On Tuesday night I tagged along with H to Milk & Cookies, a storytelling collective in the city centre. 100 earnest and enthusiastic young Dubliners sat and watched volunteers tell stories on the subject of revenge. An open mic for storytelling. I felt old.
I attended with no intention of taking the stage, but after being asked (and refusing) to participate by H’s friend (an organiser), I spent the first act writing the story I could tell, if I had to, in my head. By the break I felt a slowly swelling panic that indicated that I was about to volunteer, or else swallow the lump of fear I had grown for nothing.
At the mic, hands atremble, I told a warped but basically true story of an interaction between Helene and myself, in which we were caught in a kind of vengeful stalemate. For easy laughs I peppered it with remarks about how handsome I was, how handsome the audience probably thought I was, and how handsome other people often tell me I am. The audience was easy, forgiving, generous.
Essentially I mapped one of my internet personae into the real world, delivering self-aggrandisements as I’d always imagined them delivered when I wrote them. This was a very new experience. In the past I have only spoken of myself like this to close friends who understand something my nature, something of the mix of seriousness and humour that all self-deprecation involves. After presenting myself to a room of strangers as this person, I am still unsure as to how I would have been perceived.
In the days since I’ve thought a lot about my impetus for self-expression, which for many years has been primarily online. I am trapped, we are all trapped, in posting our creations on blogs and twitter for the approval of others. The feedback is tame but quantifiable. Likes, reblogs, an occasional email. I have tried to reduce my Tumblr output to links to my “real” work (fiction and stories) but the response to a quirky paragraph is a salve when I’m doubting myself. Why share this? Why share anything? Is it in some measure the same force that drives the novelist or the painter?
Why did I stand up? For fun? To impress herself? To prove to myself I wasn’t afraid of kids in wooly hats? Dozens of people laughed loudly at me, my presence, my delivery. How many reblogs is that worth? Which is not to suggest the stage experience inherently superior. Just another bid for attention. Another knee-jerk bout self-expression.
If I wrote the damn novel, who would I be writing it for?