My second semester writing course focused more on persuasive writing. There was a structured formula to follow that included making an assertion, backing it up with examples and research, providing a rebuttal, refuting that, and then offering conclusions.
The structured part was intimidating, but I remember that it helped me see how it was possible to write a 5-10 page paper on the same topic.
I liked my professor. Something about her made me trust her judgement, not just in class but in general. Perhaps she mentioned her personal writing, offering a sense of more happening besides teaching classes. I forget how it happened, but her opinion was one I trusted and I shared one of my poems with her. She referred me to a friend of hers who hosted monthly poetry open mic nights in nearby Charlotte and edited a literary magazine.
At the end of the semester I finally made it to a poetry reading. I had tried a few times but got lost navigating city roads. When I made it, mom was with me. I went prepared with two poems printed out but I wasn’t sure if I was going to read or merely get a feel for the environment to see how this worked.
I was careful to pick pieces that didn’t scream “barely out of high school” with the word choices. Of course I was much more critical of my work than I am now. A lot of poetry written in high school seemed very juvenile to me.
It was a small group of people. Except for mom, they were all strangers, so I reasoned that if I screwed up or embarrassed myself I could walk away relatively unscathed.
It was scary to be a college student among adults, among published writers. As I listened, I could tell they were a friendly group. Eventually I did get up and share. I was an acknowledged first timer, and they offered a round of applause before I spoke. I recited two poems, although I don’t remember which ones.
When I finished, they didn’t magically produce rotten tomatoes and hurl them at me. We were in a coffee shop, so that would have been impressive! They applauded again, offering compliments on my bravery to share, maybe even saying they liked my writing.
Yet there was still a part of me, a nagging voice, that raised doubt of their sincerity. They’re just being polite, it said. It’s my first time, they’re being nice. They don’t want to scare me off.
But you know, as I think about it now, not wanting to scare someone away isn’t a bad thing. It indicates a level of appreciation, of wanting to hear more, of wanting a person to return and continue participating.
On the topic of realizations, I’m impressed with my ability to walk into that coffee shop without feeling overwhelmed! All those different smells, the whirring machines, the grinding of beans. I finally realize how significant that part of the experience was considering my strong aversion to these sounds and smells when I was younger.
Also, I’m really proud of myself for participating on the first visit. Generally, my method for dealing with new situations is to say very little, to not be actively involved. Rather, I sit and observe, taking in as much as I can, evaluating who seems trustworthy and whether my opinions will be valued.
Previous experience with poetry readings during the summer writing programs and using the microphone while reading in church offered a decent foundation for this new environment. I had some idea of pacing. But it doesn’t prepare you for being the youngest contributor. All my life I had been older than classmates because of repeating 4-year-old kindergarten (my motor functioning skills needed improvement, among other things). But now I was the token young one, so I felt more pressure to seem mature and like I belonged.
That first taste of participating, though, motivated me to continue writing. I was determined to share new poems each time instead of repeating myself. I continued observing my surroundings, noting details, recording metaphors and descriptions. Not that every attempt became a finished piece, but I remained alert for new material.
I really enjoyed those gatherings. I didn’t go each month, but it was fun when I did make it. The public sharing pushed my comfort zone enough to where I was nervous each time I stood up to read but not overwhelming enough where I wanted to bolt. Even having new faces show up didn’t seem to make too much of a difference for me, which is kind of amazing.
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