Who’d have thought I would enjoy an exorcism quite so much?
The idea was simple: people were just supposed to show up at the Gladstone Hotel ballroom, bringing little stories, poems, or diary entries they’d written years ago as children or young teenagers, and be prepared to read the things to a crowd of total strangers. Easy as pie, right?
I can sense you breaking into a cold sweat already, just thinking about it. Me too.
But as a large crowd sat and listened on Monday evening, 15-20 people did indeed get up on stage, one after the other, to read short pieces written during their ancient childhood. The evening, called “Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids,” was hosted by Dan Misener, a frequent contributor to the CBC Radio One program, “GO!” He got the ball rolling by reading a plan he’d made when he was 11, called something like, “My Life 20 Years From Now.”
He had everything laid out, including the design of his house on the moon, his prowess as an inventor, and the fact that he would have three children of very specific ages and genders — two biological children and one adopted. The adult Dan expressed relief that since he was not yet 31, there was still time to accomplish the plan.
Then he opened the floor to the other readings. Teenage haikus written to a favourite wrestler in the (at the time) World Wrestling Federation. A letter to Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey (never mailed, of course). Several poems. Predictable riddles, created by a ten-year old. Two mysteries in the style of Magnum, P.I., by a kid who fancied himself an embryonic international detective.
I’ve never laughed so hard at a public event in my entire life. One woman promised that her poem was “from teenagedom,” penned when she was in grade 10. And the moment she read the first line — “So what if I feel like dying, and the light has left my heart” — we howled till we choked. One likes to believe it’s a bit of a myth, all that talk about teenage angst, but darnit. The stereotype obviously came from somewhere.
Then there was the slightly older man reading a diary entry from 1977, when he had experienced his first acid trip. “I came to two major conclusions,” his 15-year old self recorded earnestly, “which I wrote on the bathroom wall…”
Make no mistake, though – we weren’t laughing at the readers, we were laughing with them. And they weren’t really laughing at themselves either, but at those weird, immature strangers who used to inhabit their bodies. You could almost see the declaration glowing from them as they read: “Isn’t this ridiculous, and by the way — this wasn’t me.”
The exercise was certainly liberating for all the readers. As they read, they shed whatever discomfort or embarrassment might still have lingered from all those years ago. You could almost see them leaving the stage with a lighter step, knowing that they’d come a long, long way since they’d been that funny young person with all those weird ideas.
It was almost a religious experience. Christmas, perhaps. Maybe a visit from the Easter Bunny.
Or, as the young man two seats down from me had written in his grade one notebook – the ESTR BUNE.
I hear there’s going to be another reading night in the fall. I know I have some boxes of old stuff in the closet. I wonder…