Poets and Porn Stars

Meeting a world famous porn star is every young man’s dream.  Going head to head with a world famous porn star in a writing competition is something else entirely.

On Sunday, I went to the Roar Shack Reading at 826LA in Echo Park.  It’s a monthly reading of writers as well as live music, and there’s usually a special guest.  Part of the event is the Live Write.  This is where the audience submits a writing prompt for the guest at the reading as well as two volunteers.  It’s not really a competition, but rather a friendly challenge.  Participants of the Live Write are the guest and two volunteers.

Sunday’s guest was porn star Nina Hartley, and when others were hesitant to volunteer, I raised my hand and said I was willing to have a go at it.  So there I am shaking hands with Hartley who is older than me, wiser than me, and just as nervous, because, after all, neither of us has ever done this.  We were both losing our Live Write virginity.  In front of a live audience.  Kinky.

“What are we supposed to do?” she asked me.

“I have no idea,” I said.  It was only a partial lie.  I had been to one other Roar Shack Reading before, but it was months earlier and the details were kind of foggy.

David Rocklin, the director of the reading series, brought us up to speed.  He’d read us the prompt he had chosen from the audience, a prompt that neither of us knew about unless one of us had by chance written it.  We each had ten minutes to write a story based on the prompt and then had to read it in front of everyone.  There was no medal, no cash prize.  The winner simply got to come back the following month to read other, more completed work.

The prompt was: write about the contour of your hand in ten years.

“What if we don’t plan to live that long?” I asked.

So ten minutes of writing.  Me with my anemic resume versus someone with at least two books to her credit and more AVN Awards than I’ve ever been nominated for.  But there was no time to think.  The clock ticked, and when the ten minutes were up, Hartley and I would both have to read whether we were finished or not.  And I wasn’t about to go up to the microphone empty-handed, not when I willingly put myself in this situation to begin with.

I half-assed my way through it, doing my best and cobbling a story together by imagining a grim late-thirties me looking back on a couple of really bad nights of drinking.  Rocklin called me up first.  I managed my way through it, holding on to the microphone stand more to keep my balance than for effect.  The last sentence was half-written; I finished the rest of it on the spot.  I got a good applaud from the audience, and then went back to my seat.

Hartley went up cool, calm, and collected.  She’s done public speaking before, so for her this ain’t no thing but a chicken wing.  She begins by talking about the physical and spiritual construction of a hand, and by mentioning DNA in the second sentence, I predicted that she’d win.  She did, more for her skill, I think, than because the audience gave in to her reputation and celebrity status.  It really was a good first draft.

There are a few reasons why I’m telling you this story.

First, there‘s fear.  I was scared, and not because Nina Hartley was my competition.  That was just me being cute and funny.  I was scared of myself.  I hate my first drafts.  I hate letting people read my first drafts.  And I really hate it when I have to read my first drafts in front of people.  And when David said that the audience was just going to listen and watch and judge, I thought, Fuck!  Where did my balls go?!  Can somebody find them?  I need them like Lindsay Lohan needs to be reminded that you can’t use drugs while in rehab!  There was a moment in those ten minutes when I looked up at my friend Ashley and she urged me to stop wasting time and keep on writing.  Don’t worry about it being good, just worry about it being done.

Second, there’s serenity.  I’ve written before about how the audience takes your work, makes its own judgement on it, and there‘s not a damn thing you can do about it.  This was an excellent example of that.  You can‘t give the audience nothing.  Let me repeat that: You…cannot…give…the audience…nothing!  They’ll kill you for that.  They might not kill you physically (unless they manage to make it look like an unfortunate gardening accident), but they’ll kill you in their minds, at least a tiny bit.  Go up with nothing and they’ll lose respect for you, because you were too much of a pussy to accept a challenge given in the spirit of having fun.  You were too scared to have fun!

Once you’ve accepted that – when you remind yourself that they’re not expecting you to be the best – you feel as calm as a child losing a tooth.  It’ll hurt, but it has to be done and it’ll hurt a lot less if you don’t fight it.

And finally, there’s the unexpected.  I didn’t win the Live Write, but I did win an invitation from David to submit work for a future reading.  He didn’t have to.  He could have said, “Good job!  Nice Try!”, and send my on my way.  David didn’t know me.  I didn’t know him.  There was no reason for him to extend that invitation.

Except, maybe there was something about that first draft – that nervous, half-assed piece of shit scribbled down so fiercely that even I had trouble understanding my own handwriting – maybe there was something in that first draft that stood out like a neon sign in darkness.  Maybe it was the fact that I was brave enough to raise my hand in the first place.  Maybe it was both.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s