Friday, November 23, 2012

A Private Reading

It was a gamble.

I usually know what any of my writings sounds like as I compose it. I hear the voice I would use if I were reading the post aloud. I test how it flows, where a transition might be abrupt, how a particular word fits or does not fit the paragraph in which it appears. I edit as I write, I edit as I hear that voice reading in my head. Occasionally I read something aloud if I need to assure myself that the writing works.

This week I decided to ask someone to read aloud to me a piece that I had written. I wanted to hear it in another’s voice.

Almost exactly a year ago I had written about a wake I attended for a family with its roots in Irish Boston. As that anniversary approached this year, I decided to share a link to the posting with a work colleague who is a member of that family. I asked that she be cautious about sharing the link to my blog with too many people, but I wanted her to read what I had written about her family. A writer herself, she might appreciate what I had been trying to achieve.

About a week later her son – a man in his twenties – came up to me. His mother had let him read the writing I had done about their family. He wanted me to know that he had enjoyed it on a number of levels.

I took a gamble. I told him I had an unusual request to make of him. I asked whether he would be willing to read aloud what I had written. I asked him whether he would read it to me.

If he was taken aback by my request, his natural sense of courtesy kept him from showing that. I have spoken with this gentleman a number of times. I suspected something of his own bookishness would make my request intriguing and maybe even oddly pleasing. We arranged a time when he would stop by my office and read to me.

I will admit that I was eager at the prospect. On another occasion a few years back I had asked someone else to do just this. It had been a regular reader of the blog, though, and I had simply wanted to show my gratitude for his faithful and attentive reading.

What was this request about? Why had I suddenly asked someone for this private reading? What was I looking for? Validation? Assurance during a week that had been difficult on other fronts? Maybe it was just company in the solitary venture of writing. I do not really know.

I had been right, though. As I heard his reading begin, it all sounded right. He did not rush. He did not flatten his voice to sound cavalier about what he was doing. He let the words I had written carry him into re-creating that afternoon in a Boston funeral home a year ago. I was moved as I listened. He paused just where I had imagined pauses. He opened up where the piece transitions from details of that afternoon into surmise and reflection on what I had encountered that day.

I had taken a gamble. I had simply named what I wanted. I got more than I expected.

Now I get to say thank you.

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