It is not easy to battle inner demons, even when they block something important. What should make the process easier, however, is knowing that each time we choose to rise above our fears, we elevate those observing.
This week, for instance, I was reminded of the necessity — and reward — of standing in the spotlight, heart exposed. Life is best lived out loud.
The lesson came from a group of teens — participants in the Iowa Youth Writing Project, Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and Between the Lines.
A few weeks ago an Iowa City reader forwarded an event announcement. The note was a single paragraph with scant context. Teens from summer writing camps would perform original pieces during an open mic night at the High Ground Cafe.
I’d like to report that I put it on my calendar and ultimately attended because I’m a program supporter, but that would be a lie. The calendar entry was a whim. I’d attended a book reading the night before and was in the mood for a mentally dubbed “week of literature.”
The cafe was packed. I arrived with just enough time to order a mocha latte and claim a standing-only spot near a tub of dirty dishes and the patio door. I sipped, thumbed my phone and lamented my impulsiveness. I knew very little about the programs, even less about the performing writers. Did I really think I could morph a teen poetry slam into an opinion column? I glanced around the room, eyes slowing on the door.
Soon the first young writer stood behind the mic and, as I listened, her voice growing more confident, the possibility of leaving, the tub of dishes and (don’t tell my editor) this column shrank against the onslaught.
Poetry and prose flowed from initially hesitant young throats. From scraps of paper, notebooks and electronic gadgets the words were read.
A dead phone battery prompted one young Moroccan man to exit the stage in search of a charger. When he returned later in the performance, I didn’t understand his native tongue, but absorbed his energy and pride just the same.
Some spoke in Russian, others in Arabic or English. One very brave participant gave an improv poetry performance to rolling applause and hoots of approval.
I learned after the performance that the evening was a first — a less formal and also more public opportunity for the writers to get to know each other and share their work. It’s important, said Stephen Lovely, director of IYWS, for the teens to appreciate each other and be appreciated.
Lisa Daily, coordinator of the BTL international program, added that organized writing programs don’t often exist in some of the young writers’ home countries. Reading their own works during an open mic night to friends in a neighborhood cafe is one more thing they deserve to experience while in Iowa.
Initial ripples of uncertainty flattened under the weight of passion, anger, humor and unabashed sentimentality. Pressed lips and a downward focus were replaced with smiles of relief and a glow of accomplishment.
Words, some deeply held and double-edged, were released with no assurance of understanding or acceptance. And yet, they were. Bravo.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on June 27, 2015.