I was invited to read one of my stories at an event I’ve grown very fond of. It’s held every couple of months in the lounge of a hotel in a neighboring town, and participants are given fifteen glorious minutes to perform. They invite you once; if you’re decent, they invite you back. “You’re family now,” the organizer told me after my first go-round, which made me feel happy, as though I’d successfully carried out a hit and had been invited to join the Gambino family.
It’s different every time. The other night, there were four poets, a magician, a comedian and popular local singer. I was the sole storyteller on the bill, the only woman performing (though the emcee was female), and one of the oldest human beings on the stage. I took the responsibility seriously. Holding people’s attention for fifteen minutes can be tricky, especially when alcohol’s involved.
The first poet read a piece that had to do with salvation and redemption. The emcee introduced the second as a Christian slam poet. Easter and the Holy Trinity were discussed for a few minutes, and silently, I thanked the little inner voice that convinced me to switch stories at the last minute. Originally, I’d planned to read one about my father, for whom English was a second language and cursing, his native tongue. If people really do go to Hell for taking the Lord’s name in vain, I’m sure that Satan’s little helpers met Dad at the entrance and awarded him some sort of engraved plaque. Still, the story I’d decided on–one about my younger brother and our twisted childhood plots of vengeance-contained a few salty sailor words, and I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received.
The emcee introduced me and I stepped up to the platform, placed my papers on the music stand that Amadeus had brought for me and took a deep breath.
“My father used to endearingly refer to my mother as ‘bitch,’ ‘whore’ and ‘slut,’” I began, “When he was at a loss for more eloquent terms, he knocked her around. He was a load of fun.”
I heard some muttering, a few gasps and an “Oh my…” Uh oh. I plowed ahead.
“We kids were held to a higher standard of behavior. Not by Dad– we could have smoked crack in kindergarten and he wouldn’t have cared. But Mom was convinced that God was watching our every nose pick, and we knew that she was too.” Things got quieter.
There’s something magical involved in the process of sharing our stories with others. It changes the air in the room. As I continued, I began to hear the most beautiful sounds. I was trying to be cool, but it’s just so damned rewarding when a gasp turns into a “mmmm hmmm,” an “amen” or an “ain’t that the truth.” To me, they’re the sounds of people relating to a familiar feeling or situation, the recognition of a shared experience. It’s the song of us bonding as human beings.
On Saturday night, for a quarter of an hour, I was wrapped in a blanket of laughter and goodwill. Looking out into the crowd, I saw lovely faces that seemed to register expressions of interest and happiness, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t alcohol-induced (not much, anyway). I looked over and saw Amadeus, grinning like crazy, which was loveliest of all.
I sit in front of my laptop for hours a day, doing my thing, writing stories and essays and posts on this blog. Weeks can pass in which my only face to face adult interactions are with Amadeus and the cashier at Walgreen’s. Public readings and open mic nights break the cycle of solitude. Listening to the works of others pings my brain and makes me want to cheer. I’m enthralled when wordslingers read–I love hearing the intonations that were in their heads when they created their work. Words splash the air and flow into the audience; creativity fills every inch of the room. It’s sweet and warm, like being dipped in melted chocolate.
The opportunity to share my own work and interact with an audience thrills me. It’s not only a chance to meet new people, but an exchange of understanding, a connection of hearts and minds. It also allows me to release my inner ham. I can get pretty dramatic with all of this.
The other night, after I finished the story, the audience applauded (twice!), the emcee was an enthusiastic angel, and later, a few nice folks told me how much they’d enjoyed it. The Christian slam poet got downright gushy (despite my swear words) and a sweet old lady in white stretch pants held on to my hand and thanked me over and over. It delighted me, but I also felt a bit graceless and shy. I become a wreck when people ask where they can read more of my work, when they inquire about my blog and the things I’ve published. I haven’t yet figured out how to integrate my dual personalities– the one who loves to read aloud and the one who prefers to write under a pseudonym. I should probably be using these opportunities to network or gain exposure, but instead I stammer and stutter. I freeze like a sno-cone and fight the urge to do this:
But reading in public is good for me, and I urge those of you who are writers to give it a try. Releasing one’s inner ham is freeing. I was floating on a fluffy cloud of creativity the other night, and I’m still hovering today. It charges my batteries. It sparks my spirit. It reminds me that somehow, what I’m doing is worthwhile.