Anecdotes from My Residency: Cuffed Onstage (August 2012)
In moving to Portland at the end of last year, I wound up living less than a mile away from Carmen Bernier-Grand, an accomplished author and my professor for the Craft of Young Adult Fiction class I took last semester. I’ve had a couple of opportunities to dine and chat with Carmen since then, and I even had the honor of an invitation to sit in on a gathering of her critique group. Nothing intimidating about that, sitting in on a critique session with a handful of published authors – and being invited to give feedback.
I’ve been through three workshop classes in my MFA program, so I tried to relax, focus on the words in front of me, and do my best. I thought I did a pretty good job, for someone who had never seen their writing before and was not prepared to participate.
Fast forward a few months.
It’s a faculty reading night at the residency, and Nadine Pinede and I have been called up onstage by Carmen. Nadine and I are handcuffed together, expecting a magic trick such as Carmen and David Wagoner have performed before. Not quite. It was a setup for her to announce that the faculty has decided that they like the Class of 2012 too much and we would not be allowed to leave.
Tender moment over, Nadine is allowed to go sit. She slips out of the handcuffs in record time. (When I later comment on that, she says, “A Haitian woman in cuffs? I don’t think so.”) I, however, am told to put both cuffs on and remain onstage.
Surely the magic trick is coming now.
Carmen takes this opportunity to tell the whole audience how she invited me to sit in on her critique group and how I savaged her first picture book, how I mercilessly tore it apart. While I’m standing there behind her onstage. In handcuffs. Why yes, I am feeling a little exposed, why do you ask?
I try to deny that I savaged her work, but she talks over me, so all I can do is stand there, breathe, and try to stay dignified.
Carmen reads aloud her picture book (the revised version, which has been accepted and is being prepared for publication). The audience loves it, and so do I. She finishes and I’m laughing along with everyone else. She turns and says, “See? Now he likes it! What do you think, Stefon?”
“Better, but I still think the pacing needs work.”*
She is smiling and laughing too, so I am ninety-five percent sure it has all been fun and games, part of the performance, that she does not actually think I savaged her work in the critique group. Of course, she’s never said so, and I haven’t been invited back, so who really knows?
An amusing moment after the readings. John Calderazzo (part of the guest faculty and our graduation speaker) said that it’s not easy to stand onstage in handcuffs and look so at-ease, but that I had the presence to pull it off. I don’t plan to see myself in cuffs on a stage again anytime soon**, but I still found his words reassuring.
I guess if I can handle that, I’m ready to read to the public at large. Which reminds me, next time I’ll talk about giving three readings in nine days.
After that post, I think I’ll wrap up the MFA portion of this blog, and get on to making this my author blog. What does that mean exactly? Stay tuned and find out.
*After all that setup, what else could I say?
**point of clarity – I have no plans on being in cuffs again at all