Lessons Learned from Striking a Deal

By Megan Fitzgerald
Dec. 4, 2018

I made a deal with myself upon coming to Beantown. My collegiate running career, my undergraduate program—all prior experiences were in the past. With “The Sunshine State” behind me, I kept telling myself, this is your chance; this is your time. And just as a house key unlocks an apartment door, so Emerson College continually opens doors for its students professionally and academically. All you have to do is welcome them. It’s easy to excuse one event after another, and my introvert inclinations easily repel extrovert opportunities; but since moving to Boston, I’ve made it a habit to take the T to unchartered territory, follow my Citymapper app, and discover new destinations without knowing a single face. 

It was one of these opportunistic events that found me upon the Breakwater Reading Series. Like most digital-age produce, I found myself scrolling through the latest social media newsfeed. Posted on an Emerson community page was a detailed description of a reading engagement, in collaboration with BU, UMASS, and Emerson MFA students. Emerson’s Creative Writing program was looking for two readers, and it was on a first-come, first-serve basis. Without hesitation I signed up, without clarity of the time, place, or organization. I didn’t even have a specific piece that flagged my hippocampus, but I had gumption. Vulnerability was ready to flounce itself.

Less than 24 hours later, I was on the list. I’d made the cut. Friday, November 9th, at 7:00-8:30pm, I was calendared in. Between that time and the reading, I thought little of expectation. I was in it for the experience, and I didn’t know what to expect—what to wear, who to bring, or what piece to read. Was a passive or daring piece of prose more appropriate? What would the others bring? Flippantly, I simply chose a vignette from a short story I’d recently completed and fell into the date. That week leading up to the reading was relentlessly busy; so, by the time I found myself on the Red Line that Friday night of early November, I dialed up the La La Land soundtrack, humming along, “Someone in the crowd could be the one you need to know...

Upon arrival, I’d already learned my first lesson: specify which order you prefer to go in. Sure, I’d volunteered to go in any placement, but I wasn’t expecting to go first. I guess I was just thinking in the order I’d instinctively put myself: 3rd, 4th, or even last—not first. But, true to my recent experiential spontaneity drive, I took a sip of water, my stomach bloating, as I lost track of the amount of fluids being processed with the dimming lights, and prepared. Listeners continued to meander into the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, but their shuffles couldn’t rise above the beating of my heart. The point of no return was past. My lanky fingers perused the written text, printed in book form, and I mouthed quagmirical words in an anxious state of mind.

The host’s compact leather boots and bubbly tone, as she welcomed the crowd a bit past the start-up hour, subsided festering nerves. She was casual, unintimidating. I was still laughing at the joke of which bar would get us literary enthusiasts drunk the fastest that I scarcely had time to process my name being called up to the podium. Being a slight 5’4”, I barely had a head over, having to raise my chin up over the microphone. I ignored these nuisances, including the blinding stage light, and focused my attention on the beaming red Exit sign. As if I was a co-host, I welcomed the crowd, asked them how they were doing, and dove right into my piece. I was on a timer, and the longer I stared into the crowded darkness, the clearer each facial expression would become. 

Surprisingly, the prose glided off my tongue with ease. I found myself illuminating each character’s voice, as if they were interacting with me on the wooden stage. With each outspoken reaction from the audience, the Exit sign seemed less and less obtrusive. I began to unconsciously coin phrases, cleverly articulated to target the audience for an emotional response. About a fourth of the way through—sooner than I expected—I realized, I really like this! Why didn’t I do this sooner? It would be natural and expectant to say a point of tension arose, that I began to stutter, stammer, and stumble —but I didn’t. All such tensions were imaginary: inflated monsters that failed to take form beyond previous thoughts. With each line echoing from my lips, strands of timidities vanished. Lesson learned: never underestimate the power prose can have upon an audience. 

When I left the podium, I unintentionally left threads that were woven into the evening’s loom. Common themes of laughter, transcendent angst, and burgeoning protagonists stitched each tale, whether they were prose or poetry. I found myself so imbedded in each student’s narrative style that I failed to play the comparison game. I was practicing the art of appreciation. If I’d sat there, back amongst the audience, recounting each erred syllable or scolding myself for not standing up straight, I’d missed my peers’ works: handcrafted material that add stress, challenge motive, and formulate personality. Lesson learned: always actively participate in the moment. 

As the final reader stepped down, the host returned, beaming with pride. She thanked the readers and listeners for uniting together through literature, and called them to further connect through drink. You never fully understand a person until you’ve seen them tipsy, right? Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join the troupe that night, but I made sure to personally applaud fellow readers. The room remained dimmed, despite curtain call completion, and the aura actually added to the tidings. Identifiable recognition would only refute the literary mist coupling between us. I clasped several hands, smiled at several faces, and mouthed supportive words, knowing that simply the act of intentionality reached far beyond the darkness. 

It was raining outside, as I strode from the building. I’d forgotten my umbrella—per usual, Megan Fitzgerald. Typically, I pout in the rain. The lessons I’d learned, though, and the evening’s excitement kept me smiling. While waiting for my ride, I had dialogue with myself, a formulation of experiential emotions. I’m doing this again. I’ll start tonight—no, tomorrow—on revising an old—wait, maybe I’ll just start a new one… The dialogue continued, only disturbed by a blue sedan rubbing against the curb. Time to get in. But the shutting of the car door didn’t mentally constrain transpired thoughts. Lessons learned, both mentioned and unmentioned, continue to fashion my writer’s life. They appear each time I pick up a pen and pad. Yes, I’m aware: when it comes to drafting, I’m old-school.  

In her first year as an MFA Creative Writing: Fiction student, Megan Fitzgerald comes from St. Petersburg, FL. She received her B.S. in Secondary English from Southeastern University, heavily involved with athletics and theatre. She published an essay with Women’s Running Magazine in 2016 and has a short story being published in the Spring 2019 New Square Journal with Trinity College, Dublin. She aspires to work within a production company, whether that be in film or on the stage, and professionally write. Connect with her on Facebook.

The Breakwater Reading Series is Boston’s inter-MFA program showcase, featuring student writers from Boston University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston performing the best in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Find out more here.