Three Minutes That Can Change Your Life
“You HAVE to sign up! Open readings are part of the Guild experience and you can’t miss out! It will change your life!”
My friend Heather Cariou was adamant but I was not convinced. Me, get up and read aloud something I had just written in one of our writing workshops? At a podium? In front of hundreds of women? At my very first Guild conference? For three whole minutes? My stomach curdled at the thought.
It did indeed sound life-changing but I wasn’t ready to have my life changed. I said, “Maybe next year.”
Her blue-eyed gaze intensified. “Absolutely not. This can’t wait. It’s three minutes!” Have you ever sat with a stopwatch and counted down three minutes, I wanted to ask. It’s an eternity!
“Meet me at the desk,” she continued, “I’m making sure you sign up.” There seemed to be no way out. On the third day, I relented. I assessed where my name fell in the list – the middle of the pack of 30 readers. As safe as it was going to get. I couldn’t imagine going first (but whew, that slot was taken!) and I knew I wouldn’t be able to endure the anticipation if I went last.
That evening, as the time came closer, my insides twisted and turned. I had trouble eating dinner. I pushed my salad around on the plate, making roads through the dressing. I sat in the auditorium, so distracted I barely heard the readers ahead of me.
Then my name was called. I stood up. My knees tingled. Heather, sitting next to me, looked up and grinned. I knew the Skidmore College auditorium, with its masses of chairs rising up in steep theatre style, was almost full. When I got up to the podium, the lights were so bright, I could feel their heat on my face. I could only see the first two rows out there – a blessing. My hands had dampened the pages of my journal with sweat, and my fingers slipped on the mike as I adjusted it. I focused on the page and read the way I had practiced. I remembered to breathe. Looking back, I don’t remember what I read but hearty applause filled the air when I finished. An exhilarating buzzing sensation ran through my body, telling me that I had done something important for myself. Heather and a bunch of new friends, my new Guild sisters, congratulated me. I felt light and happy in a way I wasn’t expecting. It was relief but also the amazement that I had shared my words with a significant group of women from around the world, a community that welcomed me whole-heartedly from Day 1.
This happened at the International Women’s Writing Guild conference in 2003. Since then I have read at almost every conference I’ve attended. It’s always an experience, and always different depending on where I am in my life. Some years are more life-changing than others, but each time I come away with my confidence boosted, and my respect for everyone else who reads deepened.
In 2018, I came full circle. I read two short pieces about a traumatic event in my life that I had been writing about since my first conference, but had never shared before. I was able to read with a strong, steady voice. I felt empowered. And I was the first one to read that evening!
If you’re with us at this year’s conference at Muhlenberg College, and you haven’t done an open reading before, I encourage you to put your name on that sheet. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” I promise you will be better for it.
Laura L. Kieley
Laura L. Kieley is an independent communications/marketing professional and is currently serving as the Board Vice Chair of the Guild. She has served on the Board since 2016, and leads the Marketing and Branding Committees. Laura is
working on her first novel, a coming-of-age story set on the not-so-tropical island of Newfoundland, where she grew up.