Last night I attended and read at what’s officially my first ever public open mic night reading. I’ve read a handful of pieces before in smaller, intimate groups at different writing conferences I’ve attended. Always surrounded by people that I know in some facet, even if only for a few moments, but always enough so that I know they’re going to be… nice? Last night though, was different… I arrived early in hopes of finding like-minded strangers interested in conversation… instead I sat alone, gripping my few printed pages and watching the podium and microphone in front of me as it grew a tail, fangs, horns, and leering yellow eyes… A group of strangers began arriving, gathering in the lower level of a local bookstore, all of them chattering eagerly with each other, making the monster before me grow even larger, and the knots in my stomach tighter, as I realized these people all knew one another. They knew each others style, voice, thoughts, opinions, and humor – whereas I, a tattooed trollope, had wandered aimlessly, naively into their lair, stupidly thinking that I might fit in.
Just as I was reacquainting myself with the nearest exit route I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find a familiar face. The face of a friend from high school, 12 years ago, recently reacquainted, there to show her support for me. *sigh* You know who you are, and you both rescued me from a night of awkwardness suffered alone, and at the same time cemented the fact that I could not escape. I now had no choice but to follow through on my commitment to bare my still naked and quivering soul to these judgemental strangers.
I was further down the list, allowing me the opportunity to fully commit to my nervousness, and to lose myself in utter confusion at what appeared to be a night devoted fully to poetry written quite eloquently in Klingon, while I waited for my name to be called. Eventually it was, and as is my habit I made excuses for the piece of writing I was going to share before even daring to make eye contact with any of the rabid beasts in the crowd. No doubt at the point, already having noticed that I am a stranger, and not one of them. I read my piece, a short story, my first ever attempt at fiction; a piece that I recently shared at a small writers conference I attended to good response on the validity and thoroughness of my “voice.” Last night however, the room was silent, and I lost my place on a few occasions simply because I wasn’t sure that I was actually reading aloud to the room, or if I might be awkwardly standing there, in front of the crowd, making no sound at all – simply rereading the words to myself in my own inner monologue. When I finished there was a quiet whisper of golf clapping as I zeroed in on my destination, my empty chair 3 rows from the back of the room.
Luckily, these strangers must be used to having a newbie such as myself mistakenly wander in off the street on occasion, because they were careful to refrain from eye contact, or any other form of communication that would require us to speak. And before I knew it, another poet had taken the stage, sharing a rhyme about topics I still have yet to realize. And then another, this one speaking of anger, loss, rage, and abandonment. A mere moment passed, and just like that my voice had been forgotten. With that, the evening was over, and with my single friendly companion in tow, we hastily made our way to the exit. Bursting into nearly maniacal laughter the moment we made it back out, safely, into the world we knew.