Last week Cami and I (Susan) met with four of our Bellingham and Seattle based writers to do a read-through for our upcoming events at Elliot Bay on April 4, Village Books on April 28, and Powell’s on April 30. We met at the home of Laura Kalpakian, an award winning novelist, teacher and top-notch coach who, it turns out, had one time or another taught almost all of us. Laura is a generous and perceptive teacher and she shines when it comes to helping writers prepare to read from their work.
As we gathered around Laura’s dining room table, snacks and wine close at hand, it occurred to me that this was the first time any of our anthology writers would be hearing each others stories. Their copies of Beyond Belief were still in the mail and unlike Cami and I, they hadn’t been living and breathing all 26 stories during the past two years. How would they respond to each others stories? Would they feel the same spark of recognition and empathy for one another that had fueled the anthology in the first place?
During the first read-through we all listened with an ear toward pacing, tone of voice, and flow of content. Suggestions were made, changes followed. Laura’s comments were, as usual, right on, witty and to the point. By the second go-round deliveries were smoother, the pulls and tugs that writers had made evened out pauses and intonations. When everyone took a second turn, the assembled writers became listeners not of technique and delivery but of the stories themselves. That’s when I noticed Colleen smile sympathetically when Pam described her fear of burning in hell for having sex. That’s when I saw Elise nod emphatically as Cami read about her desperate desire to learn how to speak in tongues. And so it went, chuckles of understanding, moments of sadness. The spark that originally created Beyond Belief was clearly being fanned by the sharing of stories and had now turned into a full-blown flame.
Toward the end of the evening Elise Brianne reread her story in which the last lines are from the song “Show me the Way. ” In her first read-though, she had paused not knowing whether to speak or sing them. On her second pass she used her beautiful strong voice to sing the lyrics. After the final notes quieted we all sat silently. Finally Pam said, “Don’t you just miss the music? I could live without all the rest but sometimes there’s nothing like those old hymns and songs.”
There is much we don’t miss from our former faiths, much we are still grieving and angry about. But for the former Catholic, Orthodox Jew, and Evangelicals of various stripes sitting around the table, we agreed, the music of our former faiths never left us. It lives in our blood and bones just like our sadness and grief. It is as much a part of us as our new nonreligious lives, our fought-for freedoms and hard-earned sense of self worth; it is all there somehow coexisting inside of each of us. Recognizing it in each other helps me to see it in myself.