Last Fall I received a phone call from Kym Leibham at Lakeland College. She asked if I'd be part of the 2015 cast for Lakeland's annual benefit, Movers & Shakers. I said "yes" without blinking for a few reasons.
First, it's impossible to say "no" to Kym Leibham. If you know her, you understand. That girl gets shit done. More importantly, I felt I owed her. If it wasn't for Kym's help back in 1980 at St. Clement's School, I never would have been a cheerleader, earned a passing grade on my science fair project, or learned The Hustle. In other words, she saved me from dorkdom. Well, sorta, unless you've seen me do The Hustle.
Kym knew I had participated in Ann Imig's live literature show, Listen to Your Mother at Madison's Barrymore Theater in 2013, and she wanted me to do basically the same thing: read a piece of my literature live to an audience. Except in this case, it wasn't exactly the same thing.
When I performed in Madison, aside from the 15 dedicated family and friends who spent five hours of their day in the car to see me perform, the rest of the audience was filled with about 500 strangers. In Madison, if I tripped walking to the microphone, only 15 people would ever remind me of it. If a button popped off my too-tight dress, only 15 people would avert their eyes uncomfortably at future family functions. If I was so nervous that my head popped off and my body exploded spewing green gunk and partially-digested Hostess Ding Dongs, only 15 people would likely send me their dry cleaning bills.
But at the Lakeland College event, I'd actually know many audience members. If I bombed, I had to see those people in the frozen pizza section at Festival Foods, at the dentist, or at Walgreen's picking up toilet paper. I imagined people might say, There's that chick who thought she was funny, but totally wasn't. Oh look, she's buying toilet paper. She must poop, too.
That's how my brain works, folks. I go from "everything's fine" to "they'll find me near the underpass, surrounded by hobos" in merely two negative thoughts.
Festival Foods graciously sponsored my act for the event and Nhia Yang, from Lakeland College put together a promo video to encourage people to vote. Did I fail to mention this was a competition? Anyway, I rallied my peeps, and and we took Festival by storm on a Monday morning. On the night of the event, the promo was shown to the audience as my introduction. In the video, I'm sporting old-lady hair, appear to weigh a quadrillion pounds, and talk so fast you can barry unnersand annig I say, but at least it's not an Activia ad, so I got that goin' for me.
The piece I chose to read was about what I know -- raising three boys. Unfortunately my
oldest son could not attend the actual event, but thanks to modern technology, he was able to make an appearance by filming a short message that was played on the big screens before I entered the stage. It felt so good to hear his voice.
I was the seventh performer of ten and that's a long time to wait. However, I was not nearly as nervous as I had expected. I probably should have been. I wrote the introduction/disclaimer section of the piece (you'll see it in a sec.) 15 minutes before I went on stage. (For those of us with A.D.D., that's considered planning ahead.)
As I stood backstage, about to make myself vulnerable to my community through sharing my art, my words, my stab at comedy, I experienced an amazing moment. If you've ever been about to put it all on the line or bare your heart and soul, perhaps you've experienced the same feelings.
In those brief moments in the dark before the curtain opened, I wasn't worried about my hair. I wasn't worried about tripping. I wasn't worried about the crowd not liking my work. Instead, I took a minute and savored my decade of sobriety, my courage to start a new writing career later in life, my strength to start over alone, and my ability to keep a sense of humor no matter what comes my way.
It became clear that it didn't matter how well I read, if I had lipstick on my teeth, if my heel broke, or if I had a wardrobe malfunction. I knew the folks in the audience had my back because when I actually slow down enough to realize it, I have the best support system in the world. I mean, lots of folks are really pulling for me on a daily basis. I know this because they tell me and I feel it. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
So here goes. Some parts of my reading are hokey, recycled, funny, mushy, new, corny, cheesy, introspective, immature, inspirational, heart-felt and silly. But then again, so am I.
Thanks for watching. By the way, I was the winner of the event due in large part to the generosity of donors who voted for me. Thank you for your support! XO
During my reading, photos appear on large screens in the theater. They are not visible on this video clip. In the event you notice me turn and look up, it's because I'm looking at a photo on the screen.