At my first lit slam, I learned that I suck at competition. Because isn't the whole point to be better than the other competitors? I tried rooting against them, to see how that felt. When one guy took to the stage with a particularly confident stage presence, I let the intimidation sink in my stomach and thought, God, I hope he sucks. And I don't know if it was the guilt of thinking such a mean thing or the troubling eloquence of his poem's first line, but I took it back immediately. And I cheered for him, as if he wasn't just the competition, but also the bearer of damn good poetry, because he was.
At my first lit slam, I learned that some people are brave enough to love me ugly. That after the shimmer of gloss has faded to the flat, dark brown of my lips, some are strong enough to name my beauty in the vulnerability of speaking my truth. The kind of truth that hurts a little on the way out.
At my first lit slam, I learned to make it to the final round. And to come in last place among the first places. And, even without any bullshit like "everybody's a winner," I learned how it can truly be an honor to lose, standing among such exhilarating talent.
At my first lit slam, I learned why people take part in the madness of competitive performance poetry. Not to try to be better than everyone else, but to try to be the best version of myself. I learned to push for more. I learned to want more.
And I learned how to get what I want.