Café Mariposa is a tiny place located in Notre-Dame-De-Grace. It’s not very conspicuous and from the inside looks like a cozy room crowded with colorful objects. Paintings of a nude woman, with an overtly protruding bosom line the walls of the place. Inside, several tables are assembled together to increase the surface area of interaction for the guests of the Quebec Writer’s Federation Schmoozer. The focus of the event is to celebrate “Montreal Writes” – a writers’ group formed during a workshop by the QWF ten years ago.
I walk into a loud scene of people chatting animatedly, half-full glasses of drink and there is a foot-by-foot area by the door where a piano stands next to a microphone. A guitar is hung on the wall behind the mic, presumably for people who wish to do improv on open-mic nights (I had previously read that this place is notorious for open-mic nights for musicians). As I take a seat far removed from the crowds on a bench, I wait for someone to approach me and ask if I had come for the event but everyone seems so engaged in conversation. Where were the organizers? It suddenly dawns on me that, for the first time in my life, I am at a social event where I literally know nobody. I pull out my cell-phone and pretend to do something important. Occasionally, I glance up to see if anyone had noticed me.
A few minutes later, I make the decision to go up to a woman who is talking with most of the people around. She must be the organizer. I tap her on the shoulder and inquire whether I am in the right place and inform her that I am here to meet a few people I had e-mailed about a writing group. She quickly knows what I’m talking about and points to the people in question. We are introduced, me and my potential group members. We mix and greet and do the “how-d’you do” and “what d’you do”. We got good chemistry, I feel. The conversation flows and I am informed that if I wished to sign up for a reading, I should write my name down with that woman over there. I can’t see where they are pointing but it doesn’t matter because somebody called her towards us already. Indeed, I had come prepared with a few poems that I genuinely somewhat like.
The next couple of hours involve readings from several members of the Montreal Write’s group. Excerpts from their books are read along with a couple of short stories. After the break, people who had signed up take the stage and continue adding points to the inspiring line of artwork. Amusing, heart-breaking, funny, scandalous, heart-felt, rousing, descriptive, mystic, refreshing and gripping artwork and performances – I think back to my research proposals and the scientific papers on my desk. I make a hideous comparison between the styles of writing. I quickly cringe from the latter and shamefully brush it off from my head, considering it a sinful thought in such a place and among these people.
I am called up to the mic after a man does a remarkable reading from his remarkable travel-log/autobiography. He actually smoked a joint with Ray Charles himself; he even imitated Ray’s voice during the reading. How does one compare to that? I consider the possibility of publicly declining to read and pretend that I had forgotten my papers. I consider saying “Oh my goodness, how will I ever compete with all you people!”. I consider saying, “It’s such an honor to be here today!” I also consider saying “I really suck at this and I honestly don’t know what I’m doing here.” Suddenly I feel the humid dampness and the elevated temperature of the closed space concentrate around my body. I panic at the thought of fainting from the heat and I think back to the women in the 19th century with tight corsets who used to swoon and faint in romantic stories. Will I be that girl who fainted because of stage fright and a heat wave?
I decide that I will be the rookie instead: the underdog among all these heroes. My voice in the mic sounds strange and foreign and I wonder if the people are hearing me the way I really sound. Maybe I just sound different than what I had thought. I end up saying everything I considered saying only in fragmented stuttering sentences. I try to boast with the only thing I have: one of my poems has been published two years ago in a journal at McGill. “You know, on campus, like… McGill, I mean”. I say, meekly. I wonder if I should tell them that I wrote half of these poems in 7th and 8th grade. No, maybe that’s not a good idea. So it goes, one after the other. I feel my body transported back to the times when I’d written the poems. The feelings come back through the words and my essence and emotions take to life from the words I read. I imagine them as white horses galloping from the white papers and the blank ink, running in all directions to whomever they collide with, to whomever understands.
It’s over. I am applauded not once, but twice. I am happy. I like to think that I am applauded the first time because it’s protocol and the second time just for my courage to get up there and read. I realize that it doesn’t matter if they are good or bad or wrong or right. I realize that I hadn’t spoken them to please the crowd nor for the readers and this gives me a sense of comfort and confidence. We applaud for the final participant and the session is concluded by “thank-yous” and “congratulations”.
As I pick up my things and stand in line to pay the waitress, I fidget and look at the faces all around. For once, I don’t wonder what their story is or whether they knew mine. And then I notice that the group of strangers I walked into two and a half hours ago are no longer strangers and I am not a stranger to them.
Many thanks to the Quebec’s Writer’s Federation, Café Mariposa, Montreal Writers and all the fellow writers who were so inspirational they were able to overcome my 10-year old writer’s block disease with a few hours of therapy exposure.