Laughing at myself with strangers

One Concordian’s experience participating in Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids

Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWaK) hosted their fifth Montreal show on Nov. 20 at La Sala Rossa.

On an elevated stage, with bright lights making it virtually impossible to see the audience before me, I shared childhood writings, from elementary school assignments to angsty teenage diary entries, for a night of comedy and emotion.
The Miseners came up with the concept in 2006, after returning home for the holidays. “We rummaged through a bunch of old boxes that my wife had stored at her parents house. In one of those boxes was her diary from when she was 13 years old,” said Misener.

GRTTWaK is a travelling, open-mic show hosted by Dan Misener. Misener and his wife, Jenna Misener, have traveled across Canada since 2007, bringing the show to Canadian communities big and small, where locals sign up to read their childhood writing. Misener hosts about 30 shows per year.

“We spent a lot of that Christmas reading this thing out loud to each other and laughing and crying, and it was just this lovely perspective that I had never seen before in my wife,” said Misener. “It struck us that lots of people probably have this kind of material.”

Misener records each reading for the show’s eponymous podcast, which is available online. A few readings from each show make it onto the podcast, which is released every second Monday.

The podcast started in 2008, and has evolved as more voices participate—it is downloaded about 250,000 times a month. “Quite frequently, I get notes from listeners who heard a reading on the podcast that really resonated with them and really spoke to their experience,” said Misener. “And that’s really gratifying.”

Each show opens with Misener reading his own childhood writings. “Nobody wants to go first, so I always go first,” said Misener, who shared an elementary school journal entry about “root bear flats” during the latest show.

As a long-time fan of the podcast and the concept, I decided to share my own writing at the latest event on Nov. 20.

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After attending a GRTTWaK event in January 2016, I went home and searched through my old writing. I spent hours reading and laughing at old poems, assignments and diary entries. I put some pieces aside in anticipation of GRTTWaK’s next event.

Selecting writings really allowed me to reflect on how I’ve changed since my pre-teen years. Some of the stuff I found was funny and light-hearted, but some of it was downright embarrassing. I knew I wanted to share it, but I initially felt very unsure.

“I think some people are apprehensive about the idea of sharing personal or private stuff that they’re maybe not super proud of—the parts of themselves that they like to keep hidden or the parts of themselves that aren’t on public display,” said Misener. “But I think there’s a lot of power in that.”

I shared one poem I wrote when I was 10, which featured lines like “I worry what the world will become with racism and terrorism” and “I cry at the knowledge of death.” I found it quite dramatic and funny for a 10-year-old. I also shared a diary entry I wrote when I was 12 about lost love, being “emo” and President George W. Bush.

“It can be really kind of scary,” said Misener. “We’re asking people to get up on stage and be open and honest and vulnerable in front of a crowd full of people that they don’t know.”

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Getting up on that stage was an amazing feeling in that, once I started reading, I wasn’t nervous at all. I was shocked at how easy it was to open up to a group of strangers. With each line or phrase, I could feel the warmth emanating from the crowd. It was really refreshing, and almost therapeutic, to laugh at myself with strangers.

Another participant, Kristen Witczak, read several journal entries about Shakespeare and the 1994 referendum from her elementary school journal. “When I stumbled on my grade five English journals, I just couldn’t stop laughing and I thought, ‘This is kind of unique,’” said Witczak.

“Reading to the audience was a blast. It was a hugely supportive crowd and, as soon as they started laughing, I felt completely relaxed and just enjoyed the moment,” said Witczak. “I’ve been to a GRTTWaK event before and I think they’re a fantastic evening spent with a warm, kind community of strangers.”

“Our show is a show where the audience is already on your side,” said Misener. “When people get up on stage and they see the warmth in the room and they see the authenticity of the readers who share their writing, they warm up to the idea a little bit.”

Going forward, Misener hopes to incorporate a visual element to the show and create a web series to accompany the podcast. There’s no end in sight for the show, as Misener said he’s going to keep doing it so long as people are willing to share.

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