Reading at Vermin on the Mountain

Vermin on the Mountain Reading Series
January 9th 2011
Host: Jim Ruland
Writers: Anotina Crane, Chiwan Choi, Jeanne Darst, Danielle Dutton, Patrick O’Neil

Camera: Stephan Salit

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve ever had at a reading?

Patrick O’Neil: “At my earlier readings I was nervous about being in front of people and reading my work. So far my technique had been to sort of rapid fire spit out sentences, not always following punctuation, at speeds that defied enunciation, and basically getting it over with as quickly as possible. Then, after this really bad event where I mumbled and slurred my way through ten pages in three minutes without taking one breath, these people I didn’t know cornered me backstage and told me they couldn’t understand a word I had said. But they liked the way I paced the stage. “You look like a caged animal,” they said, and stared at me with expressions that resembled a cross between concern and fear. Then they explained they were outreach workers from a local mental health clinic and asked what my thoughts were concerning psychotropic drugs and residential assisted living. I politely demurred and pried their hands off my body. Although I’m not one to readily refuse an opportunity for potentially free medication, I thought it prudent instead to reevaluate my stage presence. So in preparation for my next reading I decided I was going to be calm. For a whole week I practiced at home and concentrated on slowing my breathing and thoughts. I tried speaking at an even pace, pronouncing the words whole instead of partially, and pausing at things like commas and periods. I even stood in one place, and kept the twitching to a minimum. Taking the podium I felt a serenity I had never before experienced. Effortlessly I read a short love story about seeing my ex-girl friend who’d lost her mind to crack and was homeless living under the freeway. When I was done I looked at the audience and it wasn’t the usual open mouths and stares of bewilderment. People smiled. An elderly woman came up and said, “You have the most beautiful Texas accent I’ve ever heard.” For once I had no snappy retort. I thanked her and quietly left the reading. I’m a Nordic vagrant of no real origin with an accent somewhere between New York, Belfast, San Francisco, and San Quentin. I have driven though Texas on many occasion, usually as fast as possible and during the night. I’ve never really thought about living there, and I sure as hell haven’t practiced talking like no damn cowboy. Perhaps I shouldn’t snort the Prozac.”

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