Last night I went to a Slam. No, this was not walking over to see you and you slamming the door in my face.
This was an event in Santa Monica at a place called Zanzibar. I went with the writer, George Jordan, who knows about these matters. He explained that Slams are part of a very huge thing called the Moth Project. Here, people hang out listening to other people telling their true stories.
I'd first heard about Moth from my friend, Bliss Broyard, a dazzling young New York novelist who visited around Christmas time. "You're perfect for Moth," she said.
"What is it?"
"You just do what you always do. You tell stories. I'll have a friend call you."
And she did. Her friend listened; told me to tell my whole best story. Which I did. (I left out movie star pieces because tough young people tell me "people don't want to hear old movie star stories anymore."
That's okay. I've had enough big adventures even without movie stars (which I never could have considered possible.)
"Great story. You had me crying," Bliss' friend said, "I'll put you in touch with Kemp who goes to Slam's in L.A."
"Great!" It was this feeling like (I told myself do not write about this without using the word "like") I did when I was accepted at Stanford, or got my first book deal. I was 'In.' Wow.
But then you go to college and find out that's the bare beginning of the steps, the rules, the work, the anxious waiting for grades, the not getting this test right either.
And, then you decide to write. You get the book deal (this was in the last century) -- and you have to write the book, restructure the book, rewrite the book, edit the book, reconsider the book, edit it again. And then, when it is published, you wait for reviews. (Nothing counts, you learn, until you get the New York Times review (but what about your picture?)
What I'm saying is, as with all that, you don't just apply, show up, the music swells, and it says, The End. Zap: you have arrived.
No! Here, at the Slam, I'm told, you show up, put your name in a hat and if it's pulled out you tell a story for five minutes on the subject of the night. It has to be true. Mostly, I'd guess, they sense truth the way I've learned, from working with writers for about 20 years, that you can feel the reality in the delivery, the expression: Storyteller truth has a fragrance, a rhythm, a beat you move to.
SLAM: Cool L.A., January evening. Stand in line with other people I like right away. Not too many. I'll have a chance.
But like the first of anything it is kind of scary. I don't know the drill. George runs off, gets us hot tea at a café. We stand for half hour. Door opens at seven. We go into a large sort of cave, with cushioned levels, benches and chairs, dark, around a wide stage, walls with giant prints from North Africa. Does not feel like L.A.; except maybe as it was in some of the canyon cafes in the sixties. Kemp, a writer, meets us, with Shannon, who's an artist. Like them a lot.
"You'll have your chance," Kemp's sure -- "it's not that big." Ten read each time. He introduces me to the evening's producer' Friendly. I'm all sure of myself in my red bowtie, of course I'll get chosen -- I mean after all -- these are just kids.
The M.C. is a sort of wise hillbilly Sally Jesse Raphael, slinky person. Just as the first day at Ram's Head playhouse at Stanford when I was sure I'd be a star, (after all, I was friends with Warner Leroy, the director; I'd get a part right away,) I sat half listening, half practicing in my head what I'd say.
You have five minutes in a Slam. That's it?
I can't say, "Hello, how are you doing?" in five minutes. I began to listen more carefully. Don't be mean; "Like" is the new comma, eat it," I warned myself. The stories were loose, funny, antic, a lot about guys going wrong. The best stories still are about that. Then an older woman (Still younger by far than I am, does a man/woman story.) Yeah. Don't go there, doesn't play well. So I told myself, lay it out there, talk about losing memory, learning to write again: three pages, double spaced, every day, no pages, no dinner."
Yes. Good Story. Grown up story. For Now: Pay Attention: Guy tells odd story about being bald. Would not have been first thing I noticed about him if he hadn't made a story of it. Another girl tells another guy not showing up sort of story -- would knock many of mine out.
This young Frenchman is heaven. Not clear about the story, but if you have that voice, who cares.
Now there's an intermission. New friend nearby tells me "just as well, you wouldn't want to be called in the first half --" The judges will be more wiped, therefore, less picky after Intermission. So. Five more to go. I sharpen up my bowtie. Polish the words.
Impossible, I figure, to match this story by the girl, a ventriloquist, whose friend beheads her Andy Hardy puppet doll before a show.
Can't beat that. I recognize this, "to hell with it -- let it go" feeling, like when I quit Ram's Head because I'd never be an actress, (not the look,) ever, like when I wouldn't turn in pieces for deadlines, no one would want them -- I felt myself turn down the radar, switch off the beams, and be grateful when this extremely cute actor named Moses Storm (I am not making up this name) won. Don't exactly recall his story, but I knew he'd win. The cool assurance, the charm, the motor, all there. Sigh.
I was relieved it was over, if I ever do this again, which I won't after all, why? It's for kids but I would surely leave the romance stuff for them. Maybe a writing story. Sometime. Then it turns out, everyone whose name is still in hat is called to come on up and give the first line of one's story. Don't bother, I tell myself.
"Get up there," George bosses. "Yes" I tell myself: Talk about "three pages, no dinner."
I stand up, "So this ravishing Englishman was speaking, 'She went out on me and I stabbed her.' and I told my friend, 'he's capable of passion; designed for me."
I said to our new friends I'd be back for the next Slam. March 5th. Like everything, it's about the showing up, finding new faces, hearing New Voices, you'll come to know, "It's not," as I tell young writers, "about where it's going to get you."
Life is all about sitting around the campfire telling our stories, has been since time began. It's the living a lot so you got the stories to tell, and about loving enough so you really catch onto the stories you're hearing.
The Slam, then, is one of these new worlds where we meet together; hear each other in real time, real life. There's more, all around, and I'll be there, like listening, like learning.