You know those stories where an athlete inspires young athletes to be better or maybe a singer inspires someone to become a singer? We’ve all heard those stories right?
Well…this isn’t one of those.
As a writer and a performer you may know me as Dan, Daniel, Danny and even more formally, Daniel J. Royston. But inside this cage, behind these walls, and on the stage as a slam poet I am known by my prison moniker; The Rooster….And as The Rooster I am A 4x Slam-champion and the self-appointed poet-laureate of this prison.
Now, I’ll freely admit/confess that I’m not as much of a poet as I am a storyteller who camouflages his stories as slam-pieces and/or poems. This storyteller thing is something I have embraced as I have developed my identity on stage and my persona as a spoken word artist. Its my thing….I tell you a story with creative word play, verbal gymnastics and a mischevious smile everytime I step over that line labeled “you’ve gone too far!”
Then one unremarkable afternoon after hearing me spaz my piece about my life becoming “one long hallway” my young friend Jordan, my millennial collaborator , said to me, “I just realized how much you remind me of Rives…” and when I told her I had no idea who this Rives character was she couldn’t believe it. She acted as if everyone knew who he was and that I was some sort of anomaly. Star-forward twenty minutes later I’m slouched down in my chair, slack-jawed and mind-blown.
Jordan had queued up Rives’s Def Poetry Jam performance of “Compliment”, hit play and ruined my life. Seriously, by showing me this she destroyed me and my identity as a writer and a performer and a storyteller. Rives did what I did but at an H.N.L.you know..a Hole-Nutha-Level! This man did me better than I did me with a much more mischevious smile.
I couildnt take it. My ego was much too fragile.
I just stopped writing altogether and aggressively avoided any and all performance opportunities that crossed my path. I did this for over six months….shoving away any muses and mystical moments that normally inspire my writing regardless of how painful it was for me to deny this part of me. And hurt it did…..I had spent years identifying as a storyteller…years using my creativity as a survival tool that helped me work through and move past the kind of stuff that suicides are made of. How could I write anymore? I had this false sense that I was special. That what I did on stage was somehow spectacular and when I saw Rives doing his thing at the level he was doing it I wasn’t inspired to elevate my skill set to be as good as he was, no that would be what a normal person does…Instead I was demoralized and dejected, readily accepting that I might not never be as awesome as him.
But then something kind of crazy happened. Jordan, the millenial I mentioned above, she happened to be rather good friends with Rives and when she and some other great friends of mine were hanging out with him in California they told him about me and my crew of performers. Then they invited him to come spend a day or two with us inside this prison. Surprisingly, he accepted and the calendar was marked with the date of his impending arrival.
In the spirit of honesty….I was dazzled by this guy’s talent and was seriously man-crushing. What I wasn’t doing though was writing. I was still meeting with my circle of poets, helping them workshop their pieces, directing our weekly ciphers and, when no one else was looking, replaying video after video from my small library of Rives’s performances….watching him, studying him, trying to nail down the minute things he does that makes him so incredible and that much better than me.
And as the date of his visit loomed closer my dudes did what they were supposed to do….they busted my balls big time, encouraging me with jibes, jabs and pokes to write something fresh for the slam we had planned, and to quote one of my more eloquent rapdawgs they wanted me to, “Nut up and do that shit yo'”. So I did just that. I sat down with my pen poised over the page and after months of not writing I took a deep cleansing breath and willed myself to write something epic. E-P.-I-C.Epic. But nothing that had any thing close to epic-ness in it came out of my mind, my muse, or my pen that day. I found out the hard way that writing is a lot like every other skill and/or talent we have; to be good at it you have to practice and do it as often as possible. The more you work at it the better you get and that just like a muscle unused it will atrophy.
What I did write that day may not have been epic but it was genuine because when my pen finally did begin to scribble, scratch and scrape across that page the first words that landed on it were revelatory, reawakening the passion I had smothered since the day I first saw Rives perform.
“I love to write.” were the words I wrote. How I began and by the time Rives arrived here at MCI I had a newfound appreciation for how much the simple act of using the alphabet as my media to create with fulfills and nourishes me.
Rives and I greeted each other with the kind of hug reserved for lifelong friends or kindred spirits. And over the next two days him, me and my small crew of poets work shopped pieces, told stories of our first kiss, kicked the bo-bo and got ready for the main event…
Rives and I co-hosted as we took over a deserted hallway, drew names from a hat and had one of this centuries legendary poetry-jams. It was also where I first performed the piece I wrote about my love for writing and my identity.
Watch the GonzoSLam2013 there are some freat guys in it and read my poem below..
Have an incredible day
I Want to Be…
I love to write.
I love the way the words land on the page, the way the ink bleeds through the cheap paper in the cheap notebooks I use. The way it barely dries before I rapidly scramble to get out the next line.
Have you ever written two lines on every line of every page? Economically parsing your heart out in words or phrases that contain cloudy, messy and usually misunderstood meanings?
Every page I fill looks like that ‘cuz I love to write.
Most of the time though when people look at me they don’t see me for who I really am. But only because my face isn’t a composition notebook with its tidy uniform lines avidly collecting my random thoughts that look like stream of consciousness but that I insist are true prose.
You wanna know who I am?
Read what I write.
Do you have a pen on you? Can I borrow that napkin?
Read what I write.
Read the words that flow from the tip of my cheap ball point pen and the ink that clumps like my mother’s mascara on the surface of the page. Don’t listen to my outspoken, extrovertyly hidden and aimless thoughts while following the gaze of my silver-blues like they’re windows revealing insightful clues when all you really see is two mirrors reflecting what you want to see…who you want me to be.
If you want to know who I am…
Read what I write.
But who am I?
This is where it gets confusing for me. Sure, I could say that I’m an artist, a writer, a musician a doodler or what my mom calls “A real piece of work! But that could describe anyone…the truth is….
I’m a puzzle to myself.
A contradicting collection of so many colluding and colliding passions that I’ve not only been accused of revisionist history but of revisionist destiny too.
I’ve loved I’ve hated,
I’ve stayed and been left.
I’ve fought and lost, lived and died.
But you know what? That’s still not me…or, if it is, its only a generic, black and white version of me.
The real me?
The essential me?
It can be found in the ink on the pages inside those tightly bound notebooks you’ll see stacked everywhere I go. I am the words that are skimmed over briefly without ever being read. The ones that are metaphorically difficult yet contextually simple. I’m in the scribbled scrawls found in the margins. The ones that no one see but scream out obviously, “READ ME PLEASE!!”. Like the silence between the notes I exist in the space between the words, the lines you refuse to read between.
I began writing over thirty years ago and have been writing ever since but I still haven’t nailed down exactly who I am.
But if we were to go back…
back to the beginning….
back to when I first learned how to write….
I guess I’m still that little boy.
That chubby, toe-headed kid who prints painfully slow in large block-like letters with the tip of his tongue peeking out the corner of his mouth as he writes maybe the most hope-filled sentence in the human language,
“I want to be….”
Rock on and Drive Safe
Daniel J. Royston