Michael Perry: Young authors warm an old heart

Michael Perry: Young authors warm an old heart


It was called the Young Author’s Showcase, so I didn’t qualify. However, a young author of my acquaintance who wished to participate in the event this weekend did not have her own driver’s license, so I was allowed to sit in the audience as her chauffeur.

It was just the boost I needed.

Sometimes I think the aging process amounts to an accumulation of recurring themes. Some are timeworn and grumpy: Grousing about the cost of a stamp or the over-complication of coffee, absently pinching the new real estate above my beltline or seething at anything that wastes my time — not because I deserve special treatment, but because time-wise I am officially and statistically on the short side and getting shorter.

But then there are the unexpected and happier recurring themes. Among them: Regularly reacting with relief and a quiet smile when I rediscover how little I care about what brand are my pants, an ability to spot human fraudulence at a distance and a tendency to utter the phrase, “kids these days!” more in hope than concern.

There is no doubt that a few of today’s youth could do with more firewood stacking (hay bales an acceptable substitute, or really anything unexciting and heavy), more waiting (Instant gratification has the pernicious effect of sharpening our hunger even as we consume. And is not limited to youth, I say, averting my eyes) and absolutely more boredom. That said, in the interest of keeping my nose in my own business, I rarely declare this outside of my own household.

But lately, more often than not, I find myself observing the youth of tomorrow in terms of hope. At the Young Author’s Showcase, one writer after another took to the stage and proved they ain’t all just stuck in their phones. That even during a life stage when they deserve time in their own little world, some kids these days are thinking of the bigger world, their place in it, the place of others in it and the state of it. And beyond this planet, many of the young authors have created fascinating other worlds in their heads and on their own terms, meaning kids these days still retain the ability to nurture other visions, not just those fed to them. And perhaps most important of all, every one of those who took the stage demonstrated that kids these days are willing to raise their own voice in their own way, a key reminder to this old chauffeur of the responsibilities implicit in my age.

I tend to get swept up in the moment. I suspect some of those young authors need to pick up their rooms. That they might have said something snarky or hurtful or less-than-poetic earlier that day. That some wisdom is available only through mileage. That “child-like” and “childish” have different meanings. I don’t know what these kids will become over the long term. But from the stage of the Young Authors Showcase they put poetry in my ears, a challenge in my path and hope in my heart. I remember not so much the words they wrote as how they delivered them: with brightness, with belief and an eye on us oldsters.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.


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