I had to do much more running around in the middle of the day yesterday than I anticipated. The stores had summer items I needed (cooler, torches, citronella oil, picnic plates, big jugs) on sale, but none had all the needed items in stock. Also because more than 70 people had confirmed that they’d be coming (I was still getting RSVPs that morning!!), I needed to pick up extra food at the grocery store.
My whole day was focused on preparation for the garden party: housecleaning (because people would be coming in to use the bathroom or get things from the kitchen), prepping snacks & beverages, getting all the chairs, candles, books (for sale), & other items out into the yard.
When V returned from her class at 3:30, she pitched right in to help. G&K likewise came at 6:00, an hour early, so that they could help. Their combined assistance was invaluable; I just wouldn’t have been able to pull it all off without them.
The musicians arrived at 5:30. They quickly determined that our back porch would be a bit narrow to serve as a stage, so we switched course: they moved the guitars & sound equipment down to the paved patio, & we put a few chairs on the porch, turning it into a sort of “box seats” area. All available chairs were mustered into service, plus I had e-mailed many of the guests to ask them to bring along a portable lawn chair if they had one. Two tables were quickly laden with food & beverages, & we set up books & CDs for sale on a card table.
I knew that once things got going, I needed to focus solely on the program & on chatting with guests. So I delegated logistical stuff. One friend had been asked to serve wine, another to staff the book/CD table. An early-arriving guest was given charge of the parking stickers that would be needed by those who arrived via car. Again, their help was invaluable.
I never counted, but we must have ended up with 60-65 people (several didn’t come because of illness or inconvenience). There were more than enough chairs & more than enough food. With the torches lit around the yard & animated conversations, it felt as if something magical was under way.
The program ended up like this:
- musicians: four songs
- Ruth: six poems
- musicians: four songs
- Ruth: one long (eight-page!) poem
- intermission (20-30 minutes; I didn’t keep track)
- open mic: one person recited a humorous poem from memory, then two poets read a couple of pieces of their own
- musicians: four songs
- Ruth: five poems (two of them in both English & Spanish versions)
- musicians: a farewell song
It’s impossible to find words for my feelings through the course of the evening. It was like a perfect synergy: the musicians (a married couple who are incredibly gifted & perform folk-rock, nearly all of it original) & I were loving & responding to each other’s work, everybody was listening with wonder & appreciation, we were all deeply present to each other. Oh, & the weather was absolutely beautiful: clear all day, & probably in the low 70s F (20s C) throughout the evening. I was in awe.
The most memorable part for everyone, I think, was my reading of the long poem. This was my first time to read the entire piece aloud: I had brought it to workshops as I was writing it last fall, but time limits had meant that people could listen to & comment on only two pages at a time. It’s called “I have a Nazi name,” & in it I try to identify & wrestle with the racism in my heritage & the racism/paternalism that has been embedded in my own life as a child & young teen growing up overseas & more recently as an activist/advocate. So the topic is challenging; I was definitely taking a risk by including it in the program.
Just after I read the first few lines, fireworks started going off. I mean literally: somewhere just a block or two away people were setting off really loud firecrackers/fireworks in rapid succession! I paused, one of the musicians came up & turned up the volume, & then, despite the noise, I made my way through all eight pages! The fireworks continued till somewhere in page 7, so I was able to finish in blessed tranquillity.
One person who is hard of hearing was not able to catch much of my poem during all the commotion, so I gave him my printout of it later to take home & read. Everyone else was apparently able to hear quite well. And that was the poem that got most response! During the break, after the program, & today after church people came to talk with me about the poem & the issues it brought up inside them.
We sold several books & a number of CDs, & my publisher got some positive publicity. After the program was over, quite a few people hung around to talk for a good while. Once the musicians took off, V & I did only the essential cleanup, happily debriefing our experiences of the evening. I got to bed at nearly 2:00 a.m. Actually didn’t sleep much even then because of being overstimulated!
It happened that the musicians & I were on worship team at church this morning, together with a few others. So despite short sleep we had to be there early to practice. Somehow though, likely because of the bonding experience of the night before, our singing with the congregation this morning was especially joyful & powerful.
I think everyone is in agreement that this will have to be an annual event.
Thanks for all your kind encouragement, friends! I had been wanting to host something like this for years, but it far exceeded my fondest hopes. 5 years ago