Thursday, June 18, 2009

Five Reasons to Do This In Public

I'm trying right now to figure out how to write to someone about something she asked about that has also been on my mind since I started writing again, two years ago: How do I know I'm a poet? How can I call myself one? This is just one of the subspecies of the "who do you think you are?" questions. These questions are highly effective at gaining power over others, and, not coincidentally, they're commonly asked of young people by older ones who have or want to have power over them.

But we're both older people, and we're still asking the question. Am I a poet, an artist, a...I guess for dancers and singers it's more clear-cut, but even they have their outsiders. Who told Bob Dylan he could sing, or Isadora Duncan, who violated every rule of dance, that she could dance? (The dancers who follow in her method today still break a cardinal rule: They have "wrong" bodies, and don't rein them in with costume in any way. It's really shocking to see them dance--to see parts of their bodies actually move, in a way proscribed in most dance. Who told these women of different body shapes that they could dance? But it's beautiful, isn't it? So what does that say about who we believe should do what?)

Anyway, no aesthetics; I only made it through those classes via ability to memorize and parrot. Even in a past life as a reviewer in newspapers I didn't so much place value (hated doing movie star-ratings) on things as describe them and try to amuse or intrigue readers; people can decide for themselves if they get a good picture and they deserve a fun read, is what I figured.

This "how dare you" deal is, I'm betting, pretty well-trod-road to exhibitors at Artomatic, where the impression outside the walls is often that you don't have to meet any "standard of quality" to "be let in."

It's a big puzzle in itself to be participating in pursuits that the world generally doesn't value much in a beautiful, glass-walled building, built in a way to be environmentally less damaging, surrounded by buildings half-built and half-empty and empty lots marked off by fences that are papered by murals of the finest marketing could come up with, telling you how exclusive and wonderful these buildings are and how living or working there will make your life special, and these buildings are mostly empty. No value in the buildings, no value in the companies, no value in the banks, no value in the work, no more. And throughout this crisis, economists tell us that it's our fault for lacking confidence, that after all, everything is only worth the value that we choose to put on it.

It's too funny when you really think it through.

There's lots more to say about all that, not now. I'll just settle for five reasons why you might come to an open mic and read your work:

1. It sends a message to the universe that you value what you're doing, regardless of who else does. I've found that this tends to sort of hit the reset button, re-establishing the value of what you do--for yourself and, oddly, for others. Or alternately, it primes the pump, and more things flow your way.

2. What you're saying might be exactly what someone needs to hear.

3. Some people can't. You might not be allowed to, tomorrow.

4. How else are you going to spend your time? Really?

5. Even serving as a bad example or a fool is a sacred calling by some lights.

I was so happy to see at the other night's reading the people milling and some of them stopping to listen. Even happier to see some brave people taking the mic.

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