“This is Jen McConnell, our visiting writer,” my friend and fellow writer, Kevin Rabas, said to everyone we met. I secretly loved hearing it each time.
I was in Kansas, at Emporia State University. Kevin, whom I met during our Goddard days, is a professor there, and co-director of the creative writing program. He had arranged for me to come to campus to speak to a couple of creative writing classes and give a reading in the evening. My first public reading. And I would be paid for it!
I flew into Kansas City and drove two hours to Emporia, marveling how the flatness of Kansas made Ohio look positively mountainous. Kevin and his family were delightful hosts and in the morning we were off to campus.
Professor Amy Sage Webb was kind enough to let me sit in two of her classes. Despite my usual nervousness, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the students’ work and talking with them during class and at lunch.
My reading was set for seven o’clock in the evening. During some downtime at the hotel, I practiced the stories I would read – changing my mind a few times based on their length and what I thought would be most interesting to the students.
All was well until about five minutes to seven.
Students had started to file into the room – there was a combination of small talk and awkward staring at each other. Suddenly I was gripped with the ‘fight or flight’ feeling – except for me, there is never any fight. It is 100% “I have to get the hell out of here.”
So I left the room, walked quickly upstairs and paced the deserted hallway. I would be fine once I began to read and to talk about writing. It was those dead minutes beforehand that made me want to run away.
I think the reading went terrific. There were laughs where there should be. Appropriate sighs and clicks of the tongue at poignant moments in the stories. And then it was time for questions – my favorite part. I love to hear students’ ideas and thoughts, and learn about what they write and why.
During the three days I was in Kansas, I was completely, and solely, a writer. The same delicious feeling as when I am at Clockhouse Writers’ Conference. I am not a mom or a wife, no one cares what my day job is. I am only my writing.
Of course, that makes returning to reality – being a wife and mother with a day job – a slap of reality, but it also rejuvenates me to give more of my ‘regular’ life to my writing life. Whenever and however I can.