. Open mic is such a marvelous creature. I learnt so very very much at the venues I used to inhabit. In my case, I didn’t think it was worth attending unless I had material to read. I was poet, not audience!

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  2. Sounds like a great evening. We have open mic nights in Dublin Writer’s Centre but I have yet to attend. I remember you reading your fairy story in Teller and Tale. You may have been nervous but you read well, so I bet you were brilliant at The Flash.

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    • Thank you Lynda. You have a kinder memory of that afternoon than I do – as i recall it, I got the middle part of the story wrong, and had to improvise the ending.

      Ray assures me he couldn’t hear my voice wobbling. That’s a thumbs up to me.

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  3. Well done Cath! I think it takes a lot of nerve to step into the spotlight like that but it’s so rewarding. I’ve tried some stand up comedy a couple of times, mainly as an extreme method of breaking through the fear that blocks me as a writer. I’ve never been more terrified but it worked!

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  4. Bravo indeed. I too recall the Teller and the Tale and how much it took for you to do it. Like Lynda, I remember an impressive performance from a woman miles out of her comfort zone. You definitely rocked.
    Vulnerability; now there’s a word. Mine appears whenever I find myself singing or playing guitar in public. Mostly, these days, I avoid doing so, for the reasons you show us in this telling piece.
    You tell your Dad you’re just going to listen. You take the thinly disguised nudge from Ray and look out a story, just as back up. It’s raining and you focus on the minutiae of the journey. Even choosing what to eat is major. I can almost feel your reluctance as you discover the doors are open but brave of you to pay the ‘reader’ fee to push you into performing. I’m sure there was no audible tremor in your voice, Cath and I’m sure it was a fabulous, well-crafted piece you read. I would have loved to have been there.
    Maybe you will read more often and with each occasion gain confidence and belief in yourself. Recently I sang at a friend’s 60th Birthday party and for the first time in many years, I didn’t succumb to my squeaky, breath-starved, nerve voice and felt good about it afterwards. Admittedly, I sang in a group, it was a benign audience and the bubbly was flowing but nevertheless…I faced my vulnerability full in the face and it was ok. I hope you feel the same.

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    • Thank you Ruth. Yes, keeping my focus on the mundane was what allowed me to get there. I’m so chuffed I did it. Maybe not such a huge stretch as that Teller and the Tale performance – oh how vividly I remember that – but something I’m also going to hold on to. Now that I know I can do it, I might step up again.

      Good for you, singing. I don’t ever remember hearing a ‘squeaky, breath-starved, nerve voice’. I don’t think I’d realised you were no longer singing. last time we saw you, at your birthday party, there was a delightful evening of music, and you were at the centre – or doesn’t that count?

      In case I haven’t mentioned this before, I’m going to state here, indelibly, that without the example you and Lynda provided me with, I wonder if I would have managed that Teller and The Tale course performance. I had the feeling at the time that you were both more determined about my achieving it than I was. I know that it was the extra tuition and encouragement you both gave me that got me in front of that mic – and we’ll only mention in passing that medicinal visit to the pub prior to the event… (this time it was a toasted sandwich. I feel that’s progress.)

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      • A toasted sandwich for courage- definitely a positive sign.
        You’re right, I think Lynda and I were determined you made the performance. And oh, the pride when you did it. I felt like a parent! Lovely that you feel that way about it.
        Regarding my singing, I’m fine at a party among friends, even finer as the booze flows (as you saw). It’s the act of standing on a stage in front of an audience that gives me the jitters. I guess I’m much less confidant as a singer than an actor.
        Anyway, we’ve both recently faced and conquered our demons; here’s to us… (I’m raising a glass of fizzy water. Are you heading off to toast a sandwich?) 😊x

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