In the Looking Glass

On Friday I went to a book release and signing party with my sassy and savvy friend, Allison.  BookPeople is already one of my favorite Austin spots, and even though I haven’t read any of Amanda Eyre Ward’s work (yet, anyway) I was looking forward to the event.  And not just because they were serving free St. Arnold’s beer, sweet tea vodka, and empanadas!

They began the reading with an announcement from the Austin Bat Cave — a non-profit that works to inspire creative writing and expression in Austin area youth and provide a platform for their work.  A friend and colleague of mine, Matt, has worked directly with the Bat Cave in the past, so I was already familiar with their philosophy and the tremendous things that they do.  I also knew that some of my former students had been a part of some Bat Cave projects, and I was excited to hear about their recent anthology of music, lyrics, and visual art.

Before Amanda read an excerpt from her latest novel, Close Your Eyes, a representative from The Bat Cave announced the winner of Austin’s Young Literary Light Contest, who then stepped up behind the mic to read three of her original poems.  It was a packed house, and I can only imagine how nervous this teenage girl must have been, looking out at the sea of adult faces.  She began by saying that she was uncomfortable with public speaking, but of course she read with poise and confidence, her voice steady and calm.

As I listened, I felt like I was stepping back in time.  Looking in a mirror, even.  (Though I doubt my writing was as poignant and insightful as hers!)  I remembered the fearlessness that comes with youth.  When I was her age, I didn’t balk at going to open mic readings at Fire Water café in Northampton and sharing my work in front of brooding college students and struggling bohemian writers of Western Massachusetts.  I recalled slam poetry competitions in college, and the times that I spent pacing my dorm room as I hammered out a beat in my words.  I remembered sending off short stories to magazines and shrugging off the rejection letters.  But most of all, I remembered not worrying over what people would think.  I just wanted them to hear me.

I know that this young writer is half my age, yet I still (inexplicably) feel like a teenager most of the time.  And not in a bad way.  How much has really changed for me?  Well, everything…and yet nothing at all.  I live in a different part of the country; I have three more degrees to my name; I’ve garnered the experience of more romantic relationships, more athletic enterprises, more travel.  I’ve grown and changed from the myriad of amazing and enriching people who’ve come in and out of my life.  But I don’t, in fact, feel that different.  I’m still a writer, which is what I knew myself to be when I was a naïve sixteen-year-old.  In my heart of hearts, at the core of who I am, I still think in poetry and prose.  I still hear words as lyrics.  As music.  As perfect, meaningful packages.  And more than anything else in the world, I just want to be heard.

I’m thankful to this teenage writer, this girl who reminded me of how near and far I’ve come.  And how much road there is yet to travel.