So, last month, one of my Twitter friends, @smussyolay, friended me on Facebook and subsequently invited me to participate in a reading that would benefit CHIRP: the Chicago Independent Radio Project.
It was an honor to be asked, and I loved the idea of writing a piece all about (well, kind of) the first time I had sex. Because I've never really allowed myself to dig into that experience and think about it too hard. So it would be a good exercise, regardless.
But no big deal, really. Right?
Here's the thing: I didn't realize, honestly, what a big deal it was until I arrived last night at Uncommon Ground on Devon. I'd left work early so I could get my eyebrows done and primp beforehand, carefully chose my outfit and headed to the venue super early so I wouldn't be late. But those are all things I do because I like to have things just. so.
Well, I finally met "Smussy" — known to me as Jocelyn because I don't know her well enough and have to know the story behind her nickname before I start calling her by it — and heard words like "green room" and "performers" being thrown around, and I suddenly thought, "Shit. I'm going to be on stage. In front of people. An audience. Like a choir concert, only spoken and about sex instead of sung Latin that no one understands."
We sat and had a drink at the bar while we waited for the other performers to arrive; I sipped a lemon ginger martini to soothe my nerves, while she amped up on a Coke — not that she needed a caffeine boost. I've never seen so much nervous energy put to good use in my life. If it's possible to be in a controlled frenzy, that was Jocelyn.
One by one, the readers arrived: Margaret Hicks, Steve Frisbie, Leah Jones, Scott Smith (who also has a sort of…Chuck Norris–esque tribute blog set up in his honor, called "Fuck Yeah, Scott Smith!" — but I can't Google that from work and risk setting off the IT alarms) and Rebecca Langguth. We met Karen Louis, our eighth, downstairs in the green room, where we were treated to chilled bottles of Goose Island 312 and a free, delicious dinner. Sure, I could get used to that.
I felt like the odd woman out in the group. It was my first reading ever; I'm at least five years younger than the next-youngest person there; I'm nowhere near as cool as the rest of them. (Though I'm happy to say that I left the cardigan sweater at home, at the risk of seeming even more Pollyanna than usual.)
But, as it turns out, the others were actually cool in the way that they make less-cool people feel moreso. We all got along swimmingly. My completely baseless fears that this group of readers would be like a high school clique were immediately quashed.
Then we were late and it was time to get started. When Jocelyn got up on stage to introduce the first reader, the room was filled to capacity: a little more than 60 people. Siiiiixty. Only a few of which I actually knew — though I love the friends who could make it so dearly that I can't even contain myself.
At that point, I was equal parts petrified and enthralled. The evening hurtled forward.
The talent in the room was absolutely shocking. So much thought and heart and humor went into crafting the pieces. Which were hilarious, heartbreaking, sweet, triumphant. Not just one of those things, either; most were a jumbled combination of all of them, and more. Which is pretty much what you'd expect from written accounts of a first sexual experience, no?
Following each piece, a three-piece band played a song of the writer's choosing. Marvin Gaye, The Smiths, Death Cab for Cutie, Modern English, Extreme, Van Morrison. Amazing.
About halfway through the event, the audience had loosened up enough to join in an impromptu singalong to "More Than Words." As if putting ourselves out there had made them comfortable enough to put themselves out there, off key and at the tops of their lungs. Or maybe it was the drinks. Either way.
I was fourth in the lineup, and I don't remember much.
I was blind with fear — and picturing the audience in their underwear just isn't effective when you're reading about being in less than that yourself — and couldn't hear myself speaking into the microphone. I just focused on the page, focused on the story and tried to put myself back in the situation.
I hear I did well.
There were moments when I had to stop reading because people were laughing. Howling. Applauding. Before I was even finished.
OK, I did well. I know I did.
Last night, I was a badass.
After nearly 10 minutes of talking, I stumbled off the stage and the band led into Death Cab's "Soul Meets Body."
I guess the only thing left to do now is post the piece, yeah?