On Thursday, November 18, two DSU faculty and one student stepped away from their keyboards and up to the mic in Myxers and, with their fiction and verse, wowed the group of about 25 in attendance.
Dr. John Nelson, Dr. Daniel Weinstein, and DSU junior Nic Brosz each shared original selections while an appreciative audience responded with thoughtful smiles and occasional laughter. Dr. Nelson began with a short poem that both shared his compelling, vagabond biography and offered alternative understandings of the theme of the new reading series, “/afk”, which is internet chat shorthand for “away from keyboard.” The series theme was chosen by event organizer, Dr. Stacey Berry, the most recent addition to those lovable scamps and roving intellects of the DSU English faculty.
“Technology can enhance our creativity, [but] being in front of the computer can also leave us isolated,” explains Dr. Berry about the idea for the /afk reading series. “ Instead of talking about what we create, or sharing our work out loud, we might post words or photographs or digital work to web spaces. And then maybe someone on the other end reads them. Or maybe not. Getting /afk allows us to think about the things that we create on our computers differently. To hear and to experience those things differently.” But Dr. Berry couldn’t resist a more playful possibility: “Or the title just comes from the fact that I’m a real computer nerd.”
So it makes perfect sense that a professor whose recipe for balance in life includes equal doses of “day dreaming” and “cookies, of course” might also arrange for other creative thinkers, playful and sincere alike, to share their works. And the /afk series was born.
A short while later, DSU junior Nic Brosz offered both a poem on escaping a life that saturates us in mediocrity, and a subtle, innuendo-laced short story about a young man’s maiden voyage in a sailboat. Both works by Brosz concealed a lively humor beneath a serious delivery and a thoughtful method. “A writer draws from their experiences,” reflects Brosz, ”and so I often draw from my sheltered life, often giving me something of an outsider’s perspective to typically underestimated situations.” Brosz suggests that writing helps him understand himself, and from that understanding, he better understands his community: “As I try to understand the world I have been sheltered from, I also learn more about myself and what sets me apart or makes me more like the collective. It is a theme that I think about a great deal.”
The afternoon was capped by Dr. Weinstein’s darkly comic work of short fiction, “In the Woods” which makes a pretense of nostalgia while setting us up for a moment of horror when 3 boys hit on an idea for gaining a superpower, of sorts. And there’s another scene in which a bird meets an unfortunate demise in which the audience was visibly squirming, torn between laughter and a desire to recoil. Dr. Weinstein, who, winking, declares that for him, “irony is a birthright,” says that his story was inspired by a challenge issued among a group of writers some years ago with whom he interacted. They saw a series of fictional horror pieces as an ironic but liberating reply to the popular mode in fiction at that time, minimalism, which used description sparingly and tried to convey meaning by suggestion and context.
Though it came near the beginning of all the readings, Dr. Nelson helped to roll the experience of /afk into a succinct little ball when he rolled out a memoir piece that described his “first, and only,” attempt to ride a bull in a South Dakota rodeo. Affecting and vivid, the story was by turns wonderfully funny and deeply troubling. Later, Nelson suggested that writers connect to something familiar to almost any of us, but certainly anyone at the /afk: “[Writer’s] are willing to trust that there’s something worthwhile in making the verbal connection or observation, and they relish the opportunity to voice it. In some ways it’s connected to the impulse that many of us have to speak or to post on a Facebook page. [. . . .] But poets are happiest making that connection and giving it a voice, and readers, when the poetry’s good, are pleased to see the connection, one they feel is right, perhaps recognize that they have felt or seen it.”
The next /afk reading will be “open mic”, meaning that anyone who wishes to read creative text is invited to share. The work may be original or simply a favorite piece. The open mic /afk is scheduled for 4pm on Thursday, Dec. 9, again at Myxers in the Trojan Center.
Listen to the readings on the /afk blog!