Ivy read a story of mine on the latest episode of KnitSpirit. It originally ran in The Cornell Review about 18 years ago, but I recently retooled it. She had asked for listeners to submit stories about angels, and as you know, I’ve got a thousand of those.
My story begins at about 8:30, but listen to the whole thing because there are other stories on the podcast.
I love hearing other people read my work. It’s primarily because I’m an extraordinary egoist, and I like hearing my own words. But since that’s not polite to say in public, I’ll say that listening to my work read by someone else gives me a better sense of where the stresses fall in the sentences and how the work actually sounds.
I read it aloud, of course. That’s a part of my editing process. And I’ll read parts of it aloud to my Patient Husband (hence the Patient part, which he’s painfully earned) but it’s not the same thing.
In my writers group, the real-life one, I remember one time that a gentleman got to read my writing exercise aloud, and he really hammed it up. I loved it! But it also highlighted my trouble spots. (Later he said it was the writing that made everyone love it; I said it was the reading. Who knows?)
So in listening to Ivy read my story, I found that in some places, my emphasis fell in the wrong parts of the sentence. (In other words, she read it correctly, but the correct reading wasn’t what I intended.) And in another place, she laughed at something that when I’d written it, had been deadly serious.
That was where I realized, Ivy relates to the 37 year old me, not the 18 year old me who wrote the original piece. She’s used to my sarcasm and she knew from the fact that I send her email that I didn’t die when I was in college. Therefore, at the part in the story when I’m walking home and doing damage control (“a test can be failed, a major can be changed…”) in her mind, there’s no danger.
Whereas when I actually lived through it, I really was talking myself down from a ledge.
I’m not sure if the sentence should be changed. It is what it is. But there’s something funny in a painful way about realizing how stupid the whole thing was and how big it seemed at the time.
The moral of the story? Jane takes herself too damn seriously. Because when I re-read that, I still hear it in my own plaintive voice. It’s hard to disengage.