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You Talk Too Much, You Never Shut Up



I recently went to a reading where there were two writers and a moderator. The moderator was very clear about how things were going to proceed. He said each writer would read for approximately 7-10 minutes, and then they would have a dialogue, and then if there was still time they would open it up to a Q&A. Fair enough. Only the first reader went beyond 10, 15, 20 minutes. And there was no end in sight. You got the feeling that if no one said anything he would still be reading. The moderator, you could see, was growing uncomfortable. How do you put a sock in the mouth of a distinguished author? 25 minutes. I thought my head was going to explode. The room was buzzing in distress. Finally, the moderator asked the first writer to stop. He complied immediately, slightly flustered. And the show went on.

What makes a person think that’s okay?

25 Responses

  1. Patriarchy?
    Having no sense of clock time?
    An attack of the Social InEpts, similar to epilepsy, but no tongue-biting?

  2. Mild psychopathy

  3. Reminds me of a woman who was asked to say a few words about the organization hosting this particular awards presentation. She was well-known in her own right, but this award, we soon learned, had eluded her grasp. For 20 minutes she recited all her various achievements and mentioned all her famous family members- detailing 40+ years of her special life. No mention of the organization. Upon her completion of this monologue, the applause lasted approximately 5 seconds. The honoree and I still laugh about that luncheon. The woman has, yet, to win that award.

  4. It seems unfair to judge, given so little information. For all we know it was a simple misunderstanding, and the distinguished blatherer was waiting for a signal that time was almost up. “One more minute, Sir Blatherer, Sir.”

    What interests me more is how quickly the Patriarchy accusation jumped out at us in the comments, waving its funny little flag. I’m not saying it’s not a valid possible reason. But surely there are many possibilities more likely. Writers, apparently, live in dream worlds – some of us don’t usually even know what day it is. The fact he was flustered when asked to stop suggests he’d lost track of time, reality, or his sanity. I know I often do. Although usually only in the daytime. And at night.

    “How do you put a sock in the mouth of a distinguished author?”
    Well, if you’re the moderator, you do your job – you pick up the sock you’d brought along for this purpose, and you DO it. After 10 minutes, not 25. You don’t sit there sniffing the sock for 15 minutes first, while watching it all go to shit.

    (And yes, for someone who didn’t wish to judge, I am judging that moderator harshly. He fucked up.)

    • How do you know the moderator was a “he”? There’s a reason the patriarchy accusation jumps out so quickly.

      • Well, Jude, I know the moderator was a “he” because I read what Betsy wrote, and paid attention to it all, rather than look for opportunities to label people This, That, or The Other.

        I’ll quote the part where Betsy told us the moderator was a “he.”
        “The moderator was very clear about how things were going to proceed. He said each writer would read for approximately 7-10 minutes…”

        • My bad, harryipants.

          • There’s no bad here, Jude. Just all us soft and somewhat broken humans with our faults, our problems, our hopes and dreams and our Very Fallible Fallibleness, warming our toes and our minds around Betsy’s fire.

            We are lucky to have her, and each other.

  5. Well, when you are actually present and IN the room when something like this happens, it almost takes on a Taylor Swift/Kanye West aura. The squirm factor would definitely be there.

    “What makes a person think that’s okay?”

    I don’t know if he did. His being flustered could mean two things – 1) he couldn’t BELIEVE he was being asked to stop reading his brilliant work, or 2) he lost track of time.

    I’d lean towards lost track of time. On the other hand, I would think a “seasoned” writer would know how long it takes to read pages xx-xx. (b/c they’ve done this before) So, give or take a minute, b/c once they start reading, they might go a little faster (nerves) or a little slower (audience is giving off a good vibe). Still, reading for 7-10 minutes seems like a long time.

    Now I’m curious. How did the rest of it go? Was it so awkward no one could recover and enjoy the other writer? Was there any dialogue? Anybody as any questions?

  6. Writers are spacey, esp. when lost in a sea of words. Seems the moderator effed up here. What about setting a phone alarm with a writerly ring tone, like a bomb going off or something? That might work.

  7. I rarely have any idea what anyone thinks or why they think it, unless they tell me straight out and straight up. I’m usually pretty clear about their behavior, though, and make my choices from what I see.

    I try not to shrink it, since I’m not a shrink.

    A guy once parked a pallet of pepperoni on my right foot, and I responded with sounds and gestures, as well as contorted facial expressions; he stared at me until he understood, then jacked the load off my foot.

    “Man, are you okay?”

    “FUCK NO I’M NOT OKAY!” This followed by a gasping string of profanity.

    I don’t know what he was thinking, or if, but I know what motivated me.

  8. Well, I didn’t mean to be Anonymous, but was. It happens.

  9. It’s not okay but in life, shit happens. I could go on and on about this but my time is up.
    Have a nice day.

  10. Some people just don’t live by the rules.

  11. “What makes a person think that’s okay?”

    I don’t know. Is this a trick question?

  12. Here are some possibilities: hubris, anxiety, ADHD. Maybe all 3.

  13. I’m factoring in on the side of narcissism. Or selfishness. I know if I were asked to read anything anywhere, I would be very conscious of the time, especially when other people are involved. I’d probably be fuming if I were the other reader.

    Incidentally, I was just at a reading of four budding female novelists. Each was asked to read for several minutes (not sure how long), after which there would be a Q & A. Not one soul had a question or even comment. It was kind of embarrassing. Speaks volumes, methinks.

  14. a rogue reader is a pain. i think there could be a variety of reasons: inexperience, anxiety, ego.

    reading is a performance and few writers prepare. as a reader/panellist/performer, i practice at home for approx. a week before an event. i don’t want to be that girl at the party.

    i’ve also been that moderator and seen some bad behaviours. hogging the mic is common. in the circumstance described above, I would suspect that #1 reader thought the best position was to be #2 reader, the one who closes out the show. EGO.

    there’s entirely too much competition in the writing life.

    • Your whole comment interests me muchly, as you’ve personally been on both sides of that fence, and stated several real possibilities.

      That experience may give you a more nuanced opinion on such things.

      So it really, REALLY interests me that you say “there’s entirely too much competition in the writing life.”
      I think of myself as a competitive person. I like to do well. If I race against you in, say, a motorcycle race, I’d like to win if I can. Yet, with writing, I don’t feel that other writers are my competition — I’ve written around 15 books now, some of them have sold reasonably well, others not so much. Some readers love my books, some hate them.
      For me, the competition in MY writing life is with (against) myself — to write a better book than I have before, or to write a book that sells better than my previous books (if it’s genre fiction, which I write mostly for the purpose of earning monies, but also because all that practice hopefully makes me a better writer).
      It makes me wonder WHY people would be competitive with (against) each other in writing, and what form that would take, and how unpleasant that might be, and even if that would ruin the enjoyment of writing for such people.

      Whoever you are, Anonymous, I’d love to hear anything else you have to say about all this.

  15. Maybe the reader assumed the moderator would stop him/her at the 10 minute mark?

  16. A bloated sense of self-importance? It’s hard to believe someone would “lose track of time” to the extent that he stretched what was supposed to be a 7-10-minute reading into one that had to be cut off after 25 minutes. (Was the blatherer a politician?)

  17. I was at a discussion/reading last night where the moderator spent at least as much time plugging his own novels and self as the guest author did/could. He also, apparently, compelled his students to attend and made sure to point out they were his students.

  18. For many years I hosted an annual reading event and this situation is not uncommon. It’s ego; the speaker simply believes their work is so good we’ll want more. And most often the opposite is true.

    The adage always applies: Leave ’em wanting more.

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