Work your way past the brightly lit pool tables and sports-filled TVs of The Rialto and go down into the basement, into The Jack London Bar. It’s better down there. It’s very dark and kind of cozy and the bartender is nice. I discovered this on Tuesday when I went there to attend the Unchaste Reading Series for the first time.
I got a drink and took a seat on an empty couch in the back of the room. As I looked around, I laughed. There were five of us there, us unaccompanied women, hiding with our cocktails, fiddling with our phones or computers or notebooks. Then there were six, seven. We collected back there like moths attracted to darkness instead of light. This made me very, very happy. I instantly became enamored with the event simply for creating a space where this phenomenon could happen and not feel weird.
I was just about to push myself up out of the broken-down couch to ask if I could join the woman in front of me — a fellow shy, bookish scribbler — when another solo woman swept in and asked if she could join me on the couch. Sure, I said. And instead of drinking my bourbon ginger too fast or running off to the bathroom, I stayed and chatted. My new friend and I talked a bit about writing, talked briefly to the creator and host of the evening, Jenny Forrester, who told us she’d been doing the series for two years now. I joined this woman when she moved to a better seat next to some of her friends that had just arrived. Then I sat back, listened to some wonderful readers, and absorbed the kind, generous, creative atmosphere.
Buoyed by that feeling, I admitted to a friend I found in the crowd, that I wanted to do more readings but didn’t know how to get involved. I’ve always been shy of admitting this so directly. A ridiculous part of me felt admitting such a thing was like confessing I was needy and craved attention. To be invited to read, fine. To want to read, well, that’s just vulgar.
But the reading series is called Unchaste. And haven’t I been writing mostly about sex for the last couple of years (that is when I sit my ass down and write something besides blog posts)? And isn’t being unchaste about being transgressive? So go ahead and want. Want to have a room full of people listening to my words. Want to have those eyes on me. Want, like everyone wants, to be seen and heard. What the hell is wrong with that?
As Leslie Jameson wrote in The Empathy Exams: “A cry for attention is positioned as the ultimate crime, clutching or trivial –as if ‘attention’ were inherently a selfish thing to want. But isn’t wanting attention one of the most fundamental traits of being human — and isn’t granting it one of the most important gifts we can ever give?”
End result: Jenny Forrester put me on the “long beautiful list” of future readers. I’ll happily take my place among them.