The Travails of the Literary Mama

amy shearn literary death match

You can't really see my face here, but you can see Sam Lipsyte thinking "What a brilliant literary talent." If you squint.

This week I attended an event that had nothing to do with children and wasn’t even in Brooklyn: The Literary Death Match. For some unknowable reason, the talented and enterprising writer Shya Scanlon, who harnessed this LDM as a clever way to promote his new novel, Forecast, invited me to read along with Jim Freed, Anya Ulinich, and Morgan Meis (spoiler alert: Morgan won! I think partially because of his excellent suit.  I was in the same preggings I wear everyday, of course.).  The LDM is a rare thing – a literary event that is raucous, funny, and well-attended – and I’m proud to say this is the second time I’ve lost one.  You get up there, you read something, the judges (in this case, Sam Lipsyte, Susan Blackwell, and an absentee Roz Chast) judge you.  Two finalists compete in strange finales.  Last night it was charades.  I have to admit, I don’t mind reading in front of an audience, but both times I’ve been part of an LDM the final round has involved some sort of physical challenge and both times I’ve been relieved I wasn’t up there having to relive gym class traumas.

All day leading up to the event I felt a vague sense of anxiety.  Harper is always a good sport when I leave her with a babysitter or at the YMCA daycare during the day, but we’ve almost never had a non-family babysitter put her to bed at night.  My very capable friend Allison, who Harper knows and loves, had angelically volunteered to sit while I battled the other death matchers.  But would Harper give her a hard time?  Would she eat any dinner?  Would she go to bed?  Would Allison have to endure a scene like that one in “Tootsie” where the kid tears up the apartment while Dustin Hoffman frantically follows around in a dress, and then secretly hate me forever?  Yipes!

When we met in the snow-caked city to walk over to the shmancy Le Pousson Rouge, Adam asked if I was nervous about reading.  He always gets nervous before my readings.  I on the other hand usually endure a moment of gut-wrenching doubt and then think, well that isn’t helpful, and then it goes away.  I mean, once you’ve taught you realize that reading a page or two in front of a bunch of strangers is way easier than teaching.  And teaching used to make me nervous too, but then I had a couple of years when I taught writing classes at night after working a full day in an office, and I was so tired that my concern was always staying awake and so I kind of learned to forget to be afraid then, too.  So in this strange roundabout way I seem to have figure out how to avoid the terror of public speaking.  No, instead I was nervous about Harper and Allison.

Who, as it happens, had a wonderful time.  Harper woke up in the morning asking where Allison was and if they could play some more.  I asked myself why I was such a ninny about leaving her with a sitter.  And then I asked myself how I could wreak my revenge upon those judges who deemed me a literary loser.  Just kidding!  It was an honor to be nominated.  And to get into a fun event for free.

PS – I read an essay about writing in cafes that first existed as a post on this blog!  And was called out for being a little “Carrie from Sex and the City”ish because of it.  Which is funny because I never saw that show and don’t know exactly what that means, but I’m willing to bet it had nothing to do with sexiness.  Sigh.

3 responses to “The Travails of the Literary Mama

  1. Amy, I love this post– reading about you putting yourself first for a night (Hooray! Can I do it now too? : ) is so revitalizing, as I too, and I’m sure every stay-at-home-mom-or-dad out there, have felt trapped and fairly one-dimensional of late. But I especially liked reading about the process by which you came to be comfortable with public speaking. I so GOT it when you said that teaching is the most brutal form of it– yes, indeed. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to muster up the energy to accept another teaching job in recent months. It just takes so much….energy. I love and appreciate your honesty!

    • Thanks, Carrie! Yes, teaching is about the most exhausting thing ever. I don’t know how actual schoolteachers do it. Like, a whole day of teaching 3rd graders or something? I think I’d probably die.

  2. It was obviously prejudice against the pregnant. The pregnant are one of the most under-appreciated group in the world. If it weren’t for the pregnant, there wouldn’t be any human civilization. No Bach, No Coen Brothers, No Roz Chast.
    Still, I am proud that you braved the bad weather and baby sitter anxiety to amuse those who had formerly been carried (get it) by their pregnant mothers.

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