(Maybe Not So) Boldly Growing (In the Coffee Shop): Coffee and Conversation

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own.

So settle in, and I’ll get you a cuppa something refreshing…

And let’s have a conversation…

Tonight, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before.

I’m boldly going to a local coffee shop,

to read a poem at an open mic poetry night.

No, it won’t be the first time I’ve read my poetry aloud to an audience. This isn’t even the first time I’ve read this particular poem for an audience, and the last time, the audience was much larger – on the order of a hundred people!

But there’s a huge difference.

The first time, I read to unschoolers at a talent show that might possibly be the most supportive event I’ve ever been a part of. There was lots of space, and lots of relative anonymity. At the same time, many of the people in that audience knew me, my family, and our story.

This time, I’ll be reading to an indeterminate group of people in an intimate setting – the library of Professor Java’s Coffee Sanctuary.

I have no idea who will be there, other than me, and most likely my eleven year old daughter.

One of the most daring people I know! Annalise at 10, on the Oregon Coast. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

To make it even more butterfly-inducing, my poem is deeply emotional, deeply intimate –

It’s a poem that commemorates the twelve-day life of our second child, Elijah James. And today is the twelfth anniversary of his death on July 25, 2003.

When I saw the notice for the open-mic night, and when it was, I felt a zinging ‘a-ha!’ feeling. I tried not to feel it – I’m not especially comfortable with groups of strangers watching me; I prefer a higher degree of anonymity in a crowd. To be the focal point, in an emotionally vulnerable moment…and in front of people I don’t know…or, maybe, even some that I do know…

Scary…and potent.

And the type of thing I feel I need to do, for inner reasons that aren’t easily articulated. It’s a threshold I haven’t crossed before, and the timing is right…

I think these moments come to us all, and they’re pivotal. Do we stay where we are, in our comfort zone, playing it safe? Or do we pay attention to that zinging, “This is it” feeling?

August Joy! This lovely lady, August McLaughlin, has inspired me to dare (and dream, and grow) greatly, these last few years. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton. Click to  visit August!

I’ll admit that there have been times when I’ve turned away, run off hiding, pretended that I didn’t see the opportunity. But, from time to time, that sense of rightness has compelled me – when I traveled cross-country on a train with fifty dollars to my name, to take a job at the Grand Canyon, where I knew no one. When we decided to shift our parenting model to one that’s peaceful and partnering. When I chose to release relationships that weren’t mutually beneficial.

Something’s changed in me, since I entered my 40s.  I’ve realized that this is my life to live, and, since no one else can live it for me, I’ve got to be the one who decides how to live this, my one and only life (well, I think it is, if you don’t count the fictional worlds I very often inhabit!).

I draw inspiration from people, music, literature – wherever I see daring, and openness, honesty, vulnerability, and the spark of passion. That’s why I’ve included the photos and music in this post – these things remind me off why I’m doing what I’m doing in only a few hours, now…

This night is dedicated in loving tribute to Elijah James Burton, our Tiny Tiger, July 13-25, 2013, and forever beloved of his family. Photo and poem by Shan Jeniah Burton – Mommy.

How about you?

Have you ever done something that was very scary to you, but where you just knew you had to do it to grow? How did you prepare for it? What was it like just before? During? After?

My nerves, and my soul, are a little frazzled, today. I’m just going to sit here quietly and listen. Please, go ahead and talk amongst yourselves; I find it fascinating, inspirational and soothing.

And then I’m off to explore that new world, and dedicate this growth to a soul who didn’t have the chance to stretch in this way…maybe not where no man has gone before, but certainly where no Shan Jeniah  has grown before.



  1. Oh whoops, I just read your response and answered my own question. BUT I think just making the decision to do it was most of the battle! Was it Eleanor Roosevelt who wrote something about doing scary things to strengthen ourselves? Or maybe I’m making that up. But I believe in it, to a point.

    • That sounds like something Eleanor would say – she was quite a woman, so let’s give her the credit! =D

      I do think it was good for me to decide. If nothing else, I had some lovely time with my daughter, who is growing up so quickly, and with a dear friend and her family.

      And I made the commitment, and followed through to the extent I was able…

      A couple of nights later, my local writing group invited me to read it for them…took me by surprise, so I gave myself 20 minutes or so, and then I read it for them…even though I knew they were a safe audience, in some ways it was even harder to lay myself so bare before these women I see weekly or more….unlike a group of strangers, I know now that they know that little piece of me….in a very intimate way.

  2. I hope things went well last night.

    I tend to avoid things that scare me, which honestly, is almost everything. Definitely if it involves people looking at me. Back when I was 17, I went to this writing institute for a few summer weeks down in Pittsburgh. At the end of it, I got up and read something I’d written. With my dad and stepmom there. Only time I remember him saying he was proud of me. I also got up in front of half of my husband’s family(though he wasn’t quite my husband yet) and a lot of people I didn’t know at his dad’s funeral, and read a poem I wrote the night my FiL died. That was nerve-wracking, but also the calmest I felt during the whole day.

    • The open-mic night was canceled. I was the only one who showed up!

      Still, I think there’s a value in doing the thing that scares us, and the open-mic is a monthly thing there. I’m planning on going back, although I may read something else…I’ll decide that closer to the fact…

      I think you’re braver than you realize. I know what you mean about people looking at me – that’s disconcerting, at best.

      You reminded me that I read a poem I wrote for my first fiance, and which I read at his funeral in 1995, when I was 25. It was terrifying, and healing, at the same time, and the handwritten original of that poem was cremated with him…there was a certain release in reading it, although I don’t remember feeling calm that day as much as so full of emotions, and so aware of people I didn’t know, and those I did, watching the grieving fiancee that I was more numb than anything else…

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