Photo: my first performance at the Golden Pony. Photo by Paul Somers.
“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”
“You’re a part of that poetry club, right? Do you remember the poem you read about the guy hugging the girl and holding onto her like a balloon?”
I was riding the night bus back home off of the JMU campus late one night and a shy girl in the seat next to mine hesitantly brought up one of my favorite hobbies: poetry and public readings. She knew exactly how to start the conversation, that’s for sure.
“Oh, you must mean Rachel Wiley’s 10 Honest Thoughts on Being Loved by a Skinny Boy, right?”
“Oh, could you repeat that?” She pulled out a piece of paper from a tattered navy backpack and started to scribble it down for later. I repeated it for her. “Do you guys always read other people’s work?”
“Well, we mostly try to do our own stuff, but I love reading other people’s poems because it helps you think better about how they write.”
Her face lit up. As if in a brief flash this girl I’d known for all of the time it took for me to pick the most convenient seat on the bus told me of her hectic life as an engineering major. With her evening classes and stressful schedule, she could never make time for the late night readings and performance events that happen on campus, but she always enjoyed them when she got to poke her head out of the books to hear some good words being said aloud.
“Poetry brings a lot of meaning to my life, even if I can’t write it myself.”
I so desperately wanted to tell her that anyone could do it, that it started with a notebook page, a sharp pencil, and one line every day. I wanted to relate how she would one day construct bridges, microchips, or machines while I’d still be standing in some coffeehouse, trying to convince other people that the inner turmoil of a fat kid in his late 20s could contribute to their human experience.
But, like most conversations between strangers on the late night bus, it ended too early as the driver pulled up on her stop, and all I wanted to tell her, a lifetime of learned truths, I summed up in the familiar stumbling of people who rendezvous too late to make that impact.
“Thanks so much, have a great night!”
As I got off my stop not two minutes later, a flutter hit my own heart. Perhaps a little selfishly, and with a familiar bashful humility, the flush hit my smiling face as I walked home. My art connected me to another stranger, like it has been the last three and a half years of my college career.
As if I could be so vain, that’s probably what inspires me most. What fills me up when I’m running on empty is the chance to bring my work out into a space that’s not entirely my own. Good speaking, poetry, or art steeped in the fire of honest craft lets you connect with people in a way that’s more than a casual hello on the street.
I cannot tell you how or what to write, but I can say the best and worst moments in my life, the past versions of myself who’ve written the growing backlog of poems and prose in my notebooks and posts on my blog are better for the acts of recollection that it took to compose them.
What I can tell you is that regularly digging up the earth you came out of to understand the meat of your time on this planet, rather than letting it all fade behind you, is one way I’ve come to understand why I’m here. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough or that you’re not worth doing so, either, as I’ve never met anyone who’s life couldn’t be enriched by the production of their own language.