#scintilla: recalling a first

I am participating in a two-week storytelling project called Scintilla. If you participated in reverb or want some prompts to help you see your life differently, you should join us. The prompt I'm choosing today asks us to recall a first in our life. 

 

All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.
~Ernest Hemingway

For most of my life if you asked me what I wanted to be I would have told you, "a writer." And though I now publish in academic journals instead of creative ones, I still consider myself a writer. I am still in love with words, fascinated by their power to reflect, express and construct our world. 

My parents encouraged my creativity, enjoyed the stories I wrote about grasshoppers and butterflies, supported my reading habit and reassured my doubts that I was talented. Though I won poetry contests in high school and had been published in a poetry journal, it was the stage that made me believe in my work. 

The first poetry slam I participated in was in a small auditorium. It was an experiment. It may have been billed as an open mic night. What I do remember is the feeling of the poem, folded in my pocket, pressing against me as if to say, "You have to do this." I felt like I was going to throw up as I listened to poet after poet. The room vibrated with words and emotions, with anger and hope and adrenaline. I took the stage, poem in pocket, words in my head. I closed my eyes, took one slow, deep breath and when I opened them again, the words poured out of me the way I practiced, and not at all the way I'd thought they would sound. The room was quiet. There was no shuffling of feet or papers. Just eyes and ears tuned to what I had to say about poetry, and life and being haunted by things you cannot control. When it was over, tears ran down my face. Later, several people came up to me and said really nice things. 

Performing poetry was a lifeline for me. I would continue to perform in coffeehouses and bars, more confident each time that what I, what my poet friends and I, were doing meant something to someone. At the very least, it meant something to me.