Last night, I attended an open mic at a local coffee house in the rather large small town where I live. Many of my students performed. I was beaming with pride. But for much of the night, I was upset.
A man joined our public event. He was intoxicated. He muttered to himself. After intermission his muttering became a bit louder. Keep in mind, this was a public event. Anyone could perform. Anyone could get up and perform anything they wanted to share. People sang about their views on religion, kids used profanity. All of that was cheered on enthusiastically. The man wasn’t using profanity, or wasn’t, until he was provoked. He was saying things like, “Oh, ya, I sure like music,” and “Oh, that’s fine music.” He was just commenting, loudly. I wondered if the spontaneous adlibs might be part of his culture? I have a great Aunt like that.
Following intermission, the second performer began, reading about gods and demons, good versus evil, and heaven versus hell. Ironic? She read beautifully and like the rest of us, the man became animated. It appeared to me he was simply engaged with the art.
Don’t get me wrong, when the host tried to calm him I too was pleased. I wanted to hear the reading, and more so, I was worried I would not be able to hear my students perform.
But soon after he was hushed, the man jumped in again.
And then the performer, using the mic, told the man to shut up.
A woman from the back of the coffee house came forward and offered the man a cigarette and the two of them and the host stepped outside.
The performer apologized for telling the man to shut up.
Yes, Yes, Yes, the audience nodded. Fine. And the performance continued.
Yes, yes, yes… I don’t think so.
My daughter looked at me. I looked back at her. We looked at my kids. Would we have nodded our heads had she told me to shut up? Would we have nodded our heads had she told one of the kids to shut up?
Then the police arrived. And the performance went on.
I turned to the kids.
“Look,” I said without a whisper. “Look.” And I turned towards the front entrance. “Remember this moment.”
That man will spend the night in jail, not for public intoxication, but for being excited about poetry, just like the rest of us. We do not know if he can or can not help his addiction any more than I can change the fact that I am person with a learning disability. I do not have the right to judge him. What gives me the right to define storytelling?
At that moment the performer read these words, “Small insignificant corner of the world.”
Never forget this moment.
“All right! Now let’s bring up the Sage Hill writing kids…”