I’m sitting in the scratchy auditorium chair, flipping through my phone. I got here early because I hate crowds and I wanted to get a seat close to the end so I can make a quick get away once this is over. I know, I know -I’m a terrible person. These Bathhouse events are for the students. And as a creative writing minor, I should be interested. I should be attentive. But the fact is I just got done with a long day of class and the only thing I’m thinking about is how early do I need to go to bed to get up in the morning without wanting to shove a fork in my eye?
The rest of the student body crowds in around me. There are a lot of people here. A lot more than I ever remember seeing at a Bathhouse event. I don’t pay any attention to them. I’m flipping through my phone, content to just sit here and let everything wash over me. Wash over and fall off, I mean. I feel a small twinge of guilt as the place fills and other people start to look like they actually might pay attention. I set my jaw and keep myself distracted. It’s past dinnertime and I’m cranky. Screw anyone who wants me to think critically about my community right now.
The first speaker gets on stage and the usual hush goes over the crowd. I’m unimpressed. Facebook rolls under my eyes like a slot machine. Then, all of a sudden something in the room changes. It’s like a switch. He’s been talking for a few minutes but for the first time my eyes go to Dimitri Anastasopoulos. And right before I’m sucked into the excerpt from his novel, I get a look at the people around me. There isn’t a soul looking away from the stage. No phones. No books. No one is even taking notes. Everyone is fixated on him and his slow, steady voice as he reads through the story.
I realize now that I’ve forgotten one of my favorite aspects of writing. This is it. That gravity defying moment where the whole room hangs on one person’s breath. How people can experience something together, as a whole. How storytelling brings people closer. This is why I got in to writing. Places like this and events like this –and as soon as I’ve made my realization I’m hooked. I’m waiting on his every breath, chuckling along with the crowd like I’m in a sea and enjoying being fully immersed in it.
Camille Roy takes the stage next. The ocean pattern breaks a little and then swells to accompany her. She’s easily my favorite. She has this breathless way of speaking and her poetry flows off the book in her hand and makes shapes in the air as she walks back and forth across the stage. The ocean of audience lulls and shapes into a model of her fluidity. Dear Lucy…she reads and I am absolutely captivated. My phone could have sprouted wings and flown out of my lap and I wouldn’t have noticed. Those around me have similar looks of captivation. It’s as if Roy is pulling us to her string by string, weaving us into one collective unit of listening. It all means something different to us, but we experience the intake the same. And that’s what’s beautiful. She smiles a little. A soft curl of the left of her mouth as she looks up. I think she knows.
Last is Rachel Levitsky. The ocean changes with her again, her feel is bouncier, lighter. You guys want to hear this part? She asks into the crowd and we laugh with her. The stage suddenly becomes a lot less foreboding and the room a lot smaller. I feel as though for a moment I’m sitting on someone’s living room floor and she’s reading to a small circle of friends from her cross-legged position on the couch.Neighbor exemplifies this. I read it in class. I know these words. But they’re new to me tonight.
When it’s over, there is a distinct breaking of our connection. Though not as distant as before, the audience leaves and I flow with them out the doors and outside a little disappointed that it’s over.
But the next night I come back. I’m in a much better mood this time. Excited by the prospect of community, because I’ve remembered how much it means to me. And I understand how beautifully it can operate in settings like this. My phone is in my bag. My notebook is out and on my lap and my pen is uncapped to start taking notes.
The second night of my ‘community awakening’ does not disappoint. This is an open forum, and the speakers are part of our ocean. I write down in my notebook a little absently so I don’t miss anything. The culmination of my notes later when I look back are amusing, if not stunningly accurate. Community = writing. Your relationship to community changes in writing because community changes. We have a community with everyone. With the dead.
Stories make human existence worthwhile, or so someone in a book told me once. Writers without audiences are solitary islands, untouched by the sea. They don’t get touched by anything worthwhile unless they write for some part of the sea, whether it be small or the whole thing. Bathhouse is important. For us as writers, for the community in general and for keeping an open forum so we don’t fall into this obscurity and have no one left to write for or write with.