I did open mic for a little while, reading stuff I'd written on/for E2 to an audience of rich hippies, poor farmers, geographically isolated teens and young adults, and meth-fueled hill people spending this month's cash at the closest beer tap.
It was excruciating.
Saying this shit out loud, to strangers, was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
I did it four-five times and was starting to feel comforted by the regulars, comfortable in the space, used to the confines and the noise of the little nook that doubled as the stage in the dining area. I was getting into my groove and I was starting to write material specifically with live performance in mind.
Then, as they do, they started fucking with the open mic schedule and the pizza got real expensive, so I drifted away from it.
Not terribly long ago, my girlfriend, who is far more plugged into regional events than I am, forwarded me a call for submissions for a locally organized winter bar circuit series, where anybody with something they want to tell strangers about can sign up for a speaking slot. It's supposed to give people in the region an excuse to go somewhere during the winter, to foster a sense of community, and give the audience insights about topics they never even knew they didn't know anything about.
Over the course of some weeks, I decided I'd sign up for it.
I decided I was going to blow some fucking doors off, scare the shit out of the women and children, and club a couple of the men into submission to drag them, ziptied and bagged, away into the dark.
Because fuck 'em, that's why. Worst case scenario? I piss off a bunch of people by telling the truth. A bunch of people who, as I consider things, are complicit (by willful ignorance, self absorption, and greed) in what's being done in their names. Done to me, done to my friends and brothers, done to "my" Afghans, done to all Afghans, done to people all over the entire world, every single day. Invisibly - but not because it's being done secretly or out of view, invisibly in that everyone else very carefully does not look at it or acknowledge it, because to do so would admit knowing and choosing to do nothing.
As the very roughest drafts started taking shape and I was into the heavy pruning, I could see the vision of the shape it was going to take. I had spent a brief while drafting an hour long "fuck you, in particular" to the audience, but discarded it for a simple reason: If I get up there and tell them, directly, "Fuck you", it's too easy for them to write me off mentally as a crazy, angry guy and wad everything else up in that to throw it away neatly.
I thought about Upton Sinclair. I thought about The Jungle. I thought about trying to hit them in the heart and instead hitting them in the stomach. I decided it was better to plant the seeds of intimate knowledge and let the cognitive dissonance do the rest. I wanted to give them little nuggets that they might remember sometimes, and have to think about.
I called the coordinator before I wasted a lot of time and a lot of putting myself through certain things.
"Hey man, I wanted to maybe check in with you on a couple of things regarding my talk, because I want to make sure this kind of thing is going to have a place. I think it's gonna probably fuck some people up and I want to make sure you aren't worried about uh, the brand image."
"Sssssssssssure?" was his response.
"OK well, here it is up front - I'm going to be talking about war, and I'm not going to be nice about it. To put it in brief perspective, the first thing I do after I introduce myself is deliver a trigger warning for the audience, and not performatively, if you know what I mean. This is absolutely stuff that people don't know about, people don't talk about, and don't want to know or talk about."
There was a little bit of a silence, and then he said something that I knew meant we were going to get along really well.
"I understand what you're saying and I think it's important for people to be exposed to those kind of things, maybe especially your specific topic. I'm glad you mentioned this, because as I'm making the schedule I'm going to keep this in mind while I'm pairing you up and scheduling stage order. Do you have any preferences for date or time?"
"No man, I'm cool with whatever, you know the crowd better and you have a better sense of what's best for the show, but I might make a suggestion that I should probably close whatever night I'm on, because I have a feeling that a lot of people are going to kind of be mentally full up when I'm done and I don't want the person after me to deal with a checked-out crowd."
The local public broadcast station wants to film it for YouTube. I let them know they're going to need to be ready to censor audio and visuals in post before uploading.