Last night I attended an open mic event aimed at short fiction, creative nonfiction, and basically anything that wasn’t poetry (because, let’s face it, poets get to read their shit everywhere. The rest of us have to whore ourselves out to get people to read.)
The evening began with a dozen or so writers crowded around the bar, beers in hand, discussing novels we like, writers we can’t stand, our styles, and our work. Soft-core networking porn. I appreciated that no one walked around with a haughtiness. We were all a little nervous, and all interested in just talking about writing. No competition here. Just peers.
The first reader of the night was a “featured” author who made sure to remind the crowd that she was a poet first, prose writer later. Okay, I thought, so I should expect this to be less than stellar. Granted, I’d already thought that when her introduction included a line something to the effect of, “Her work leaves the reader breathless.” I was surprised at the story – the subject matter was only a little cliche (which, let’s face it, they all are), and I found my inner writer critiquing her repetitive phrases, but the writing itself was good.
The second reader was also a “featured” author. Unlike the first, her work blew me away. It was obvious how versatile her skill is, and how easily words seem to come to her. I had spoken to her a little before the readings and noted her mysterious demeanor. She wasn’t the brooding writer type, but you could tell that she would keep you at a distance. The subject matters prominent in her writing – race, slavery, libertarianism – are things that I normally steer away from reading. But there was something different about the way she approached them. They didn’t make the reader feel like an asshole, didn’t make the reader feel preached at. Her work reaches out to the reader, holds their shoulder and says, “Come here. I want to show you something.” I left with every intention of buying her only published novel.
When it finally came to be my turn to read, I was shaking in spite of the three beers I’d had in the hour previous. I stood in front of the audience of about 20 and started, as I do when I’m nervous, with a joke about being short. It was lame, it was ridiculous, and they ate it up. I read without faltering (even though I had to follow the maze of my frantic edits made an hour before show time). The audience laughed where I wanted them to and I ended the story to a satisfactory applause. I ran off the stage without saying “thank you” or looking anyone in the eye.
Later, during the intermission, one of the writers (who chose not to read at this particular event) told me my story was “cute.”
At first, I was a little offended by the comment. Cute? What the fuck does that mean?
But then, I thought about it. I wasn’t trying to teach a lesson with this particular story. In fact, I almost never do. I wasn’t making a statement about life or society. There was no symbolic undertone (other than my cynical views on suicide). So, yea, it was cute. I write to entertain. To make people laugh. Sometimes it’s with satire, sometimes with someone ridiculous.
I noticed that all the writers who read during the open mic period aimed to deliver something philosophical. Something deep. Like that’s what real writing is about.
Bullshit. Storytelling doesn’t have to make you want to kill yourself. It can make you snort and piss yourself, too.
Overall, it was a cool experience and I would probably go again just to listen and chat with like-minded people.
Oh, my. It’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it? I’ll spare you the details because, if you’re bothering to read this, you’re exactly like me and couldn’t care less. So. Down to business, yes? I’m forming a league and I’m recruiting. The Arbiters. Nice ring, eh? Wish I could take credit. Thanks, Mike. You are my official Sergeant At Arms. I use the term “arms” loosely. Do with it as you see fit. New Recruits: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this:
Every person you see engrossed in The Fifty Shades of Grey series, or its half-assed rip-off of a rip-off of a satire, The Crossfire series by Silvia Day, you shall snatch said “novel” from their hands and promptly slap them across the face with it. Okay, time out. I’m going to make a second assumption. If you’re reading this, and you’re not a complete idiot, you’ll know that I’m not being serious. Don’t slap people. That’s rude. Instead, tell them they’re a moron and the book they’re reading is shit. That’s helpful. Some of you are still hovering over the fact that there’s another housewife panty-wetter novel haunting the shelves that wasn’t published by Harlequin. I know, I couldn’t believe it, either. And yet, on my weekly pilgrimage to Books A Million to search for that gem novel that’ll transport me to another plane of existence, there it was on the shelf labeled “Books Everyone is Talking About.” Pardon me, BAM, but NO ONE is talking about that fucking book. They’re talking about the fact that stay at home moms and their childless counterparts now have their own poorly written, disguised as a novel, porn. The fact that they’ve found an “acceptable” way to get their rocks off isn’t an issue. I’ve always said the solution to Mrs. Jones’s uptight nature is a good, hard fuck. The problem is that these books, this Fifty Shades of bullshit, are gizzing all over the New York Times Bestseller List. “OMG [yes, she literally said the letters, individually], you have to get this book,” the woman next to me says to her friend. “It was so… good!” “No,” I say to her, “It’s really not.” They both look at me with puzzled expressions – the first woman’s mouth a thin line of contempt. I’m stealing her thunder. I turn to the shelf behind me (Our Favorite Paperbacks) and pick up two novels: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I hand one to each woman and say, “These are good. Great, in fact. That – “ I point to the stack of Greys, “ – is shit.” Pay it forward, recruits. I’ll be waiting for your progress reports.