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.