Over the years, I have been taking writing classes at UC Berkeley Extension. This past year UC Berkeley Extension started a new literary magazine—URSA Minor, UC Berkeley extension’s art & literature review. Present and past students were given the opportunity to send their work. I submitted and I am one of the few whose work was selected to appear in the inaugural issue.
UC Berkeley Extension arranged a launch party and two reading opportunities for students whose works were selected. I was very keen to read and share my work. After all, it was the first time I had submitted anywhere. On May 7, I was one of the students who read their work at Book Passage in San Francisco. We each had five to eight minutes to read.
As I got up to read, I was calm, my body didn’t shake, and I didn’t have grumbling sounds in my stomach. During my reading I paced myself, I raised or lowered my voice as demanded by my character, and I didn’t try to read through 2,000 words in eight minutes. Instead, I stopped my piece at a climactic point and asked the audience to read the rest of my work in the magazine.
I heard audiences’ gasps followed by claps. After the readings, many who initially looked at me with oh-another-Indian-with-bad-accent eyes came over to tell me that my presentation was the best. I was delighted. Unknowingly I started advising everyone about my process. About how I try to read at open-mic at least once a month.
I talked about my first open-mic. That was when my stomach made funny sounds and my body shook. I had read as if I was my own audience. I had read as if I was missing my flight that I had to rush through every word. During my first open-mic, my hand shook so much that I had to use both hands to hold my reading papers. Over the years reading at open-mics have helped me. Now when I read in front of strangers my body and hands don’t shake and my stomach is not in knots. But most of all I have learned to pace myself.
None of my rehearsals would have been possible without Bill Baldwin. Bill is the director of open-mic nights at South Bay Writers. He organizes two open-mics every month, at Barnes & Noble Bookstore and Willow Glen Branch Library. On the day of the open-mic, in his lunch hour, Bill drives to the library, collects the keys from the library personnel, drives back to his office, and prints-out the evening’s printed program that includes the attendees’ name, title of the work they are going to read, and name of the writer of the work.
In the evening of the open-mic, he is in the location thirty minutes ahead of everyone to set-up. He arranges the chairs, tables, and podium for the evening’s readings. He keeps the readers in-check and has encouraging words for all readers. I am seeing Bill do this twice a month every month. I started attending his open-mic a year and half ago. And I have not seen him miss a beat. Above all, he gets no help from attendees like me. All of us just take him for granted.
Until my recent reading at San Francisco, I didn’t realize that I need to share my accolades with the unsung heroes of the writers clubs. Those who tirelessly organize and show-up to better others. Those who don’t care if newbies like me even understand their selflessness. I just want to say, “Thank you Bill.”