Sunday, April 8, 2012

On Reading Aloud, Being the Judge, and Giant Skull Throat Tattoos

My next tattoo
On Reading Aloud, Being the Judge, and Giant Skull Throat Tattoos

Last Thursday, I was a featured reader at Hugo House’s Cheap Wine and Poetry Night. I’d been worn down all week fighting stress and hay fever, I felt haggard and flabby, I was woefully underprepared, and the last thing I wanted to do was stand up in front of an audience and be the center of attention, even if only for fifteen minutes. But the pure goodwill and warmth of the standing-room only house was so powerful, I had a  fantastic time at the microphone in spite of myself. I felt all aglow the next day with the positive vibes and warm energy. The Seattle poetry community is truly engaged, enthusiastic, and incredibly supportive.

The other featured readers, Jeanine Walker, Tara Hardy, and Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken, were all amazing. As I watched them, I felt a strange mixture of sadness and inspiration: Sadness that the poetry is not coming for me as fast and strong as I want it to, and inspired by the power of their work and their commitment to writing as a tool for transformation and change. I realized that I have allowed myself to become far too isolated. Although writing is a solitary activity, it is not meant to exist in a vacuum, but to be shared in a community; to be celebrated, read aloud, and unapologetically wielded as a tool of cultural and personal transformation. My tendency to try to do this all alone, to isolate and hide and peck away in total solitude, is suffocating the life force from my creativity. The fact is, I need people. I need community. I need an audience to receive and respond to my words. I need to see that my work has impact and power, and I can’t do that if I perpetually hide and hoard my work in darkness. I’m resolved to change this; to take the risk of letting myself be known, to begin delving into the rich and exciting community of writers in Seattle and maybe even develop some friendships. I've put in an application to volunteer at Hugo House, and am resolved to start going to more literary events; no matter how tired am after work.

In the vein of supporting local writers, I was honored to selected as the judge of the Our Own Expression Youth Poetry Competition this year! I’m super excited to get the packet of entries and start reading, yet I’m a bit daunted at the responsibility inherent in selecting the winners and having to turn down others for a place. Last year, I got to emcee the awards presentation event at Pacific Lutheran University, and it was breathtaking to meet all of the beautifully shy and brilliant young artists and writers putting their work out there in the world.  It’s going to be hard to say “no” to any entry, but I’m looking forward to the chance to read the work of our state’s young authors.

I went out for beer and burgers with Mr. Typist on Friday night, and our waitress had a giant tattoo of a skull on her throat, which fascinated and distracted me throughout the entire meal. I couldn’t stop staring at it out of the corner of my eye, wondering what state of mind it would take to commit to limiting your options in life in such a dramatic fashion. “I mean, what if she decides she wants to be an investment banker?” I whispered to Mr. Typist. “Well, just think about it,” he said. “With a tattoo like that, she’d never lose a negotiation. They’d just take one look at her throat and give her whatever she wanted.” Budding investment banker or not, I admire her committing to a stance—permanently. No one commits to anything anymore. Everything is too easy to get out of. Nothing says, “I’m all in" like a giant skull throat tattoo.

The whole experience reminded me of my own relatively tame tattoo of Osiris on my left bicep, which is badly in need of being re-colored. Sometimes I’ve considered having it removed, but it’s like a living part of my own body now. It’s part of me; it comforts me, and I would miss it very much if it were gone. I’m working up the courage for my next one, a depiction of Lilith with a snake wrapped around her torso. But wherever it goes, I’m pretty sure it won’t be on my throat. 

--Kristen McHenry


Steven Cain said...

Your work has impact and power. I read all of your posts... laugh, learn, get inspiration. The Good Typist is one of my favorite secret treasures. Don't go and get so worn out(or popular)that you stop writing here... please.

Kristen McHenry said...

Wow! Thank you, Steven! It means a lot to know you're reading and getting something of value out of it. I highly doubt that overwhelming popularity will ever be something I need to contend with,but worn-outed-ness is ever-looming. Either way, I won't stop blogging here. I may be slow getting posts up, but I will always be back eventually.Thanks for reading!