I went to a plein-air poetry night on Saturday and was invited to read. Didn’t think about preparing. Found a story I’d written and only performed once, back at the Zen Center in SF. A modern-day parable, mixing The Princess and The Pea with The Prodigal Son. About coming home. About realizing we were always home. And for me, when I get on stage, it feels like I’m back where I belong.
We were only supposed to do five minutes. Which is a fantastic rule. Why make people sit more than a few minutes through a bunch of bad poetry? Let’s face it, most amateur poetry is bad. Except that this night it was all really magical. I was moved and inspired, and the themes were so synchronous.
So my piece was definitely longer than 5 minutes. Especially because I kept digressing – that I need glasses to read the tiny writing on my phone, and there was a running joke about how I got up to pee, and various other moments that, while quite funny, made the story longer. I went over. It was funny and entertaining and different enough for it to be excusable. A nice palate cleanser in between poems of gravity and import.
(In some venues you can get away with going over. And it’s easy to delude yourself into thinking you can. Especially if you’re drinking (I wasn’t). It’s arrogant to run over time. I almost never do it. But the end really couldn’t come in the middle, because then the characters wouldn’t come back Home again. So I made an executive comedic decision and to do it and then apologize. This audience has already seen me do comedy and is predisposed to enjoy what I share.)
I didn’t ask anyone to record it. It was just fun, and I WAS HOME. Many people, if given the chance to practice a bit and move through their nervousness, would feel at home on stage. Feel the rightness. Because some of that sensation is simply the experience of an entire group of people giving their energy and their attention to you. It’s physics. Energy is power. When power flows to you, and you know how to receive it, process it, and send it back, you feel friggin’ great! Of course it would feel right. Some people are certainly more inclined and more skilled at it. I’ve spent many years learning and practicing how to do it. Playing with this magic, you realize there are infinite levels of mastery.
But so the night is ending, and I’m sharing appreciations with some of the exquisite mystical poets. A couple people mentioned they enjoyed the meandering moments, the glasses moment, etc. And then a really talented young poet came up to me. She’s a powerhouse. Strong, clear, rhythmic. She recited her poem with no notes. A force to be reckoned with, and very confident.
She comes up, hugs me, and in one breath, “I loved your performance (no pause) but the way you interrupted yourself, it took me out of the story, and it just didn’t—“ I put my hand gently on her shoulder, “Actually, would you mind checking in with me before you tell me how I should do it differently?” “Oh my God, you’re right. I should know better—“ “It’s really ok! No worries.” I make a joke about it. She feels embarrassed about giving unsolicited criticism. And that’s ok. Hopefully it’ll be a moment that reminds her. Of course I see her perspective, but I know how to not digress when I choose.
I love that I felt so at home with myself to realize it was happening, ask for what I need, right away, rather than getting slimed, feeling the fog set in, realize it an hour later, and wish I had spoken up for myself.
I’ve shared about this many times in the past. It’s easy to second-guess oneself here. “Am I just trying to surround myself with ‘yes-men’? Am I coddling a too-fragile ego against criticism? Am I losing an opportunity to grow because I wouldn’t hear something that would make me better?”
Then I remember that my entire life – our entire lives – as artists, as women, as members of a society where perfection is more important than presence, we have a built-in critic. And I have a director I pay to give me clear an honest feedback – when I’m ready – who I can deeply relax with and trust his words are coming from a pure place. I don’t secretly wonder if some unconscious post-show jealousy is rising up to cut me down to size.
Come home to you. Give yourself the gift of enjoying an experience on stage with only the feedback that comes IN THE MOMENT. The surprise of laughter. The depth of silence. The expressions on people’s faces.