Riese: I'm not a party-planner or a panel-planner or a workshop-planner or really an anything-involving-live-humans planner, but READINGS! I've been doing readings for like 15 years and had this idea to do one at camp and everybody thought I was crazy. I guess it sounded boring? "Reading." It was actually the first A-Camp event besides various trivia situations that I completely envisioned and organized myself. My initial proposal involved it being "coffee-house style" with candles and little tables, and Alex and Robin and Marni made fun of me about the impossibility of my little tables vision a lot. I even made programs and was very proud of myself. Also, I really thought it'd be a nichey thing that maybe 50 people max would be interested in.
Rachel: After dinner was time to get ready for the staff reading, aka freak out enormously. Although I've read my work out loud to people before, they were usually small, bored crowds, and everyone listening was just there in a general way. I never felt like anything I wrote would be scrutinized too carefully. But I was pretty sure people who came to this reading would actually be listening. Also, it's not that often, honestly, that my real-world life where I'm a grad student, fiction writer and teacher of freshman comp intersects with the one where I write and edit articles about vibrators and ex-gay therapy on the internet. It felt weirdly like your best friend meeting your significant other for the first time -- what will happen when the streams cross?!?
Laneia: Basically, even though I feel like the least qualified person to be at a reading and I have zero experience with this medium, I was not scared at all and only mildly arsed that I would need to find something to read. Then! When we actually got to the mountain, Riese and Rachel were like "Oh my god the reading. I'm so nervous about the reading. What am I going to read?? I have to edit my piece! I have to make sure it's not too long! Excuse me I have to go do things for the reading! Reading! Piece! Edit excerpt!" And I was like, "Should I be nervous about this??" And then, without any warning or reason, I was. I was fucking nervous. I was so nervous that I almost threw up. I couldn't tell when people were talking to me because I was too nervous thinking about whether or not the piece I'd settled on would even be relevant. I'd forgotten to print it off before we left, so I spent High Tea and most of the dinner block copying the piece onto notebook paper by hand.
Riese: Morgan approached me shortly before the reading and said she'd heard about it and wondered if she could participate, too — she wanted to read the story from our Coming Out Panel post. I said, "do you have a black shirt with you?" and she said, "I do and I have a black and white swishy skirt!" and I said, "go change, you're in."
Morgan: I'm thankful that, when I asked to be a part of it at the dead last second, I was welcomed in without hesitation among a group of writers I'd admired a long while from afar.
Laneia: After dinner, Megan took me to Falcon so I could practice in front of a very small, forgiving and patient audience (her). I tried to convince myself that it would be just like a dance recital, which should've calmed me down because I've done so many of those, but really it just left me dealing with the disbelief that I'd ever been on a stage and shown everyone my actuality -- how the hell had I done that?
Riese: Since I was editing until the very last moment, I was gonna have to read straight off my laptop, which was gonna be interesting. I sort of rotated between muppet-face and slack-jaw as the room filled up. I'd only made 75 programs!
Whitney: Riese was sitting next to me and told me, "I thought there would only be 30 people here!" but the entire room was packed to the brim with the entirety of A-Camp.
Crystal: This was the event that I had most been looking forward to at camp, I was so excited.
Laneia: Riese sold it to me using words like 'intimate' and 'small' and 'like maybe 20 people will show up.' For some reason I was imagining that everyone would sit in the floor and we'd sit on the stage, and it would feel like being in a bedroom or our cabins.
Riese: It actually ended up being the most popular event of the weekend. Oops.
Gabby: All the staff presenters I spoke to before this reading were dying of the nerves. It was amazing. I mean essentially this is what we all do and why we are here. Because we write the things and then share them with the people. Right? Yeah but take away the computer screen, the long distances and the anonymity of others and boom, you have an 18-bunk cabin full of freaked out A-camp staffers. Adorable. Oh, yeah, I was one of them too but mostly I was just super excited to hear everyone read in their voice.
Morgan: Laneia whispered to me how awesome it was that we were all nervous as hell, and if I hadn't been nervous as hell at the time I totally would have been able to appreciate it.
Whitney: Many "I love you"s were said beforehand, many hands were clasped on shoulders, many kind words were shared between us, and some of us had a sip of whisky to prepare.
Riese: After much deliberation, I'd gone with whiskey instead of Xanax.
Sara Medd: I wasn’t sure if I would be able to emotionally handle an hour or so of hearing more heavy subjects at this point in the day, but it was something I knew I should support so I went, and just made sure I was surrounded by people I could cry to if necessary.
Riese: Everything looked perfect, everybody was in black and Katrina and Gabby were extra-dapper and I actually started to feel anxious in a good way — anxious to tell my story and see if it mattered to anybody, but I was anxious to hear everybody else too — especially those I'd had to strongarm into participating 'cause they'd never read before, like Laura, Katrina and Laneia. I was eager to see them show themselves what they could do, and what I've always known they could do.
Laneia: There's no way I would've done the staff reading if Riese hadn't made me (this is a theme of our friendship, actually).
Riese: Rachel read fiction! Rachel's in an MFA program for fiction, and I'd never read her fiction before, so that was awesome, seeing this whole other side of her lovely brain. I want to see more!
Laura: You guys, I was so nervous for the staff reading, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of camp. I mean, I did something that terrified me and liked it and I got to hear the brilliant people I work with read things that they've written in the voice that I'm supposed to hear them read. Realizing that I know all these people who do incredible things made me so proud of them and made me smile to myself because sometimes I can't believe I'm so lucky.
Laneia: Laura stood on her tiptoes the whole time and it suited her excerpt perfectly.
Riese: Laneia read one of my favorite blog posts of hers, I remember the first time I read it, thinking Laneia's got a book in her. One day I will force her to write that book.
Katrina: This was my first reading ever, and I was super nervous about it. I wasn’t sure what this was going to be like. I think I’ve always wanted to be someone who wrote edgy lesbian poetry. Like I wanted to stand on a stage maybe scantily clad announcing something like, “Thank you, this next poem is called ‘Sidecar Pussy.’"
Carly: I adjusted the mic stand a lot during this event.
Katrina: Sitting in this row of incredible writers and peers who I’ve always loved and respected and admired was sort of wracking on the nerves, but I think everyone was in a similar place, and what I felt most strongly was excited and flattered that anyone would want to listen to my words.
Katrina: For this reading, I meant to write an essay called "I Did It For Love," which which was going to be roughly 1000 words about pretending to understand art to impress girls, but I never wrote this piece because I still don’t understand art, and am not sure if I have the words to explain that yet. So I did the only thing I could do. I read "No Fucks to Give." And even though I was so nervous that I couldn’t feel the right side of my body, I had so much fun.
Gabby: EVERYONE went A-Camp crazy for Katrina and her "No Fucks" piece which is pretty much the A-Constitution, right?
Whitney: When it was my turn to go on stage, I my hands were shaking, and I was absolutely sure that I would cry. I read a narrative poem titled "A Goodbye Note to my Mother" — I wrote it to come to terms with how difficult and strained my relationship with my mom has been for five years. My voice cracked. Reading the piece made me feel completely laid bare. And when I finished reading, there was silence for about seven seconds before the applause. And I then I finally exhaled.
Laneia: Whitney's little heart was right there for all of us to see.
Crystal: Everyone’s readings were so special, I was moved by all the words and admired them so much for standing up on stage and sharing them.
Morgan: A-Camp is a something-for-everybody kind of shindig, but this truth seemed to be most self-evident at staff reading. A black and white attire affair in front of most, if not all of, camp where we read treasured personal pieces. I don't know if staff there gathered has ever been cuter or more real to me.
Sara Medd: I’m so glad that I went. All of the readings were beautiful and inspiring, but if for no other reason, I know that I was meant to be in that room to hear Morgan’s piece. I have so much love in my heart for Morgan and she looked so beautiful up on that stage.
Gabby: Morgan made everyone cry. Like her piece should have been called "the most beautiful love story you will ever hear in your life".
Marni: Morgan practically made me start weeping openly.
Gabby: I have to admit that when Carmen said she had 8 pieces to read, a vein in the side of my forehead twitched. I was like "Oh Lawd, we 'bout to be here FOREVERRRRR." I'm an asshole. Whatever, but but but then Carmen did her thingggg. She read 8 tumblr posts about a relationship and seamlessly took us through the nuances of that relationship without losing a moment. Succinct. Crisp. Beautiful. Love in a stream of consciousness. #clapclapbravogirl
Carmen: I was wearing Sophia's jacket, which is the flyest thing I've ever seen, and I stole it every other night for the entirety of camp. I read eight excerpts from my secret tumblr (aka my feelings and short stories journal) and didn't vomit, die, or really do anything in-between. I never looked up, not once. And I had the distinct honor to read alongside my own favorite poet, Gabby Rivera.
Riese: I knew Gabby would be awesome because this is like, Gabby's thing. "Performance poetry" is definitely on the list of Top Five Things Gabby Is The Best At. The stuff she read really hit home, too, she always blows me away.
Laneia: Gabby is such a powerful person anyway, but with a mic in front of her she becomes this thing that's happening to you. Does that sound crazy? I cried so much when she read.
Gabby: For me, just sitting in a row surrounded by some of the people I love and respect the most in this world was enough to fill me with so much pride. All of the words spoken found a place in my heart. They connected my concepts of people to who they are in their quiet spaces. I didn't know family could feel like this.
Laneia: When I know that Riese is about to do something big and honest and super real, my protective instincts kick in and I balance on the edge of all the seats and hold my breath and hope that everyone she's inviting into her world doesn't trash it after they get inside. I knew what her piece was going to be about and I knew how much it meant for her to share it with everyone there. I just hoped they got it — that being there made her trust them.
Marni: I was trying to take pictures all through the reading but I kept being stunned to silence by how beautiful and moving everyone was. And Riese, what can I say. Riese had been so nervous in the weeks leading up to camp trying to figure out what to do for the reading and would anybody like it, and she was just so perfect and brilliant. I was standing on the side, nervous but just so proud. I couldn't stop looking out over the room, amazed and humbled by all of it.
Rachel: Laura's poem was so bright and beautiful, and Katrina looked so good and made me feel so great about the world, Carmen was moving, Gabby made me cry, Laneia made me remember how big and weird and sad and good the world is, Morgan made me swoon, Whitney made my heart catch in my throat, and Riese made me feel every feeling. After it was over I was so overwhelmed with every emotion my heart knows how to feel that I had to go hide in the woods for like an hour and cry and wish I had a cigarette. In a good way, obviously.
Carly: The staff reading was incredible and moving. I’m always so in awe of the writing and storytelling abilities of our staff, and I was especially proud of Riese for sharing her story.
Hansen: I held hands with Ali because I was positive that I was going to cry a lot. It was such an amazing moment for me because I was just really proud to be a part of Autostraddle and this group of incredible writers, on and off the actual website.
Mary: Everyone did a beautiful job. I honestly loved every single piece. I now tell everyone at work that I have no more fucks to give.
Whitney: Many people came up to me after that night to tell me that they were moved by my poem, and that they felt like it described their strained relationships with their mothers, their fathers, their elders. It meant so much to me that a piece of my own writing could resonate so clearly with people. This is why I love A-Camp — the community, the sharing, the knowledge that if I speak honestly and am vulnerable, people will listen and understand and in turn share their own stories.
Riese: So it was good, is what I'm telling you. In my head were tiny dancing pandas of love for the writers.
Laneia: I had to go outside and stand under a big tent until I could breathe again because it was all really overwhelming. Camp is just a different world sometimes. If the real world were that intense I think we'd all hyperventilate into comas.
"The staff reading was my favorite activity at camp. I still can't believe that happened. It was mind blowingly amazing! Everyone was so brave to go up and speak. It was incredibly cool to hear our favourite writers actually reading their work, especially something like Katrina's No Fucks article as that was one of the first articles I ever read from Autostraddle. Morgan left me in a puddle of tears but in such a good way. And Riese. Oh my god. She is so incredible and brave and I feel so incredibly lucky that we got to be a part of that moment for her."
"The staff reading...wow. That was easily the most powerful evening activity. Everyone was amazing! It reinforced why I love AS - you all are so transparent and share your lives with us, and we love you so hard for it."
Next: Capturing and Singing and Clubbing!