Teri's picture
Teri October 8, 2014 - 3:34pm

I haven't participated here much but I'm going to give it a shot.( I don't care for definition word shy, but maybe that is it, in some regard. )


Later this year I am allegedly going to read in public for the first time in many years, a true story that while I shouldn't really discuss it, I can say that it is of a somewhat nefarious nature, though it was many years ago. I'm not quite comfortable with it as it is from so long ago that that really isn't my life anymore, one of those kinds of stories.


So...there's a lot of writers here and I thought that I would ask, and as my beginning question for my plan to get involved here and participate...


What is/was the most difficult, uncomfortable or embarassing story that you have ever read to an audience?


( Also as luck would have it I will be sans internet for a day or two but I will check this thread and hopefully find responses.)



Matt Oddfield's picture
Matt Oddfield from nowhere in particular is reading Embassytown October 9, 2014 - 12:31pm

I didn't have to read out anything personal like you have, but I did read some of "Choke" to. uh. my relatives. The good bits. Really good bits. Ahem.

If I had to give you advice, I'd say distance yourself from whatever you're reading. It's a story, and you're the narrator. All there is to it. Let the shame come afterwards :) But don't be afraid of public readings because of this. If you get a shot at something of the kind, grab it, I reckon.

Teri's picture
Teri October 10, 2014 - 12:24am

Well, I don't have to do this, also something to keep in mind, I suppose.

I appreciate your comment about distance though, I think that's the perspective I should focus on, it really is just a story at this point, though first person does make it more personal especially when it is actually a true story.

I'm not real big on guilt or shame, unless I know that I've actually wronged someone and even then, those are selfish emotions and kind of waste of time. I am sometimes sorry though.

I think it's that I'm really not into dragging the past around, once I've dealt with my emotions about it that is, however long that process may or may not take. So telling a story from so long ago seems strange to me because I really did leave it behind. The other issue is that it is somewhat revealing with regard to who I used to be and that I didn't see myself that way at the time, and having looked at it again, it has changed my perspective on who I am now.

I may not be who I thought that I was. But then again neither are you, Matt "Oddfield." The past is/seems ever springloaded with the potential to be a can of worms.

Other than that it's simply generalized anxiety with regard to reading in public without a body guard. Whether or not I actually need a body guard isn't the point.

And hey, good for you, I guess? I've not ever read that book and certainly could not fathom sharing a story of that nature with my family. Though I guess definitions of "family" sometimes vary as well, though you did say relatives...

Anyway thanks, that was actually helpful. It was a very long time ago.

Matt Oddfield's picture
Matt Oddfield from nowhere in particular is reading Embassytown October 10, 2014 - 5:28am

I sorry if I came off as an insensitive git, which I usually do. I mean, I don't really know what sort of a thing you wrote about and just how hurtful it might feel to bring it up again. But, please, don't assume I have no idea about that can of worms you mention. It's because I do that I felt I could say something valid.

About reading "Choke" aloud--I kind of got pressured into it and couldn't back out. It was a pretty stupid situation.

Jenn Collins's picture
Jenn Collins from Wisconsin, USA is reading Spunk and Bite October 10, 2014 - 8:57am

Just yesterday I listened to the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron.  His guest was a commedianne named Ms. Pat.  She had an extremely rough childhood and young adult life (lots of physical and sexual abuse, two children by a married man before she was 16, alcohol and drug abuse in her immediate family, and worse) and she talks about things she did in her younger years that she isn't proud of.  Things like hiding crack in her kids' clothing to sell it.  Things she did to get by.  She turned her life around and turned her struggles into some very brutally honest comedy, and she acknowledged that she sometimes has trepidation about talking about things in her past because she doens't want anyone to think that who she is now is who she was then.  You get the impression in listening to her that she has grown through the retelling of the bad stuff but that it was never easy.

Anyway, what you are saying reminded me of that.  It's a legitmate struggle you are describing, absolutely.  


Teri's picture
Teri October 10, 2014 - 2:06pm

Matt... not at all, any of what you said.

I think that that is part of, at least part, of why I'm so hesitant to get involved in conversations online or in text. When reading fiction, we get the tone from the setting(s) etc. However in conversation, it can be very easy to misinterpret all sorts of things if we don't know the person that we're talking to. My comments were more observational, more general than you read them, not personal. The past, in general, has the potential to be a can of worms, not just my past, etc. AND you did say something valid.

Jenn... I really appreciate your comments and that you took the time to comment. While I, too, had a rough beginning in life, I guess I'm blessed or lucky that I didn't have a child until I was in my twenties, married and stable. I was blessed, lucky, perhaps even gifted  in some way, by that rough beginning, though that isn't an easy idea to embrace, with enough self-awareness to not go down certain roads. I think it's great when people are able to turn their lives around and make some lemonade with those lemons. While the story isn't a particularly proud episode, it was something dumb that I did sort of accidentally, it isn't something that I'm ashamed of, not anymore anyway if ever that was the emotion.

I think that it's been the realization of the company that I was keeping, in general, and the reasons for that and at the same time, that sounds like passing judgment on those times or that company and I don't feel any of that either, so it's odd. So in that, yeah, I guess there is some that not wanting who I was then to be confused with who I am now. So thank you for that, that was also helpful!

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore October 13, 2014 - 8:52am

This is why I don't write personal stuff, and/or why what bits of me that do make it into fiction and song are deliberately dressed up or exaggerated. Those aren't my opinions; they're the characters'. He's the criminal or bigot or pervert, not me. I'm far more concerned about how people will read it on their own without me there to interpret and introduce it, especially if it's first-person like my debut novel was. Though that made the audiobook really fun to perform. I can't think of any stories I've been uncomfortable reading (and I've done a lot), but if I ever was, it would likely be because of the audience makeup rather than my writing, like telling jokes at a funeral.

The most awkard speech I've ever made in public, though, was after shooting video all day at an Islamic school, the principal shoved a mic into my hand in front of the entire assembled body and told me to talk about my experience of the day. I have no memory of anything I said, but it probably resembled the end of Rocky IV. Many times I've performed songs for the very subjects (however oblivious) they were about. But it's the same thing, you just embody the character. Telling a nonfiction story, though, I guess you just use time passage as your disconnect. Or have one of your alters perform it. haha

Teri's picture
Teri October 14, 2014 - 1:49am

Thanks, Gordon, for that response.

Years ago, when I was younger and naiverer, the big plan was to do the thing of telling "my story" so as to "help" others...and then I got over that, and now I'm like waaay over that. Non-fiction as a genre isn't something I want to pursue. Maybe someday after everything else write an autobiography but in general, the complete story of my life isn't something that I want out there collected in print in one place. Bits and pieces of it exist anyway but that isn't the same thing.

What I've learned about that, and there's nothing wrong with it at all if that's what someone wants to do with their life story, is that if you tell your life story in memior or autobigraphy form and it gets published and then you have to go out there and promote it...well then that's what you're going to be talking about for all that time. I don't want to do that. So a personal story here and there is one thing, I do find it to be cathartic and helpful at times, especially if it's something I was afraid of telling or was hanging onto, but complete non-fiction isn't really something I want to do.

Besides that, complete non-fiction, I think it doesn't exist. If two people were there then there's two stories, and then there's the facts, so...I would prefer to write straight fiction.

I'm kind of getting over my fear of reading this one though, kind of had to find my guts. It's who I was during a particular time in my life and what I've realized as I've mulled this over... as much as I've worried and tried to "please" other people or have been afraid about various things...I mean, all of that has made me not a little crazy sometimes and it has looked it. I wasn't a saint. I cleaned up my act. Now I'm a writer for the reals. Might as well own myself and get over it and get on with it. ( And hope that the people that I like, respect, and care for won't hold any of the sorting out of it against me too much. )   Thanks, again, Gordon, for everything.

Teri's picture
Teri October 14, 2014 - 12:31am

Oh and... how for people will interpret whatever it is... I just had to get over all of that too because I do write poetry also and was constantly frustrated with misinterpretations of it, but that's the whole point of poetry sometimes, it's subjective. There's a lot of sarcasm in my poems sometimes, I wrote this line "I wonder how I tolerate the sky" and people thought that poem was serious, parts of it were but it was mostly sardonic. Outside of that though, I have been trying to pay closer attention to clarifying meanings with some things, paying more attention to "writing with intention."

I think that that is all part of what this is about right now for me, if you worry over every word and how someone else may or may not "take it" well then you'd never get anything worthwhile written. Got to cut loose of it. Hope that people will ask if they're unsure and need/want to know, and/or, just not worry about it and write. There's plenty of stuff that I have no idea what it "meant" necessarliy, it was just something I wrote because I liked those words together, and that is a leftover from years of writing poetry. Learning!

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami October 14, 2014 - 12:33pm

Well I don't know about read to an audience, but the most uncomfortable story I wrote to a crit group was: The Army Of The Black Monkeys.

Yea as you can imagine, I'm not proud of that story.

It was a dystopian flash fiction about an anti-hero who decided to save television by having black monkeys from a zoo replace the current line of TV producers to produce something experimental and different from mainstream programming.

Looking back on it, I shouldn't have wrote it. You grow and you learn.

Teri's picture
Teri October 15, 2014 - 10:56am

If you hadn't have written it then you wouldn't have learned that you don't want to write like whatever the story was about. I think that we need to let ourselves write whatever write, though certainly there are things that most of us would prefer to keep to ourselves.

Linton Robinson's picture
Linton Robinson from Nowhere. I'm an expat and army brat is reading A computer scren December 4, 2014 - 1:57am

Great question.  I had one of those that was epic.  Bumbershoot arts festival in Seattle.  I just happened to be around the Center and walked through and saw there was a poetry reading.  And I just happened to have a poem in my pocket... first one I'd written in many years, typed out and carrying it around proofing it.  So I went in and got a time and read.  There were about 200-300 people there.  MC mentioned I was published poet, had run a poetry press in town before.  I read.   The poem is below, here.

Nobody said anything.  Nobody moved.  They were frozen, staring at anything but me.  I said, "Thanks for the great round of apathy, folks" and moved off.  This cute little teenage girl came out and did a poem about dumping her boyfriend.  Their relief was palpable.  She got a big hand.  I clapped hard for her, she was pert and funny.  Nobody met my eye or said anything to me the rest of the night until I left.

The poem was:  

From: Engines of Desire by Linton Robinson

I saw it first seeping
through the coarse dark
hairs between her legs,
blood thicker than water, slicker than my own,
blood gorged with life, charged with death

Did she bleed because I pierced her?
Or because she lost the child?

She bleeds red from her loins,
white from her breasts,
salt blue from her eyes,
ice green from her guts.
she bleeds copper-gold,
bleeds a dark, tarry black.
I don't know where to look.
I close my eyes to the colors and listen
for a steady dripping that deepens into thunder
as the world throbs hard in my ears,
swollen with its blood and births,
pregnant with its goods and evils.

You can taste it in the wine,
in the host of old recipes;
in any meat, any fish, any fowl.

It's a fine old stock for certain soups,
just lick it off your own fingers.
Blood on your tongue
is more a ritual than a sin,
more an initiation than a crime,
more a meal than a curse.
Under the acrid organic blend
are faint motes of other men.
Past the tongue there is no taste,
just the thick flow down the throat
and on through--a very mixed blessing
that merely keeps me alive.

Does she bleed to feed me because it's too late to die?
Or just to go where I can't follow?

It has a smell of sweat and urine,
of rot and germination,
of fish and death and sweet-sick pollution,
of things already eaten and already passed,
of water already broken,
of air already breathed too many times before...
of corruptions still in progress.
In short, of all turned earth, of everything alive.
The odor washed away by the rivers,
lost in the clean, sharp wrack of sea.

I look up into the rain, sniff running water,
hold up my clean hands to the sky.

Does she bleed some tainted form of water?
Or a more fluid form of flesh?

This dripping tactile glass of hours
winds the months, plots the periods of years,
tells the torture of aborted time,
always unfinished because never begun,
a clotting, cloying cycle
by which life loses itself in the dark.
It's an almanac I can read off the sheets
when I can't see the stars,
bright cardinal points without which
there would be no returning.
Ebbing or stemming, she's always been bleeding.

Is the spoor is getting richer?
Am I getting warmer?

In the desert blood doesn't last long at the surface.
It sinks away grain by grain,
flows into underground rivers,
forms deposits of need and blisters of wealth.
I touch the stains as gently as the sand.
Sticky and hot, it makes me feel porous
and touches my life like gravity,
draws me under, where springs flow
and mirages are formed.

Does she bleed from sin and rupture and long run downhill?
Or just straight out of her heart?

The spoor leads me up into the trees,
red splashed behind the green
like a feldspar fleck in stone.
There's bright sign on the trail,
but maybe just from other climbers.
Yet there is blood on these rocks,
bones frozen deep in the crevices.
The very particles of the stone are tiny animals,
drowned and drifted and crushed together;
lives not so much lost as collected and concreted,
all their fluids petrified, then crumpled like cloth
lifted by their dry weight, changed by their very elevation,
bursting forth and flowing red in their own heat,
spreading out to harden in black scabs.
The slickrock is carved in old flows,
flirts the eye upward like any cathedral.

Has she bled all over the sumacs?
And smeared the Western sky?

Above the trees, the trail is blackened and burnt,
runs cold as each peak points higher and thinner and paler.
Blood drops freeze into sharp crystal shards.
They glow in slightest light,
I see them sown through the snow
like rubies preserved in amber.

Am I losing the scent?
Or is she running out of blood?

The rock turns to ice, then to sleet,
then to snow, to white air
But still I can breathe,
even while my lungs freeze
I stand above it all, blowing frost clouds at the sky...
and see blood on the moon.

Is the purpose of blood to cool the brain?
Or merely to feed us then waste us away?

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault December 4, 2014 - 11:09am

Of other people's work, I read Choke out loud in its entirety to my mom. She loved it. Maybe Guts, which I read to some of the classmate's in my Speech 101 class.

Of mine, I read this piece of flash fiction to some friends where a boy gets struck by lightning while masturbating in a field during a storm.


Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore December 4, 2014 - 12:05pm

Speaking of parents, my father read my entire second novel aloud to my mother, a little bit at a time. It's much less offensive than my first, but it still amused me to picture that. Was also one of the reasons I later wanted to produce an audiobook.

Also speaking of parents, only slightly off topic, when I was like 14, they used to make me perform AC/DC's "Big Balls" for family and friends whenever they'd entertain. Humiliating. But it probably cured any stage fright I'd had up until then.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin December 4, 2014 - 2:20pm

Ha ha, what awesome parents, Gordon :D

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami December 4, 2014 - 3:46pm

Truth be told I'm not sure I'd consider reading anything to an audience, so I'm not sure how to answer the question. Mostly because reading anything in front of an audience (even say a small classroom in a university) the idea of it makes me freeze.

Yes! A poet that hates public speaking.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig December 4, 2014 - 4:15pm

The only time I've read nonfiction was for the same series you're doing. I hate personal stories, too - but the good thing to remember is that everyone there is doing the same thing and the series is known for some very gritty/dark stuff. And I always have a drink before any reading. The most uncomfortable I've ever been was my first reading (which you were at! Haha) for the obvious reason and because I was reading something wildly graphic and nichey (it was about a gay BDSM couple breaking up while one strips nude) to a crowd of strangers. Pretty sure that helped. If I can read that story in mixed company I can read anything!

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami December 5, 2014 - 10:36pm

I think my own issue with personal stories (I wrote down the most major one, though I wouldn't exactly call it gritty or dark) is more I'm not even sure how much I even remember.

Like I remember the most significant things, like when I almost slipped off an edge on a camp ground. Again also written down.

I attribute a lot of it is I think in images rather than words. And these images tend to combine sometime. Then there is the issue with false memories.

So it's like a puzzle game finding scattered images. Like a ruins of the mind.

elisbaaron's picture
elisbaaron from Boston, MA is reading The Artist's Way, Writing in the Dark, Full Catastrophe Living, Women Who Kill: Profiles of Female Serial Killers, Write and Revise for Publication. December 9, 2015 - 2:44pm

In college, I workshopped a story about a waitress who ends up quitting her job after an encounter with three difficult black women who come in for lunch at the end of a shift, and then don't tip. There's a lot of racial discrimination and judgement in the serving community, especially at certain types of restaurants and in certain neighborhoods, and I wanted to bring that to light through my main character -- to make her somewhat unlikeable, but to make her viewpoint understood. I also wanted to portray the black women as sympathetic, though also bad customers. 

Reading that aloud in a class of rich kids who never had to work in the service industry before was ROUGH. They wanted a clearer line drawn about who was right and who was wrong, mainly that racism is wrong (which it is). I just don't write that way, especially when it comes to protagonists. They're never completely likeable. 

So yeah -- that gave me a major case of nerves.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 9, 2015 - 3:50pm


On the bright side, there are worse audiences you could have read that to.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami December 9, 2015 - 9:57pm

Oh but reading personal poetry is especially weird. It was kind of a leap of faith just publishing a poetry book, but I can't stand audiences.:/

Always manage to trick myself into stage freight.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer December 11, 2015 - 11:06am

lizlazzara, I wrote a monologue in a playwriting class from the perspective of a white supremist father. Then had to act it. Also, a very uncomfortable experience, especially with the edition of acting, I had concerns that the perspective of my character would be mistaken for my personal views.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated December 12, 2015 - 9:35pm

I was workshopping a story and a lady interrupted me because my MC cursed, and the crazy ass writing group let her. I never went back.