On Wednesdays at my favorite coffee shop there’s an open mic night where people like to carry on conversations and slurp awful caffeinated beverages while guitarists/singers/writers pour out their souls in the background. I only found out about it because I happened to be eating a cheeseburger in the very spot the barista was setting up and I was almost decapitated by swinging equipment, but since I’m a fan-girl for anyone with the balls to get up in front of strangers and open their mouth, it was a pleasant surprise.
After taking spoken word in college I’ve developed a soft spot for performers. It doesn’t matter if you’re off-key or spouting rhymes about hipster hamsters–if you’re on stage sharing part of yourself, I’m going to think you’re the shit. I’m sure my rapt attention and buggy eye contact is a bit alarming in a room full of texters and halfhearted clappers, and maybe it’s the safety of being in a dimly lit audience, but during a show I make no effort to hide my emotional hard-on. I will injure my hands through aggressive applause and stare you down to the point of making you fidget-level-uncomfortable just to prove I find you fascinating. Which is why when a lanky rando named Daniel got up and started singing
I don’t really have lyrics, won’t you help?
That espresso machine sure is loud!
I’m going to make awkward eye contact with everyone in this rooooom…
it felt like he was strumming my fallopian tubes instead of his guitar.
Now, before you think I’m a groupie willing to drop trou for any dude with an iota of musical talent/hand skills, lemme clarify something. My attraction to rando Daniel was not sexual. I did not throw myself on his lap or ask him to “take me backstage, if ya know what I mean.” I have been dramatically serenaded two times in my life, and to be honest I would’ve been more wooed by a 2-for-1 coupon for Neutrogena sunscreen. Yet in a completely platonic, you’re tall and blonde that ain’t my thing kind of way, I thought he was amazing. He was quirky and confident and hilarious, which is hard to be when the crowd seems more captivated by their cappuccino order than your music. I found myself grinning like an idiot long after he left the mic, and I had every intention of telling him how much I enjoyed his playing.
But… I didn’t. I ducked out in between sets without complimenting any of the performers, humming their melodies and reciting their poems on my walk home. For days I thought about how I’d love to get back into spoken word; how after knowing what it feels like to have people approach you and tell you how great you were on stage, I really should’ve said something. And yet I kept my appreciation interal. Being openly complimentary isn’t exactly my default setting (I much prefer shy and snarky, if you hadn’t noticed), and if we’ve reached a point in our relationship where I’m giving you genuine admiration, run. Run screaming the other direction, because I’m most likely memorize-your-schedule-take-pictures-of-you-while-sleeping status obsessed with you. I’m also not very good at receiving pleasantries, usually because I don’t believe them–oh, woe is me, not fishing here, shut up–and because sound effects like pfffft or mrahhh always seem to come out quicker than a simple thank you. I’d like to think it is this lack of grace which explains why a week ago, when the universe was shouting HERE’S YOUR CHANCE as I happened to run by a blonde, lanky guy casually strolling down the street, I still didn’t express my overwhelming friend crush. About sixteen steps too late I realized it was him, my quirky little guitarist, and stopped mid-stride to debate if it would be more creepy or flattering for a chick to literally chase after a guy and tell him she loved his performance god knows how many days ago. I had every intention of correcting my previous wrong, and yet as I watched him get farther and farther away, I continued to stand still, disgusted with myself not only for the absurd amount of sweat dripping down my face, but for being too much of a self-doubting chicken to go after him.
I’m aware I sound a little crazed, griping about my inability to say, “Hey, you’re cool,” and just move along. I have no idea where this compliment paralysis stemmed from, but sheesh, piss praise or get off the pot already. If someone’s presence could make me feel that entertained and happy, however briefly, the least I could do is let them know it. Seriously, what is the worst that could happen? I turn a lovely shade of fuchsia or he has no idea what I’m talking about? Yeah, welcome to my life. I feel like so often we go through the day feeling unnoticed, unwanted, un-whatever we’d like to be, and yet I’ll bet you all the quarters in my eight purses there is at least one person out there thinking you’re quite the opposite. Maybe they’re too shy to say it, or maybe it just doesn’t occur to them to vocalize how they’re feeling, but they’re out there, thinking you’re the shit. Imagine how less lonely or self-conscious you’d feel if each day you made an honest connection with someone, even if it were as simple as saying “Thanks for not spontaneously punching me in the face. I appreciate you.” Imagine a world where everyone was as friendly as they are while hiking or as sentimental as they are after a Pixar film. Dear god, that’s disturbing. But it’s also sweet. It’s warm, and kind, and all the things I’d like to be. It’s hard for me to give or accept flattery without throwing in a punchline for good measure, but I think it’s worth trying. It’s worth letting our guards down and being vulnerable and allowing our emotional boners to stand proud.
So, on that note: if any of you see a skinny dude with rectangular glasses and slightly fluffy hair yielding an instrument, please tell him you know all about him and that he’s awesome. I don’t care if it’s not the same guy–it’ll probably make his day. Or get you a restraining order. 50/50, really.