Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Open Mic

I read at my first open mic last night. The Saint Louis Writer's Guild hosts an open mic the second Tuesday of every month at the Kirkwood Train Station. All are welcome, not just Guild members. Sometimes there's a theme.

Last night was kind of a mash-up. October's open mic was canceled due to conflicts, so they took the Halloween theme and pushed it to last night, along with the regularly-scheduled Veteran's Day theme. Or, you can read anything you damn well please. This is my kind of organization.

I hadn't been able to make it to an open mic before last night, and I decided to not hang back in the shadows and lurk as I had planned. So I sat down the night before and wrote something. The only guidelines are that you get five minutes for poetry and seven for prose. Sweet. I can do that. Short essays are right in my wheelhouse. So I wrote and then yesterday afternoon I edited, and then I printed it out and stuck it in my bag and tried to not think about it any more. Because thinking about speaking in front of people makes me more nervous than actually speaking in front of people.

So there I was last night, scared to death on two levels: 1.) I'm not comfortable in front of crowds and 2.) I was gonna throw my writing out there for other people to spit on. I mean, I do that here regularly, but it's different. (By the way, my absence here the past few days does not mean I'm not writing. I have been writing every morning except on the weekend, but I haven't had a chance to edit before posting…and these puppies need edits.) When I post something here, it goes up and I don't have to see my audience's reaction. It's out there and I forget about it. Plus, my readers here are, by and large, readers. At the open mic my audience is, by and large, writers. And they've been doing open mic a helluva lot longer than I.

I confessed my fear to the Guild president, who reassured me that I was among friends and that I'd be fine. "Just don't sign up to go first," he said. "Go third or fourth." The notebook came around and I penciled my name into the four-spot. The first two readers were poets, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them. Number three was prose, a retired man recounting some of his temporary gigs between teaching positions. Then it was my turn.

I took a deep breath and walked to the mic in a smattering of applause and encouraging smiles. The emcee had announced I was a first-time reader, and the small crowd showed enthusiasm and warmth. Although I didn't really know a soul in there, it somehow did feel like I was among friends. I took a deep breath and read my piece. I had timed it at just under four minutes. I finished to more applause and sat down, heart thumping and hands shaking, and then listened to about a dozen people come after me. It was fantastic. Three trains went by as we sat and listened, and that only added to the mood.

After the readings, four people came to tell me how much they enjoyed my piece. What incredible affirmation. Hey! I don't suck! It confirmed that I'm doing the right thing by writing my guts out, as if I needed external validation to confirm what my heart already knows.

After I came home, all jumpy and happy, and downloaded my experience to M, I posted on Facebook what I had done. Within minutes, a friend barraged me with insanely awesome text messages. She wasn't even there and she was so encouraging. She's insisting that I tell her when I'll be participating in the next open mic, so she and another friend can come. How cool is that? My very own fan section!

I'm glad I did this. I am glad that I did something that made me uncomfortable and therefore proved that I could do it. I'm glad that I found a safe venue to put my work out there, and trusted people to respond in an appropriate, encouraging and positive manner.

Note: I won't post what I read at the open mic here. It was specifically written for that event, for that audience of strangers. I'll just say it was a tribute to a man who took another tour of duty as a medevac chopper pilot in Vietnam to save his little brother, who was stationed in Korea awaiting deployment. Most of the little brother's platoon didn't make it home alive, so, to me, the man saved his little brother's life. The pilot is my uncle, and the little brother is my dad.


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