I was a nervous wreck before the show, which I am fairly certain folks couldn't perceive. I am good at hiding my nerves behind a smile and friendliness. Nevertheless, it was there underneath everything and diverted my attention to detail. It also made eating impossible.
As I sidled up to the mic and took center stage, the butterflies flew away. I was left with a fairly empty shell from which the performance could emerge. It was a strange feeling literally witnessing this transformation of self from somewhere outside of my body. For but a moment, I was in the audience looking back at me, and I saw in my eye a glint of sadness.
It wasn't the kind of sadness that overwhelms or overtakes. It wasn't the sadness of loss or grief. It wasn't the sadness of nostalgia. Rather, it was the sadness that can only come from art; the kind of sadness that is expressed by the transcendence words and music and performativity. It was the sadness of being.
I became that poem in that moment and within me was all of the conflict and despair and turmoil and hope contained within "the unfinish line"'s words, music, and theatricality. It was a moment of transformation of space, time, audience, and performer.
As I looked out at the audience, I saw people absorbed, clinging to every moment, closing eyes to feel that transformation. This was a completely new experience for me. While I have been an educator, a facilitator, a writer, a producer, a curator, an emcee, and a reader of my words, I have rarely identified as a performer. In fact, I have shunned that label fearing its power.
I thought "performer" were those drag queens, those musicians, those spoken word artists, those actors, those dancers, those performance artists of whom I have seen on stages big and small, in private and public spaces. They were always larger than life, embodying something different than just self. And really good performers always found ways to inspire and transcend. They were also something to be feared.
For me, I was afraid of the disconnect between the image of performer and who the person really was. I have spent a lot of time, energy, and work on aligning pieces of my self. For many, many years, I felt like different people given my varied interests, my ADHD, my plural identities. These different people while manifest in one physical body were jarring and often made for cycles of depression and mania. I wasn't bi-polar. But I did have high peaks and deep valleys. It became exhausting.
I watched some friendships deteriorate from my constant cycles. I even stopped talking to my family for a number of years as a result of needing to find "me". It was painful to lose friends, good and dear friends, and it was even more gut-wrenching to not speak to my parents. Still, these were necessities on my path of seeking balance, finding peace, and ultimately healing. And I still mourn the loss of those friends, and I can never reclaim those lost years when not speaking to may parents.
Now, as I become more a performer, I fear disconnecting from my self in order to "perform". I don't want to lose the ground I have made in integration, in becoming me. I fear falling back into cycles of peaks and valleys.
Over the last month, I have performed four times. It is a record for me. I have read and revealed an Ex Libris De Corpus story, performed a Ritual of Scripture, read a piece about Passing Midnight, and performed "the unfinish line". This last performance (on Sunday with The Vespertine Orchestra) was the most risky as it was the most out of my comfort zone. It combined elements of which I have never worked, mainly music. It was also the most authentic to my self.
The person I saw with sadness in his eyes wasn't a disconnection as in my youth. Rather, it was a realization of the person I am: a complex, multi-faceted, pluralistic, interdisciplinary artist/writer/PERFORMER. And contained within that person is a range of emotions, perspectives, beliefs. All I need is spaces for manifestation.
Sunday (and all of December) has been a manifestation of my self as performer. And I have realized in a very bodily way that the performers that I have admired over the years also perform from that place of authentication and alignment. It's taken years for me to realize and manifest this. I am still unsure and scared and hopeful about where I am going. I also feel the most alive I have ever felt. And that is in large part thanks to taking the risk of become a performer.
And best of all? I have a whole slew of friends who are supporting this manifestation. Without them, I couldn't be me.