I did it. I went to an open mic and read a poem. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but believe me, this was huge. Up until about thirty minutes before the thing started, I was ready to chicken out. I was a nervous wreck, but I've decided that I need to try new things or, in this case, retry old things. I haven't read in public in ten or eleven years. And if it weren't for my friend T, that record would still stand.
I received an email from T saying that he was putting together something called Cold Poetry and he was looking for poets...and that I was one of the poets. I waited about a week to respond (sorry about that T), because I was completely thrown by this email. Me? Get up in front of people? Read my poems? ME? I don't do that. Don't get me wrong, I love attention, just not that kind. I responded as follows:
Sorry I did not get back to you sooner. This looks cool. I would like to come see what comes of all of this. I haven't read in a while (a decade at least) and I don't know if I'm brave enough to do it now, but you have my support. Maybe I'll show up with a surprise in my pocket...a poem and some guts.
A supportive, yet noncommittal response. One that did not completely cancel out the possibility of me getting up the nerve to take a turn at the mic. I continued to think about it. I even picked a poem to bring with me, should the mood strike me. A week before the event, I decided I would read. What's the worst that could happen? And who would know? I had yet to really tell anyone about this. I figured I would show up, feel things out, do my thing and be done. I could tell people that there was a cool event going on, but not that I was taking part as anything other than a supporter. Right? Wrong.
Six days before the event, I was out having drinks with Kiki and Davis before meeting Mrs. D for dinner and a show (A Woman of No Importance at Yale Rep. Pretty good show). Chakakwan showed up for a cocktail and some hilarious chit-chat. Mrs. D apologized to Chakakwan for missing our weekly take-out and TV night at my house the prior evening. (we watch Top Model. I know, horrible.) Chakakwan then apologized to Mrs. D for missing the previous week's take-out and TV. They agreed to both be at my apartment the following week for TV and take-out. Just one thing...I had plans. They asked me what my plans were and, not wanting to make something up, I told them about the poetry reading. "Are you going to read?" they asked. Again, I didn't want to lie, so I told them that there was a very good chance that I would read. They then decided that they would come along and be my cheering section. This was touching and frightening. They then told Davis of the plan. He was in too. Chakakwan would also bring her husband, Drew. I told them that they didn't have to come, that it was no big deal, but they wanted to be supportive. They knew the prospect of me doing this was a big deal. "OK," I said. This was OK. My friends wanted to support me. This was great. Inside I was flipping out. Pouring out my heart to strangers was one thing, but these were my friends, for goodness sakes.
Lucky for me I had a session the same afternoon of the event, so J gave me the pep talk I needed. I walked over to Richter's for the seven o'clock sign up. I greeted T, who directed me to the sign up sheet. No joke, I stared at the clipboard for five solid minutes. It wasn't that I wasn't going to go through with it, it's just that I wasn't sure what time would be most appropriate. I didn't want to be first (thankfully, that slot was taken) and I didn't want to be last. I think I ended up smack in the middle. I signed up, took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. I also ordered some food, no need to be up there with a growling stomach. Turns out two of my coworkers were providing musical accompaniment for the event. I was as surprised to see them as they were to see me. Mrs. D arrived and promptly purchased a second beer for me. Davis and Chakakwan arrived, followed by Drew and Juanita. I didn't realize how many other people would be there that I knew. I don't know why I was so thrown by that, really. I hang out there all the time, who did I think would be there?
The back room was full. There were about thirteen people signed up to read and another twenty-five friends and supporters. Standing room only. I was beyond nervous. I just needed to get through it. T introduced me and I took the "stage." I had decided to read HOME. If I had to choose a favorite of my own work, this would be the one. I read it over a few times before I left home that night, and I found myself feeling the things I felt when I wrote it, which was comforting. I was shaky, but I tried to settle down. I took a quick glance around the room, tried to get comfortable and went for it. It was surreal at first, but then, I think I got my rhythm. I focused on the words and not the fact that I was standing in my local watering hole, saying those words out loud to a room full of (mostly) strangers. I think I did alright. There was applause. People came up to me afterward and paid me compliments. Once I stopped shaking, I felt good about it, proud of myself. Maybe next time I'll read more than one poem. Maybe next time I won't run from the stage (OK, it wasn't a run, more of a brisk walk). I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I made myself take a step outside of my comfort zone. It can only make me stronger in the long run.
A friend once remarked that my work was "about being competent and daring." I believe it's about time I start striving for that in my life as well as my work.