So I made the mistake of listening to one of my favorite bands, The Gaslight Anthem, late at night. Specifically the song “We Did It When We Were Young”. This song makes me feel gooey and nostalgic and got me thinking a lot about when I was younger.
In high school I use to drive to any slam or performance opportunity I could find in the state, even one’s over an hour away. One Thursday every month my friends and I would load into my Ford Taurus and go to Winston-Salem where I’d compete at The Piedmont Poetry Slam, I’d go down to Charlotte for the Slam Charlotte events, to Raleigh for Poetry Out Loud, or up to festivals and events in Asheville where my brother lived. I’d find a way to get wherever I needed to be because I felt as though it was necessary to get better at writing and performing. At the time I felt like the Beatles going to Hamburg!
This desire to go to such lengths for my poetry is harder to maintain now that I’m older. Part of that difficultly is most likely due in part to the greater amount of awareness age brings. Being cognizant of the ways in which the risks I take will have repercussions not just for me, but for other people as well. The person giving something up or taking the risk is never the only one to be affected by their actions. Now, also, I take into account more seriously things like: gas money, if my car will be good enough to make the trip, if I know my way around the city or if I know someone who lives there so I can bring out an audience; obstacles and concerns that, when younger, didn’t really cross my mind as reasons not to go. Especially after having started doing tours, I feel as though I stand more to lose. If I want to enter the ‘real world’ and pursue poetry I need to find ways of making it profitable and taking random ventures might not be helpful or cost-effective. Recently, it’s also been easier to find things locally because in Boston I’m in a city and a college (with clubs like EPP) full of writers, artists and the like so I don’t need to venture quite as much to do the things I love when I’m up there.
But sometimes I wish I did.
Risks are important, as an artist. There’s something inexplicably exhilarating about going different places and putting yourself out there in front of a room full of strangers. It allows you the opportunity to truly discover who you are and that, to me, has been the rush of performing. The high I get from being on stage is because of the vulnerability it entails. Nothing makes me, or probably anyone for that matter, feel as exposed as the stage or spotlight. In performing or reading, I am sharing myself with people, some I might know, but the majority I probably don’t, and hoping they don’t abuse the level of trust I’m giving them. It is a leap of faith.
And the idealism of youth is not just the belief, but the utter and complete confidence that you’ll land any leaps of faith you take. So maybe, the key to staying young is to continue taking risks and, what’s more, believing in their success. Not necessarily on any grandiose scale, but just in little ways. Say hello to a stranger you want to talk to, go somewhere you’ve never been or motivate yourself to go out on a night you feel down and just want to stay in or literally get on stage (though depending on what sociologists you talk to these might be examples of performances on a kind of stage, but that’s a topic for another blog post all together) if you enjoy it! Sing some drunken karaoke or perform at an open mic. All of these require just as much courage and vulnerability as any art. Admittedly, I often forget to do these things or find excuses not to. It’s easy to do, especially once you being to grow up and accumulate all the worries that seem to accompany maturity. But when you start putting yourself out there and giving of yourself for whatever and whoever you love, great things happen. Because when you do that and these risks pays off you can genuinely inspire people, make people feel and, along the way, you’ll remember that there are still people in the world worth trusting.