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Seizure: being grabbed and tossed to the ground.  In an instant, I became a bucking horse, forgiven everything except this moment. In exchange for a mouthful of blackened bacon sweating grease, here is a chaser of carpet and the hail of a table’s debris.  It is unusual, to say the least, to awaken face down on a  carpet, having been mounted by electrical shocks and rendered, pardon me, dumb and empty and useless.  A man with a need for sugar and grease is of no use to anyone except the doctor or the mortician.  My morning trip to Farmer’s market cost me a leg on the coffee table that my legs violent thrashing kicked off.  The table showered me with a coffee mug, an ashtray, my laptop, half bottle of lemon water, a nail file.  The tremors stopped even as my head continued spinning and I got up off the floor disoriented like I’d had a years’ worth of sleep in a handful of seconds.  I surveyed my body from head to toe — what the hell am I doing here / what exactly just happened.  I got up from the floor, surprised by the sudden newness of everything.  I took aspirin, then unplugged the power strip from the wall seeing how the desk lamp had broken its neck and all bottles of liquid had spilled into a wet outline haloed around me.  After dropping the aspirin, I needed to lay down again immediately.  I couldn’t make the couch and chose the closest floor.  Have you ever been confused by your own body?  I was confused by more than that.  I looked across the terrain of the carpet.  The broken table, the broken lamp, the scattered ephemera  and the dumb luck of not electrocuting myself, at least.

And then, I looked up at the silent black phone.  Perhaps you would have called any number of friends or family or even an ambulance.  I had no friends or family and the ambulance was a rubber banded roll of money chocked deep down in my throat I couldn’t get up.  In truth, there is a hospital four blocks from my building… but, but, but.  I looked at my phone, useful to me now as a toaster might be, and felt deeply sad.  Right then, I felt sorry for myself.  And I thought back to earlier that morning when I’d gone to the farmer’s market where I bought eggs and the aforementioned bacon which probably led to this absurd afternoons non-delight.  Smirk now as I tell you I walked past a man shoving kale and arugula into a plastic bag and kept walking.  I walked past another man standing in the middle of the flowing wave of shoppers.  He was speaking so loudly into his cell phone it seemed like a performance.  I thought I recognized him … and did.  He is my biological brother.  And as if this might explain anything, I walked past him while he stood blindly screaming: “What?? Should I give up my freedom to do what I…” and I walked past him, unnoticed and stopped listening after losing count of all the “I’s” shoved into his sentence.  He never saw me, unable to see anything except his own issues.  How to say: we are better as strangers than brothers?  More familiar to one another in thought than face to face.  As I walked past, I realized there were no memories I wanted to volley back and forth.  There was nothing I wanted to catch up with.  We emerged from the same biological muck, brothers in the dictionary yet strangers and useless otherwise.  He had sons, a daughter, an ex-wife, plenty.  He wasn’t adopted.  He was wanted.  Somehow it was just me who didn’t match the set.  It was me to whom my “birth mother” said, “lets agree to disagree”, before handing me off like a casserole.  I walked past him and bought cookies at a booth two tables down.  I preferred sugar and the kind smile of a stranger vending baked goods and fresh pasta.

I didn’t think of my biological brother again until later that afternoon when I found myself on the floor, table broken, dishes scattered across the floor in an awful tableau.   From my vantage point, I couldn’t think of a single name to call.  The only thing I thought of was him shouting into his phone and with that, my body flattened against the rug.  Depending upon him, I’d be good as dead.  The spilled items agitated me.  I pushed myself up, stumbled to the couch and waited.  I lay on my back and listened to my body.  Adrenaline is gasoline burning clean beneath my topsoil of skin.  My heart thumped even down to my fingertips.  I was glad to feel anything.  I spoke to myself, not a prayer, but how you’d test a microphone, and I sounded okay.  I flexed my toes.  Whenever a wave of thought whitecapped I breathed slowly until it smoothed out.  I watched the adrenaline burn and turn from red to orange to blue and then ease.  The day outside was so pretty and so bright and so useless.  I reached for my phone to make a doctor’s appointment then realized the next open slot was more than a week later.  Once I could move comfortably, I called medical services to expedite my appointment.  The woman-operator on the phone cheerily asked What Was Wrong.  I didn’t want to talk to her, I wanted to speak with my doctor.  She asked: It isn’t sexual is it? I used the word Seizure then the word Stroke and then a nurse was connected on the line and quietly urged me to call emergency.  Turns out there is a hospital but four blocks from my front door.  She talked me down from even trying to walk it, alone, especially before knowing what was wrong or whether it would happen again.  She said my appointment couldn’t be changed.  I hung up the phone and stared at the wall, breathing.

Egon: Don’t cross the streams.
Peter: Why?
Egon: It would be bad.
Peter: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean “bad”?
Egon: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

***
During workshop week, I sat with different poets and talked/shared about our writing and performing lives and philosophies. Someone asked about my writing and poetry life and I asked them theirs. Over the days, it occurred to me how many of the writers here didn’t perform or read their work very often in public. Meaning, they rarely or never went to a café or performance space and read aloud anything they’d been writing. I considered it part of my practice. For many of them, it was uncommon.

That’s not 100% true. A couple of the people there were very familiar with public readings. But others, for example one or two of those leading the weeks’ workshops, had no idea how to use or approach a microphone.

It struck me odd if only because I discovered poetry In Public — in this bookstore, or in that café. ‘Spoken word’ is synonymous with ‘poetry’, right? And after years of familiarity, once I heard Gwendolyn Brooks read ‘We Real Cool’ aloud at a sold out event at UC Berkeley did I realize that was the first time I’d ever heard the poem at all.

If music is created for instruments, isn’t poetry created for voice? If lyrics are made to be sung, isn’t poetry made to be spoken? If a theatrical monologue belongs to a play, shouldn’t a poem belong to the voice as a random, anywhere recitation?

At the end of dinner on the final day of workshop week, all the participants gathered together and volunteers were asked to recite a poem they didn’t write from memory. It was a way of bringing the classics, the published, the famous and infamous, the authors from different cultures and languages into our current conversation and gathering, grounding us as would a prayer.

But earlier in the week, seated at the foot of a gorgeous mountain and the sun quietly setting behind it, when I asked a woman if she’d ever gone to any open mic events or read aloud, she shook her head, unsure if events like that even occurred in her home city.

I had no idea what to say to her.

***

I went to an event at a café in Berkeley Friday night, in support of my friend, a writer and storyteller and who herself has never attended any kind of workshop and, now in her 70’s, is ‘starting to consider’ signing up for one since I’d been going on about it.

It brings me little joy to be at a poetry reading on a weekend night, but since she’d been so supportive of me in the past, I felt socially obligated. We walked in and the place was packed wall to wall with people. My friend, S, came over to me and asked if I’d help him do a quick skit for his part of the open. I loved him and without thinking quickly agreed.

“All you have to do,” he directed, “is go: Oh really, and then what happened.”

He signed up first, of course, and instead of his name, signed up as a corporation of some kind. Instead of doing any poetry, he decided to just play– as he’s apt to do– to throw away any poetry and vibe his way through a absurd story or joke he’d made up.

Once the host stood and got the room to quiet, he had me stand with him at the side of the room, then grabbed my wrist pulling me up to the front of the room with him. Like a bad Abbott and Costello routine, we went to it. He immediately began stammering and spitting about being in a horror workshop with a bunch of, in his impression, slow witted, condescending old people. And in his story/sketch, a child was asked to come speak to the workshop group and of course in the story provided the best poem of the night.

The audience applauded, and we sat down as if nothing had happened, allowing the rest of the night to unfold quietly and without further incident. I sat with him. He’d taken out a mini notebook and wrote while the first feature began, giving his manic, impulsive OCD a point of focus to sit still. I took out an equally small notebook and also wrote, mostly to complain about what I was hearing.

I thought about S during my week in the mountains, mostly how much he’d like the area and hate how we were using it. That his OCD and distractions would tickle his impatience too often to even sit and have a reasonable conversation about writing — much less take time to read anyone else’s work. And though he’d love the outdoors and nature, he’d never stay with the group on any hikes or lectures. He’s his own man, uncontrollable, impatient, distracted, impulsive, manic. And hates even the idea of workshops and what he perceives them to be about.

And then I thought: how sweetly he used me to shit on whatever he thought was going on in the mountain, to illustrate how little he cared or respected anything he assumed was happening during my week, and to basically toss his arm around me and flip off the experience I’d just had, while smiling broadly.

And we sat together for a while during the reading, but he had to run off for work mid-way through and vanished. This just before the friend I came with read. I stayed and listened until the end of the night.

I don’t remember anything I heard. My friend who was featured that night and I arrived minutes before the reading began. I did not sign my name on the open mic sheet. Later, when the host announced the last reader on the open mic for the night, the woman I came with turned and stared at me. I didn’t return her gaze. Reading/sharing wasn’t immediately essential. I was there for her.

As the room began dispersing, I chatted with someone whom I’d known for years. I made the mistake of mentioning to her about my week up in the mountains and asked if she’d ever done anything like that and she immediately scoffed. Read: laughed in my face.

Maybe you don’t need it if you get access to the cabin, I said referring to the one she just mentioned in her poetry.

Oh, its run down, she said, dismissively. The structure I’d sketched in my mind immediately fell apart, splintering and sagging as she spoke.

She laughed, hard, over even the idea of a poetry workshop. She’d heard of it, she’d
“submitted something once before, years ago…” but never applied again and she was now 70 so why bother. She knew ____ about Galway Kinnell and _____ about Sharon Olds and what else did she need to know? I felt foolish for bringing it up and left it alone. But as I was trying to make my way to the door, my ride trailing far behind me soaking up the appreciation for her set, I stopped to talk with someone at the entrance whom I hadn’t spoken with in a while. He seemed distant, shy, bewildered and talked about being/feeling stuck and not writing. Lacking anything new to say, I began ministering to him about the prospect of going somewhere if just to get out of town, out of his life, out of his head for a minute. To refresh himself and his work. He seemed to not know what language I was speaking.

I had nothing else to say to him. My ride approached and I leapt out of the room ahead of her.

***

I nearly thought my ride was going to ask what I thought of her or her work. I expected her to corner me into a review. She waved off anything I tried to say.

“I recorded it,” she said. “I’ll find out later…” I shut my mouth.

***

These are the two worlds I live between. Worlds that I thought were the same or similar but are obviously not. The rooms are full of poets that periodically share the same people, but they are not the same at all and barely have anything respectful to say to one another.

Years ago, before Poetry Slam even, back when I first began this journey through poetry, I would often sit in on conversations about Page versus Stage poets. Performance artists who sound great, but you just can’t read them. Standing alone in a room with just their work, the poems lose much of their electricity and appeal. S could be guilty of this. I tried reading his book, which is as stubborn a tome as he is a person, and find the book is exhaustingly unreadable and weirdly joyless. Hypnotic in its commitment, its a single poem at roughly 120 pages. Where’s the rest of his amazing poems I’ve heard him do over the years? Where’s the easy exhilaration had in listening to him? Perhaps I should try again, but there isn’t much of a hook to engage me and return with commitment beyond the fact: I know him!

In turn, there are Page poets– who write lovely work but who cannot (or should not) read their own material, and often stamp out any power or joy found in their poems simply in the droll way they read them– reading into their chest dispassionately, as if they held their breath. One of the sweetest, warmest writers I met at workshop is an awful reader of their own work. This reminds me how years ago there was a brother who attended one now-defunct series in S.F. who always used to sign up early and was one of the greatest poets, writers I’ve ever heard. He was someone I still think of and consider, without hyperbole, a genius. He would place his lips directly on the mic and whisper his work, which was deadly personal and close– about death, drugs, relationships, family, abuse. The room would hold its breath and physically lean towards him, listening. He didn’t need to emote. We, knowing he was good enough and worth it, went towards him.

I, naturally, aim for the middle ground. I want to sound good, and I want the poems to work without me. I want anyone to pick up my work and find something of value in it, something to hook themselves with. I also enjoy reading aloud and finding the audience wanting to pay attention. Neither of these things is easy or come naturally. But seems to me an obvious lesson that emerges between practicing and performing. Practicing your craft (writing) is about strengthening your work on the microscopic line level, (which means publishing). Practicing your craft (reciting/reading) is necessary in order to hear what gets received, what gets missed (which means performing, slamming if necessary). Being clear in what you’re communicating. There exists a middle ground between the two, and of course its unmarked. But I think its worth finding and settling in. There’s valuable audiences awaiting both sides of the fence.

But what if improving and getting better at what you do is not the point? What if all you know is all you need to know?

Its been years since I last went to a writer’s retreat. Squaw Valley came at just the right time offering me a healing I’d been long in need of. There’s a unique community offered by artists gathered together all struggling to write the next thing and to keep working. That creative energy feeds me like little else.

More than 70 people from all over the country gathered for a week in the mountains, specifically the Olympic Village at Squaw Valley, to write poems. I wrote, though much of my non-writing free time was spent in bed sneezing and blowing my nose so often I quickly filled a Trader Joe’s shopping bag with tissue. I nearly thought I’d come home early what with not being certain I could stand a whole week with a sinus infection. But turns out one of the poets amongst us was a doctor who generously wrote a prescription that helped me.

My head opened off and on several times, getting me through daily poetry workshops and allowing for a couple of nature hikes with Man of Great Knowledge, Will Richardson. The hikes I looked forward to (they weren’t extensive, but were quite rich in detail and information) if only to broaden my vocabulary, offer me different language with which to see the forested world beyond just saying “things” are “pretty”.

Most nights though, I barely slept. I struggled to breathe and sat up watching footage of hurricanes and tornados on late night Weather Channel specials. Being congested late night while watching a cruise ship pummeled by mountain sized ocean waves is a uniquely appropriate gift. One night while I was up, the area was rattled by an earthquake.

After I began getting some sleep, being so far up in the mountains, some 6000 ft. above sea level, my dreams became vivid and popped with color and strangeness. I saw my grandfather again, only in worker’s overalls and on crutches. I came up behind him in a supermarket and he turned to me and immediately took out a egg sized peppermint ball he’d been eating and tried to feed it to me like a bird. I refused; even in my dream it was kinda gross. But he was insistent and otherwise mute and I still politely refused and moved away from him over to frozen foods.

While still quite congested, one night I drifted into a dream where I stood beneath a bridge waist deep in water. Across from me, the city I saw was dark and the sky inflamed with war. I watched a huge explosive be dropped blocks away and the sky began filling with rolling, greasy black clouds. I knew the clouds were poisonous and I was alone. I also knew I couldn’t swim and was uncomfortable in water, but the only way to save myself was to plunge my face into it. As the black cloud raced towards me, I went under only to wake up gasping.

Later in the week, I realized all my dreams take place in the streets of an alternate Oakland, the city where I was born, that remained in permanent twilight. One long dream meandered from beneath a freeway overpass where I rode a bucket downhill in order to escape a group of young thugs. In that dream I seemed to run errands for the owner of a store of some kind, me racing from one part of town to another and back, from one Victorian house to a modest store front, from making deliveries and picking up packages. The dream starred friends I barely speak with any longer and was flavored by mild I’m Running Late panic. Rooms were populated with rare antiques and toys, live music played on platforms in the middle of intersections. I dreamed in color. My dream shot with Steadicam consciousness.

In spite of my annoying illness, the week was spectacular and I was surrounded by great people, strong artists and even by many of the poems that emerged. I failed to realize how special the week was until I’d come back to Oakland in time to do a reading at a local café. The audience was mostly of listless seniors. At one point, someone’s cane slapped the floor loud as a gun shot. Even that struggled to wake me. I found myself reading new work then looking up at the room and not knowing what to think of the faces staring back at me.

My friend arrived late in the reading and long after my set was over and since she was going to drive me home, I decided as a thank you to read her all the new poems that came out during my workshop week. Afterwards, since she’s an Aries, she went through her glove-compartment poetry and handed me one to read aloud back to her. Its exhausting listening to my own voice all night. How long had I been talking? I couldn’t pray hard enough for her to drive me home quickly just so I could finally shut my mouth.

The nice folks at Two Hawks Quarterly have published my story Madagascar, my first attempt this year to send out something else besides Poetry. (Not That There’s Anything Wrong With Poetry). I sent it out on a lark just to gauge what would happen– what happened next was a huge surprise to me. It was encouraging at least. I’m digging like a badger through old journals for more salvageable stories. Hope you enjoy.

Last night I itched to write something and had nothing to say. I’d fallen behind, not writing much of anything last month, set aside usually for National Poetry Writing. What I did do though, was rescue and edit work I’d paused on. Word Camera is a webpage that converts photographs into text. I had three word camera documents on my computer based on three found photographs. Last night I opened them and began re-editing, re-assembling the text in collage form. Like William S. Burroughs Cut Up method, though not as random with multiple sources. It was more myself in conversation with old, found text. I combed through the blocks of computerized text, randomly broke lines, then changed nouns and verbs, cutting entire sections, moving things around, adding an original line beneath the computer’s line. I mailed all that stuff to myself this morning to print at work where I plan to do more shuffling and editing and conversing.

William S. Burroughs was one of my earliest inspirations, one of the first writers I respected because of his voice.

I became introduced to Burroughs sometime in the mid 80’s through performance artist Laurie Anderson. Bill had a cameo in her film Home of the Brave which, due to good reviews, I saw on the big screen in Berkeley at an Old Repertory House. (I probably saw it on a double bill with the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense) Her music was white girl funky– curious and fun to my ear. Burroughs popped up briefly on her album Mister Heartbreak, doing vocals on Sharkey’s Night.

Eventually, during my digs through cd stacks at Rasputin and Amoeba I discovered an album, Dead City Radio. Burroughs had a hung over mid-western drawl that rattled and purred through reading his weird sexual sci-fi work. His writing was fun and dangerous and twisted. Though I’ve owned Naked Lunch for years, eventually saw Cronenberg’s film adaptation and listened to readings, I can’t read it cover to cover nor, really, any of his work. It comforts me having his books around, in the way I’m comforted by James Joyce’s Ulysses on my shelf, equally admired and mostly unread (Kate Bush once helped me eventually revisit the final Molly Bloom chapter, as did a BBC dramatization where an actress skipped through that meandering monologue while mid-way memorably squatting over a chamber pot). What connects me to him, what interests and draws me, is his voice and the sleepy confidence with which he reads. It is effortless and conversational. He is no orator. He is a philosopher with, as my former classmate once said, “the voice of them old junkies”. His was a voice I wanted to share with people, as if it were a song I liked. His being queer (Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That) didn’t bother me: “(The Mugwumps) secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism.” I’ve never seen him photographed with, speak of, acknowledge, nor even take any photos with any artists or writers of color and I’m okay with having never heard or known his thoughts on race. But I still adored the way he constructed sentences and told stories. And his voice. His voice simmers. His manner, his spoken word tempo, paired equally nice with producer Hal Wilner’s NBC Orchestra needle drop samples on Dead City Radio as it did with crunchy electronic hip hop from the brothers behind The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy for the album Spare Ass Annie. Dub him via reggae, put a Kurt Cobain guitar solo beneath him, it all works.

What did I learn from him? How language can be a toy– a building block. A Lego. That, and the motor of voice. His voice made me better appreciate words, language. In reading for audiences or recordings, he was never nervously rushed or panicked to get out his work. He never sounded eager to please anybody– he let the work and images speak for themselves. Yet one could hear a sly pride in his reading of his often disturbed and challenging work. He read slowly hypnotizing audiences following his dream-imagery and surreal juxtapositions.

Burroughs was a superb reader. There are not many writers who do their own work justice. Dylan Thomas was certainly a master. Even Sylvia Plath’s stately manner in her recorded versions of Daddy or Lady Lazarus for example, she reads poems with the precision and form of a runway model. You can nearly hear her shoulders being pushed back and her chin lifted as she reads. She sounds like a 1950’s movie star, falling between Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwick. Burroughs in turn sounds as if he’s seated at a kitchen table haloed in smoke with an eternal shot of gold liquid within reach. He sounds sleepy, slouched, slightly aggravated and familiar with evil. A wicked grandfather who might slip you some extra rock candy if you place nice and pull your pants down.

I’ve rarely written or spoken of writers who’ve inspired me. Perhaps I’ll do more of these. But while working last night, I thought of Burroughs Cutting up blocks of text to get new fresh meanings and lines, or to cull weird word pairings and find new ways of saying things. He might have really dug that word camera page. It was greatly helpful to me last night while feeling anxious but stuck and uninspired, stoned and slightly drunk.

Follow up on more regarding Burroughs Cut Up Method here.

On the train coming into Sacramento, I spent the time shuffling back and forth through my notebooks, trying to come up with something of value, something deep to say, to a room full of 200 strangers about writing.

And not just writing, but the hardest of all: Humor Writing.

I’ve been fortunate with much gratitude beyond all measure.  Over the years, I’ve sat with, worked with, learned from, listened to some amazingly deep and well educated people. Almost all of them teachers in one way or another. However, I myself am not a certified teacher and I don’t feel as if I know anything. Especially about being funny and talking to a room full of people about using Humor to write memoir. How did I get in this mess?

The ball started rolling years ago. I wrote a essay in list form, entitled A Brief History of My Failures With Women. The piece was written in concert with loneliness, as I walked back through some of my earliest memories attempting to track where and why I felt such a social misfit.  Partially inspired by the casually vivid storytelling of Spalding Gray, partly a random writing exercise during lunch at a new job where I had few friends, it was a piece I wrote just to hold my own hand.

Spaulding

But there came a point when I was asked to submit material for a journal.  At the time, that piece– written initially for my own eyes and daring– was all I had and was what I sent. I expected a perplexed No-Thank You in reply, but instead it was published and developed a life of its own. One of the teachers in Sacramento is still using it in her classes some 15 years after it was written. And here I was returning to Sacramento to read it for an audience and talk about it.

That it was initially embarrassing to’ve existed at all is one thing. But that it was seen as Funny was… well… let’s just say I started seeing a therapist just in time.

I’m no teacher. Did I nervously admit that already?  And I found myself unable to prep a speech on paper. I was thankful for attending some Storytelling-Without-Notes open mics, but those were about true stories and memory, not teachable lectures. So, I made some ‘notes’ regarding writing. I Googled, I stumbled through the library as if I were drunk. I copied this and wrote down that. But eventually I felt I had to let go and do the bulk of the speech off the top of my head. Not from any illusion of confidence, mind you.  But this: Most audiences (myself included) would rather you talk TO them rather than AT them from behind the gated security of a bunch of notecards. But what exactly could I say?

I was told to fill 30 minutes, which soothed me.  Time-wise, 30 minutes is nothing.  It takes 10 minutes to read the essay.  I could futz around for 10 minutes introducing the piece.  That’s twenty.  All I had to do was find a dignified way to stop.  (SPOILER: I didn’t, I just stopped)

My coworker at the office, without knowing what I was doing that weekend, gave me a book by David Sedaris that he said he found pants-pissingly funny. I brought the book with me on the trip as if it were a good luck charm or an alternative bible, though I never opened it. I thought: you can no more tell someone how to be funny than you can tell someone how to sing. Even I can occasionally freestyle a well-timed joke, but not on stage like a stand up. I’m no comedic genius. I couldn’t counter a heckler.  Whatever was funny in my original essay, wasn’t intended to be funny.  It was just the way I saw it, remembered it, thought about it.  I looked through some books on humor writing and quickly became overwhelmed.  I didn’t have the confidence to talk about being funny.  But I felt I could encourage people to write and keep going, and hopefully encourage them to bravely tell the truth in their work.

I was surprised to not be nervous.  I was more surprised the room stayed with me.  They listened.  A laugh or two emerged though never from the entire room.  The room lights remained on and I could see well into the back as some appeared to take notes.  I was strangely relieved to see one person get up to leave, though I think they eventually came back.  I got through my speech without humiliating myself.  Afterwards, several people asked good questions.  And though I did record it, I can’t bring myself to listen to that mp3.

Below is a list of notes I made.  They’re the framework holding up whatever it was I said.  Some of these I used, some I didn’t.

*I’m here due to a horrible mistake / here to admit all my failures
*How do you dare approach your story (esp. using humor)
*Your story has unexpected virture
*Be Honest / Be Encouraged that your story already speaks for someone else. We are all the same. Its in engaging our humanity (our weakness as much as our strengths) where our commonality intersects.
* Know Yourself: be okay with your story and experiences and tread lightly across it.
* Your story has weight only because you’re carrying it.
* You’re a survivor of your life, NOT a victim of your life
* Part of being a survivor is learning to let go– let go of your assumption of control
* Be vulnerable. Be your own punchline. Soften your intensity. Soften your attachment
* Tell the truth. This kind of writing (memoir) is a kind of journalism.
* Humor/Laughter isn’t always about humiliation but recognition. A laugh is a shocked response/ something abrupt and unexpected.
* Mel Brooks: Tragedy vs. Comedy. Tragedy is me falling into an open sewer. Comedy is YOU falling into an open sewer.
* Mark Twain: Get your facts first then you can distort them as much as you please.
* Even in non-humorous writing, humor can/should be found. Humor makes a way of approaching the difficult. The heaviness of the subject matter leads itself naturally to humor. SEE: Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes

I feared I would be late to the lounge for the 7pm reading, but as usual I was compulsively early. I sat at the end of the bar, not recognizing the friendly couple next to me until they spoke, we all but arriving together, and me knowing them from a reading in my neighborhood a month prior. He, too, was published in the journal we were both there to read for. I ordered a beer, though I wanted nothing except to get down to the work. They ordered food, getting bar food so expensive and modest they may as well had burned a twenty dollar bill, the smoke fulfilling the same hungers.

I followed them upstairs to the performance area, which I hadn’t known existed. A huge wood ballroom with a red carpeted stage and DJ Booth set up, several tea candle lit tall tables. A huge dance floor. A bar in the corner. Two tables set up with merch in the back. On the wall between the stage and bar, a youtube video of commercials from the 1970’s was projected. The room was too big for the people in it. As soon as we entered, the couple I was with was approached by another couple they both knew and that couple invited us to join them. The man from the second couple was introduced to me as a teacher, about to do intro to poetry class for high schoolers. Though listening to him as he talked …scared me for the sake of those kids.

By some miracle I wasn’t self conscious being the odd man out. The unpaired black thumb at the table. How I am usually the unpaired black thumb at any table. I joined them and remained cool. It didn’t take long before the event started, and the man I knew got up to read first. Then a cartoonist was invited onstage to talk about his work while his strips were projected onto the wall. I was next, climbed onto the stage and faced the room.

From the stage, the room was huge, nearly cavernous. I thought of every Backpack MC’s I’d ever seen who’d stalk the stage like a caged animal and demand the audience to come up front and be with her. Support her. Feel her. I wanted to encourage everyone to move towards me since the room felt so distant and distracted. It was quiet, or perhaps I just couldn’t hear anything. I looked best I could through the spotlight and saw a group of friends standing at a tall table. More people were crammed into the distant booths well across the room, almost too far for me to underhand throw a tennis ball. Even the pair of couples I sat with had shrank in the distance to the size of large paperclips. I read three poems. Could anyone hear? Am I doing this right? At the end of one poem there was a huge lag between my voice and any response. They clapped automatically after I stopped talking. I read a poem I thought was funny and it was greeted with stoic silence. This was the reading I’d been most looking forward to, yet it flamed out before anything sparked. I finished, came back to the table with the couples. One man gave me his fist, which I should have met mid-air with my chin. A woman leaned forward and asked: What were the little houses?

The little green houses? I asked, of the poems title.
Yeah.
Monopoly houses.
She leaned back and said, Oh.
And in the ensuing silence, I thought: Didn’t I explain that? It isn’t in the poem? Um, damn.

The night went on like that. So little energy so much time. It was as if there were a rushing river between the stage and audience and nothing could be heard over the noise of the moving water. What could I have done better? Differently?

When the event broke for music, the dj climbed the stage and got in position. I passed off my drink ticket, grabbed a complimentary journal and escaped out of there quickly, thanks to Lyft. The driver barely spoke to me. I tipped him well for leaving me alone.

The next reading the next night: I didn’t want to go. I nearly skipped it, but decided, stop being a hater, stop being negative. There could be a huge blessing in the middle of every room you avoid.

I tried to be late, and couldn’t. I burned time in the courtyard of the Asian Art Cultural Center. By the hour of 7, most of the venues were closed. A woman entertained her two toddlers, a couple of friends sat talking. Then I grabbed a bench at fountain stocked with a half dozen coi and tried to breathe. When I finally made it to the gallery, it felt quiet and warm. The audience sat zombied and waited while music played. I couldn’t immediately sit down and though I saw one person I wanted to say hello to, I instead looked at the art on the wall. The host came over and greeted me. I said all of nothing. I considered the art for a long time before the event finally started. Why did the room feel so… Heavy. Warm. Inactive. Narcoleptic. A toddler took over the back rows of the event, trying out non-sense language on a pre-teen girl who’d been cuddling her stuffed Pikachu doll. He touched it lovingly before the event started. The host tried to shake the room slightly, telling them its okay to move and speak as if this were church, though no one did.

I was introduced after a pastor blessed the room, then after a woman who dismissed herself as a poet– yet read beautiful little poems.

The crowd was larger than I expected, 25, 30 people I’d guess. I refused the mic though cameras were set up to record it. I used my voice to fill the space and read three poems.

What did I see? People were with me, with warm listening eyes. One or two actually smiled to the degree I thought they really heard what I was doing. But most, yeah, stared like zombies. I appreciated one woman to my left who listened actively. One bearded brother in back I seemed to mostly read to. He would have been cool talk with afterwards. I thought of the old David Letterman show, how he would keep his theater close to freezing, he once said because when its colder audiences are more active and lively. I went back to my seat, feeling guilty somehow. I regained my seat and the main event started.

It wasn’t late, it wasn’t quite 9, but I was so distracted and nervous, I had to leave. Two women flanked either side of the performance stage, and I knew they were waiting for a signal from the reader to dance. I awaited for the same signal, but ran out of patience, got up as to take another photo of the room, then wandered over to the bathroom.

When I left the bathroom, I left the gallery, its resonating silence reaching even out to the street. The sun had just set. Though my legs felt stiff and achy, I ran away from there pretty quickly, not totally clear as to what was wrong with me. Both readings in their own way were gorgeous ceremonies, if just church quiet. I paced the bus stop, nervous. If I didn’t want to be there, where did I want to be? And with whom?