May I tell you about the last time I felt inspired? I was in the heart of the city, listening to the heart of the city.
Event organizers announced the theme: “Cupid rhymes with stupid,” and the day after Valentine’s, writers from around the South Sound converged to play with it.
Several writers read works they had submitted online, and after a brief intermission, others took turns at the mic, reading what they had brought to share. I heard a short story about a drunken god, a tale of a twisted tryst, and even a romantic poem about murder. At least, I think it was about murder, which was kind of the point. I enjoyed poems and prose, long and short, funny and painful.
And a piece from one of my table mates. The coordinator read her name from the open mic list, she breathed deeply, took the mic, and bared her soul. I sat stunned and almost proud that I shared a table with this writer.
Though I had little choice.
The Creative Colloquy fills the B-Sharp Coffee House on the third Monday of each month. I don’t know when you have to arrive to get a good seat because I got there a few minutes before 7 and saw no empty chairs as I worked my way past the crowded tables to get in line for my cappuccino. Founder Jackie Fender announced we would be starting 10 minutes late to give us time to get our drinks, but no one seemed to mind.
I was thankful. Now I had time to get my drink and find a seat. No drip coffee here – only espressos, slow-brews, micro-brews, and wines. No seats either.
That was a good thing, by the way. The restaurant sounded like a theater before a show – everyone had come to enjoy the same thing with everyone else, even those they didn’t know. Which gave me hope for a seat.
I placed my order and followed a latecomer around the corner behind the couches under the loft into a hallway, where we found a stack of chairs. At last! That left the problem of where to put mine. I guessed that servers and patrons would be shuffling through makeshift aisles between readings, and I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. So I sat down between the arm of a couch and the edge of a table. Probably still in someone’s way, but oh well. The nervous crowd probably wouldn’t mind.
Everyone’s orders were written on yellow sticky notes, and the barista had finally reached mine. She slid me a tray bearing a well-defined cappuccino in a clear glass with a shot of seltzer water next to it. I don’t mind looking ignorant as long as I learn something, so I asked what the water was for.
Turns out it’s a palate cleanser.
It also necessitates a tray, which meant I had to find a table. Or at least ask permission to use someone else’s.
Tracy said she had a friend coming but that I was welcome to sit next to them and set my tray on their table. By the time we sorted it all out, the readings had begun.
Everyone faced the front, where festival lighting – set into a massive first-story joist – warmed the stage. Writer after writer stepped up to the solo mic, their backs to Tacoma’s Opera Alley, which was visible through B-Sharp’s two-story glass atrium. From my seat in the rear, I saw the souls of the South Sound gathered into this tall, narrow, chic urban industrial space, flanked by local art, united by their love of words.
Some wrote furiously in their moleskines, others kept their MacBooks open, some sat listening with eyes closed, while others dipped from plates of hummus, and their neighbors, noticing the treat, retreated to the cash register to order more.
Then Tracy stood. She had written her name on the open mic list at the front table when she arrived, and now she took her turn. She told her mother’s story in memoriam. It was a story about relocation and painted rocks and the Northwest and landscaping and discovery and legacy. A story of the spirit.
And that’s why we gathered. I say “we,” though I knew almost no one – not even Tracy with whom I simply shared a table. But we – all of us – shared more than that. We shared a moment, an evening, one of many more to come, that was about more than the words. It was about our incredible power to create with our words, and in the creating, to inspire.
I had to leave before all the readings finished, but I knew I had heard something special. I had heard from the heart of people who share this city on the Sound, and who had inspired me to add my voice.