I couple nights ago I attended a writer’s open mic at a local café. It was sponsored by the local university and the venue is just a block off campus. Not a part of town I go to often and I had never been to that café before, but I had some idea of what to expect: college kids. And that’s who was there, a whole gaggle of them. I arrived early and began scoping out the crowd, trying to decide if I was going to sign up to read my work or not. I wasn’t sure how I, a forty-six year old butch lesbian, or my work, autobiographical fiction, would play with the crowd. I was relieved when a friend in my age range showed up and he confirmed that he was going to read, also autobiographical prose. So, I said the hell with it and put my name on the list.
As before any event wherein I speak in front of people, I started to get a little nervous, but not nearly as nervous as I used to. College helped cure the larger part of my jitters by constantly having me give presentations of one type or another. I’ve done book reports, persuasive speeches, research presentations, debates, two theses defenses (one in front of a theater audience), and book readings of my own work. But, there were still some nerves. It was a new crowd to me, plus I was literally twice their age. I was worried that my work wouldn’t be relatable to them, and, to be fair, they generally weren’t my target audience, though I’d be happy to count them as such. So, I had some concerns.
I contemplated texting a writer friend of mine to get her advice, sort of a WWAD (What Would April Do?) moment. Then, I realized what she would do, and that is that she would tell me to go for it. I’m sure she would have said something encouraging also, a textual pat on the back. With that in mind, I stood up to read my piece, trying to keep my voice from shaking. I found it difficult to make eye contact with the audience until the very end, where the text was written in such a way that it was more poignant to do so, because, though I had practiced, I didn’t have it memorized. That being said, the audience reacted the way I had hoped they would by laughing in the right places, knowing nods back and forth when I read something that they related to, and the proverbial snaps of approval.
Granted, the applause and snaps are expected out of politeness, as they are a supportive group, but for me it was the laughs and knowing nods that did it. It wasn’t a polite reaction, it was a connection with the work, even if it was for a moment, one line maybe. Something I had written was relatable to them, and that was encouragement enough for me.
I was inspired to write the following poem, which I plan to read at the next open mic.
Open Letter to Gen. Z
Upon our last meeting, I was ruminating on our age difference,
and wondered if there was something, I could share with you,
pass on, as it were, considering my advanced years.
After thinking on it some time, I concluded
that anything I would have to say would be outdated
at best and condescending at worst. So, I almost chucked
it all, but I’m not a quitter, so I figured I’d give it the ol’
college try. College try, that’s just something we use to say.
As I went through my vast rolodex of topics I could talk about—
rolodex, that’s this thing that use to sit on desks and hold information—
like a paper version of Google. Anyway, as I was going through my mental
notes, I wondered what wisdom I could pass on to you—
I figured the best course of action would be to go from my own experience
and pass on some hard-learned truths.
Okay, here goes:
don’t fuck someone because they have a nice smile,
and definitely don’t marry them and let them ruin your credit.
Don’t go for style, go for substance, because pretty
doesn’t last but substance will stand by you.
Don’t apply for a job if you don’t understand what the qualifications mean,
and don’t turn your nose up taking a job you didn’t go to school for
because your landlord won’t give two shits that you aced all your English classes.
Remember what it’s like to be poor so that you don’t become an asshole
in your forties who thinks only slackers are on welfare and the homeless lack motivation.
March, and protest, and yell, and make your voices heard and do not go gentle into that good night…rage against the dying of the planet and all the bullshit and fuckery
that the generations before you have left you with.
Someone has to save this place.
Considering your inheritance, it’s amazing that your generation is so peaceful. But I understand.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. I’m tired of the dying, and I’m tired of the hate.
I’m tired of the lying and I’m tired of wondering how many people will die today.
So, I leave you with this: good luck. We’re counting on you. No pressure.
After all, how worse could it get?