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.
HOW DID I GET HERE?
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 BECAME A MIND OVERLOAD.
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.
“I just wanted to say thank you. You’re amazing. Everything you said. I felt it all. Thank you.”
My smile slightly lifted, thankful and surprised by these sweet words she had gifted me. In the next moment, more women approached.
“You’re so resilient. You stood there with such poise and grace. I could never do that; how did you keep such a calm face?”
I timidly said my thank you’s and accepted all hugs. I finally got to the bar, I got my beer and my shot. I let the words sink right in and then I had a deep thought. Of course, I’m disappointed, how it sucks I fucked up, but hey, I’m only a human – at least I stayed standing up.
Maybe it didn’t all go as I hoped, but at least I fucking did it and some people thought it was dope. Of course, it was worth it; it was never about the win. It was about the action I took to at least begin.
So I lost my voice for a moment in time, but I still shared my story--bare to the world, daring to shine. I felt this surge of energy, a renewed sense of worth, supported by a kind crowd and the largest dose of compassion I had ever allotted myself – my resilient rebirth.
I know a few things. I know I love poetry. I know I love performance, and I KNOW I need more preparation. I know I love swigs of beer and shots of whiskey and my supportive AF friends. And that night I also learned, for the first time in a long time, and perhaps ever, that I could seemingly fail, yet still succeed.
One year ago, I would have braved a tough face but crumpled into a tear-ridden ball upon arrival home. On this night, I was able to walk through my door - disappointed in myself, yet truly compassionate to my own sheer sense of humanity - and my absolute vulnerability to be sheer, transparent, see-thru with nothing to hide.
Yes, I’m brave, and courageous, and resilient as fuck – and sometimes like all humans, of course I fuck up.
It doesn’t make me less worthy. It doesn’t make my voice less needed. And I learned that even if I make a mistake, my words make a difference. So do the actions I take, and the way that I take them. I must lead by example, and treat myself with compassion, especially if I’m certain that slam poetry is my passion.
And on that note, here are some words I will never again forget. (And yes, the very words which catalyzed my stage sweat.)
My worth is alive in my every cell.
And all who judge me can go to hell.
No more silencing self
No more playing too small
The whole world’s bright and open
I am worthy of all
And I thank you for being here and taking the time
To acknowledge my words and HEAR ME SHINE.
If you want to check it out, here’s the EDITED video from The Stage. Full disclosure: they did a pretty good job of piecing together all my long ass awkward pauses. Enjoy :)