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That Time I Fucked Up on Stage

No amount of underwear clad people could make this moment better. As I passionately and poetically slammed onto the stage about finally finding my voice, my voice fell terrifyingly silent.

I was on minute four of my five-minute piece, two lines away from my home-run grand slam finale, and all of a sudden, nothing. It was like one of those tragic car crashes that are impossible to look away from (especially if you understand the whole stage/audience relationship).

I stood upon the stage like a stooge – mouth dropped wide open but saying nothing, frozen like an ice luge, no vodka in arm’s reach; just sweat in a collision course down my body under the spotlight. I couldn’t make out the the crowd, my mind as dark as my eyesight. Yet that night, the audience saw every inch of me, filleted open, naked and raw.


Six months ago, I competed and won my first poetry slam, meaning I had secured a spot in The Grand Slam. I patiently waited to non-competitively kick ass and perform at The Stage’s annual event, where 12 prior slam artists vied for an unknown lump sum of cash and the title of number one slammer, at least for one night.

We had received the theme only three weeks earlier: #WorthIt.

What did I want to, or have to, share about worth? What message did I feel compelled to convey? Was 'worth' a monetary value or a moral significance? Does the framework for determining worth differ across gender and cultural lines? I continuously asked myself and others all kinds of questions on what #worthit meant for them.


It all felt too much. Ironically, the week of the slam, I’d just signed up for Fearless Communicators - a public speaking storytelling workshop for visionary female leaders - and so, in addition to drafting, perfecting, finalizing and memorizing the slam, I had to give my most personally powerful speech the very next evening.

Was THIS #Worthit? My capacity was overwhelmed. My brain was saying--I need to pause.

And it did. Right on stage, in the spotlight, my mind was BLANK.

Yet, I was determined to cross the finish line.

The irony rained on stage that night. Here I was, standing in front of a microphone on stage, divulging the struggles I'd been through to get to this very moment. My slam was about using my voice to speak up; about being heard and not simply seen.

“I’m done being seen, it’s time to be heard. I’m done with your letters, it’s time for my words.”

I was rhyming as the Little Mermaid, swimming onto the stage as a little girl, full of hope. But my brain was the evil AF Ursula, taking away my voice and drowning me in silence.


I heard snaps of support in front of me, echoing in the hollow silence inside of me. My worth was sinking with every failed sound wave. I was convinced I was disappointing the crowd for I was clearly disappointing myself as I reached for any neural connection to remember these last fucking words for all they were worth.

After two painfully sweaty, and languidly long minutes on stage, alternating between racking my brain which refused to revolve, and singing the poor mermaid’s anthem of AHHHH, I heard a voice in the crowd, my savior and soul sister, Mo, yelling out the most obvious yet necessary reminder ever – “worth it!”

Ah shit. Right. Worth it.

I shut my eyes tightly and began to rumble jumble mumble my throat, not exactly certain what I intended to say but some words came out anyway. I finished the slam and walked off stage with my imaginary mermaid’s fin between my shaky legs.

SUCCESS! Well, not quite like I had planned but at least it was over. Stepping off stage I was greeted with love in the form of hugs and a shot of whiskey from Mo. My body shook.


It was over but I wasn’t sure any of it was worth it. I was disappointed with myself - embarrassed, ashamed. Why didn’t I ever prepare enough? Why did I always take too much on? Why couldn’t I remember the most important line of my slam? Did my message even get across? Why was I doing this if clearly, I couldn’t actually do this?

I sat down immediately, shoulder to shoulder surrounded by my supportive friends who held my hands, and so my heart, up - and my tears welled up, as I desperately tried to keep my smile on.

Deep breath. Swig of beer. The storm of disappointment strikes. Body shiver. Hand squeeze. Swig of beer. Exhale. No tears no tears no tears. A ball of pain settling into my throat. Swig of beer.

The next two poets came and went, and I tried to focus in on their wondrous words. They were great. I needed another drink. It was time to stand up and walk through the crowd. My soul sister grabbed by hand and led me straight to the bar. As I attempted to proudly slink into the back of the room, a girl in the crowd caught my eye. A look of pity graced her face, from what I could see.

Before we made it to the bar [ two beers + two shots please ], the same girl caught my shoulder.