My Spanish Story: How a Madrid open mic night helped me find my voice

My Spanish Story: How a Madrid open mic night helped me find my voice
Shawn Goldberg publishes his first book this month.
Shawn Goldberg had been writing folk tales in the third person. Then he moved to Madrid and found an open mic writers' night. This is his story:

In October 2012 I sold everything I owned and moved from Florida to Madrid to teach English, my main reason behind this life-changing decision to have plenty of time to write.

Another important detail: For the last half decade or so I'd only been writing folk tales in third-person.

By late 2016, I'd received more than 400 rejection letters, four of my stories had been published in small magazines, and I was tired of writing folk tales. It was a dreary overcast day in the middle of November, while walking through Retiro, trying to figure out what to write about next, that for no reason whatsoever I began to jot down notes of the images around me, what it felt like to live in Madrid, and this was the moment I decided to focus all of my creative-energy writing about myself, my friends, and the city.

I spent 2017 writing about Madrid, all in first-person, a style I hadn't written in since I was a teenager, and I didn't know what to do with all of these pages when, in October 2017, I ran into a friend, who told me about an open mic night.

I asked my friend, “You're telling me there's a place where I can say whatever I want?”

I knew of other expat open mic nights in the city center, but I'd never been in front of a microphone like that, and had no desire to perform, yet I was very curious to see if anything I'd been writing made any sense.

So I sucked up all my nervous feelings and the fear of embarrassing myself and checked out Writers' Night Madrid open mic at Roll, a restaurant in Madrid's Conde Duque barrio, and recited what I'd written into the microphone, and no one laughed at me; none of the nasty embarrassing incidents I'd imagined beforehand came true.

Roll was a friendly joint, the atmosphere not too intense, not stiff or stuck-up, and I kept going back, discovering there a talented crew of poets and writers, experienced and novice, who were encouraging each other creatively. Prose, poetry, in English or in Spanish, you had a few minutes where you could say anything, and it was unpredictable and incredibly entertaining.

The weekly event was attracting more and more people, and there were no rules. Everyone was pursuing their own weird inventive voice and everyone was being congratulated for baring their personal vision, whether it was polished or underdeveloped, because what was important was pushing your own boundaries, and I could see people improving and gaining confidence.

Talented folks were coming up with wild stuff, incorporating music, dance, yelling and jumping around, being brutally honest, reading insane hilarious adventures.

This was all very unexpected. I hadn't anticipated this.

Inspired by those around, who were incorporating more theatrical elements into their delivery, I was culling through 2017's short stories about stumbling around Madrid, and rewriting it all for voice, deciding to use this as an opportunity, challenging myself every week to come up with a new thing to read on Wednesday.

In spring of last year, Jake Shane, who hosts Writers' Night Madrid open mic, and Ryan Day, a frequent attendee and literature professor at St. Louis University in Madrid, began to suggest publishing a book of my stories alongside others from the open mic.

I saw the sequence of events clearly: fed up with folk tales in the rain; a year of collecting ideas, writing in my room; a stage to display those ideas; and crystallized finally as a physical object.

 Although I didn't know I was doing any of this at the time, even after the fact, I still don't question the serendipitous timing.

From the group of stories I read at Roll from winter 2017 to spring 2018, I rewrote in the summer and fall of 2018 into my first book, Boiling Rainbows, to be published March 16 by Lemon Street Press, which grew out of the spirit of Writer's Night Madrid.

Boiling Rainbows will have a book launch March 16, 21:30h at The Village Taproom, and will include a performance by the author entitled, If It Wasn't So Damn Messy I'd Smear Glitter All Over My Face Right Now.

Later this spring, Lemon Street Press has events in the planning stages to celebrate the publishing of two additional books.

The Writer's Night continues also, every Wednesday, though it now takes place near Plaza de España at The Village Taproom inside a cave-like room. There is a stage and microphone.

What are you doing Wednesday? Are you creative? Are you sitting in your room writing? Are you in your room thinking up a weird idea?

You should come out and share it.

Two excerpts from Boiling Rainbows:

There's A Timeless Quality Here, That's What I Like Best

In Retiro, by the checkerboard tables and bocce lanes filled with old men mulling their next move, near where the inbred cats nap between thick bushes, I kill time, eating mandarins, and stroll by the statues, the monuments, the manicured paths, picnics, games of fetch. Nicely-dressed old ladies toss breadcrumbs at birds. Scores of young lovers fool around in the grass.

A busker plays a jolly rendition of Shostakovich's Waltz Number Two on accordion. Families wait in lines for enormous sleeves of popcorn, fluorescent candies, and animal balloons. Folks gather round a statue for a photo. I scoot through a dense crescent of kids, their eyes lit up, dazzled, glued to a Punch & Judy style puppet show.

There's a timeless quality here, that's what I like best.

Only in the park are there signs of thriving vegetation, which makes leaves seem lusher, a brilliant green. Limbs plump more muscular, healthy, and blossoms sprout in ripe hues, dangling like tired tongues.

It isn't until I'm out of the park, a cigarette away, that I realize the sun has nearly set. I decide to take the long way home though it's an uphill walk.

Through narrow streets feeding into plazas whirl smiling tourists shooting off in all directions bathed in the sky's pink glow.

In the roar of chatter I hear laughter, grand bellows of it, all ages and sizes jiggling their jaws, babies gleefully high-pitched. Mixtures of hearty chuckles echo from the entrances of bars and alleyways and stores. Terraces boom with lengthy belly laughs, drawing an entire table into knee-slapping bedlam.

Out of the bars stumble packs in purple and white, and I guess that the big game has just ended, and from their gregarious chanting and beaming expressions I know our team has won. A dozen or so clean-cut teens, overcrowding benches cluttered with stray wrappers and empty bottles, toast fresh beers and howl to the sky. My gaze automatically goes in search of the moon.

A passing sweater reads, Be Brave. Take Risks.

All at once, all around me, the street lights switch on.

From a window somewhere, a group of people sing Happy Birthday.

A gorgeous couple dances ballet right past me.

Painting of The Dog By Francisco Goya / Museo del Prado 

In Goya's Black Room At The Prado

I stand before Saturn Devouring His Young.

Two teens, who I guess have snuck off from their school field trip, enter skipping and commence to make out like kids do, their mouths clapping in sloppy wet smacks against one another, and the sound doesn't irk me until I notice it's getting closer and closer.

I glance left, and even though the room is completely empty, they're almost next to me and encroaching steadily.

I clear my throat. They keep coming, spinning, kissing, wrapped up in each other.

I cough. I'm baffled. They're not stopping.

An intense wave of heat mounts my temples. I don't want to make a scene. I say, “Hey.”

But these kids are about to make out on top of me.

So I move over to the far side of the room and stare at the dog in the sand.


Further information about the Boiling Rainbows Book Launch HERE

Lemon Street is interested in publishing more books. Send a submission. Learn more about Lemon Street Press at the website. Follow on instagram and if you want to join in the Writer's Night Madrid click HERE

For more stories from Shawn Goldberg, check out his blog HERE.





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