Sunday, August 8, 2010

These Days.

Last night, I attended a book release party in celebration of a friend's work. I must admit a twinge of trepidation, as I knew I tend not to get that "I fit in!" vibe around his typical entourage. Every time I hang out with these people, I feel like I'm an 8th grader loitering around the high schoolers' lockers, trying to catch cool as though it were a stomach virus. The sheer amount of artistic talent contained within these people is enough to power a small state for weeks on end (if you add in the amount of coffee and cigarettes they consume as possible energy sources, it becomes decades), and their almost cliché attitudes about life and art and hardship make you realize exactly where the stereotypes come from. Walking among these people is like stepping into an early-90's graphic novel, and you never really know what to do with yourself once you're there.

The party was astounding. There were readings from the book, by the author and his friends. A band played what I can only describe as the least likely, yet most beautiful musical style for the occasion, as bluegrass emanated from the kind of guys you expect to see at a skate park or tattoo parlor. The first selection presented was by a fabulously blue (literally) man on stilts, and Pablo Neruda's poetry made a cameo while waiting on repaired guitar strings. An artist in a TMNT hoodie gave her views on social media, something that's been gnawing at me since before Facebook boomed into the ever-present nonsense it has become, back when people were still taking shaky, blurred photos for their Myspace pages. An entertainer from NY struck out with part of the crowd, but was lauded as a genius by our little corner, who chuckled uncontrollably as he played Tool on the uke and told jokes too big for such a small-minded small-town crowd.

At one point during the evening, just after food was served, the man of the hour took me aside. He said he had an opening in the program for the evening, a slot he'd like me to fill with a reading. "I know you're a performer," he said, "and I wanted to give you a chance to say something tonight." Defensive and unsure, I reminded him that I hadn't yet finished reading his book, and that I couldn't pick a piece from it to present. "You can do something of yours, if you want. Or something you enjoy. Anything, really. Just, get up there and say what you want to."

I agreed, and excused myself to finish dining, to think on what I would say. A million thoughts rushed through my head. Panic pinned me to my chair, and I demanded a hug from a beauty at the table. I nibbled at pizza and spinach dip, and my heart sank.

I'm proud of him, you see. This author has worked so hard for so long on so many things, and with such raw talent, that to see him succeed is utterly amazing. However, this "my friend is epic" vibe is tempered with the very real knowledge that I have done nothing worthwhile. There exists no tangible record of my successes, only my failures. I have dabbled in so many hobbies and projects and wasted so much creative time, and this whole ordeal (much as I am proud of him, mind you) is like uncorking a bottle of bitter wine, made from the most sour grapes. I worried, therefore, that no matter what I did, or what I said behind that microphone, that it would echo these thoughts. And I just couldn't have that, not on his big day.

So, I panicked. Clearly, I couldn't read any of my old stuff; I didn't bring any, and I use poetry as a way to get thoughts out of my head, so I don't keep the poems in there once they're written. I didn't want to read one of the selections from the book, because I didn't know what other people were going to do later in the evening, and didn't want to step on any toes. Besides, I didn't know which ones I liked; I had only read a handful of pages before life got the better of my quiet time, and I had to put the book down for a bit. I panicked again. What does one writer say to another? I asked myself. What common ground do all poets share?

I borrowed a pen from the lovely lady in the Ninja Turtle sweatshirt, and some paper from the gentleman who brought us an interpretation of Neruda's literary voice, and started scribbling. I stood up in front of a room (well, a patio, really) of artists, in the artsiest district of the region, nervous as a whore in church. I spoke, and they listened. And it was good.

For the first time, my careers as a writer and a performer came together. My artistic debut, the first performance of my work by its author, wasn't a complete failure. It felt good, whether or not it was received that way (for I ignored everything but the light and the page). It felt like I was actually doing something again. And I think this is the start of my own personal renaissance.

You can read my friend's blog here, and you can purchase his book, The Years Distilled, on