What My First Reading Taught Me

Arriving early for the Lammy finalists reading
I talk a lot about always feeling other, always feeling alien. For the most part this feeling of otherness is something that envelopes me like my skin. I tend not to think about it unless something irritates me, sort of how we tend not to think too much about the skin we’re in until a blemish erupts, or a mosquito makes a meal of us.
Tuesday night I had the great honor of participating in the Lammy Finalist Reading at the Leslie + Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York (Yes, Virginia there is such a thing, and if you haven’t been there I urge you to go check it out.)  It would be the first time I ever read in public and I admit I was a tad nervous—okay more than a tad. Also New York itself unnerves me: all those people, all that crackling energy, all that movement. My brother met me at Penn Station and we went to a diner for lunch. And then it was 5:15 and we were walking into the museum. I was the first reader to arrive. They were setting up a display of finalists’ books for sale and there it was—on the left at the front—Unbroken. My Unbroken. I stepped back. Was this really happening? I pulled out my phone and took a picture in case it all suddenly disappeared like a dream.
I was fourth to read. I listened to the first three readers and thought Oh crap, I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that. And then I was on stage reading. “I was twelve, and in seventh grade. He was the new kid…”
And then my three minutes were over and I was stepping back down to the ground, the sound of 
Look there it is--Unbroken
applause ringing in my ears.  As I’d glanced around the crowded room after my last sentence, I suddenly realized for once I didn’t feel other, didn’t feel alien. I felt embraced, supported
by my brother and his fiancée, by the listeners in the room, by the other finalists. Wrapped in words, in an art we’d each created, I felt included. And that was a heady feeling.
At the end of the evening I talked to everyone, offered congratulations, praise, promised to meet up in June at the Awards ceremony. I hugged a mother and daughter, Sophia and Rosette, who came from the Bronx and who’d bought Unbroken then came back to shyly ask me to sign it for them. I hugged them both, feeling warmth and acceptance and encouragement, and the pull of my Bronx roots.
As I sat on the train making my way back to Philadelphia where my adored partner and our dog were waiting up for me, I reflected on a simple truth: sometimes the walls we see around us, walls that keep us out, are walls we built to protect ourselves from a world that might welcome us if we only gave it a chance.

Comments

  1. Well deserved applause Larry Benjamin, well done!

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    Replies
    1. thank you Ann! I'm doing another reading in Philly next week, I'm wondering if I'll be less terrified. LOL

      Larry

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