When I was a freshman in high school, I was a live wire of nervous hormones. And I was underdeveloped and over-excitable.
And despite my fear of ever being looked at for too long, I was fascinated by the idea of spoken-word poetry.
I felt that my two secret loves, poetry and theater, had come together, had a baby, a baby I needed to get to know.
So I decided to give it a try. My first spoken-word poem, packed with all the wisdom of a 14-year-old, was about the injustice of being seen as unfeminine.
The poem was very indignant, and mainly exaggerated, but the only spoken-word poetry that I had seen up until that point was mainly indignant, so I thought that's what was expected of me.
The first time that I performed, the audience of teenagers hooted and hollered their sympathy, and when I came off the stage, I was shaking.
I felt this tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to see this giant girl in a hoodie sweatshirt emerge from the crowd.
She was maybe eight feet tall and looked like she could beat me up with one hand, but instead she just nodded at me and said, "Hey, I really felt that. Thanks."
And lightning struck. I was hooked.
I discovered this bar on Manhattan's Lower East Side that hosted a weekly poetry open Mic,
and my bewildered, but supportive, parents took me to soak in every ounce of spoken word that I could.
I was the youngest by at least a decade, but somehow the poets at the Bowery Poetry Club didn't seem bothered by the 14-year-old wandering about. In fact, they welcomed me.
And it was here, listening to these poets share their stories, that I learned that spoken-word poetry didn't have to be indignant, it could be fun or painful or serious or silly.
The Bowery Poetry Club became my classroom and my home, and the poets who performed encouraged me to share my stories as well.
Never mind the fact that I was 14. They told me, "Write about being 14."
So I did and stood amazed every week when these brilliant, grown-up poets laughed with me and groaned their sympathy and clapped and told me, "Hey, I really felt that too."