Well, what a thrill that was. For the first time in my life I got to perform before a sold out house! The pic. of me on the poster was originally taken especially for a failed romance (I sent it to the presumed long-distance lover… who arrived and went down like a mouthful of sour milk). Needless to say, after investing so much emotional energy in what turned out to be a depressing disaster rather than a sweeping romance, I have not been happy lately, but rather depressed and hurting. Frankly, a bit in despair.
Christmas was a bitch. Humbug indeed.
The good news is I have begun to feel better, and seeing that same picture on the poster for an event that was as grand as this one turned out to be not only revitalized my tired body and mind, but changed the way I view the photo. I no longer see it as a pic. I took for some loser, but as a pic. that was used to promote a sold-out and standout event!
Tonight was it, the Gainesville Story Summit in which the three storytelling communities in Gainesville picked their best 2 storytellers each for a one-night only performance. I was initially honored to be invited to be part of it, and it was indeed an honor. Not merely because I was picked among the dozens of possible storytellers, it was also an honer because the performance was held at Gainesville’s Heartwood Stage, which is a very professional and upscale venue in Gainesville… and the show was being professionally recorded and edited. For the same reasons, for the past few months, whenever I thought about the night I was nervous as hell.
Horribly enough, I wondered if I would be able to go through with it once the time came. To tell the truth, it was not lack of talent or total and absolute public indifference to my music that caused me to set my guitar aside all those years ago, but a ten-year losing battle with that most formidable of dragons… stage fright! Stage fright… the great thief, no amount of practice or talent or preparation can slay that dragon, no numerous shots of whiskey will loosen it’s claws from our skulls. I’ve won many battles against it, but as a musician I lost the war… I wondered if I would win or lose as a storyteller.
As the big night came, I spent the day relaxing, working out my outfit, and trying not to prepare my story. This sounds like madness, but being a veteran speaker and performer, one thing I know for certain is that preparation would have changed the process, but not the performance, so I went in thinking I’d wing it. The part I really needed to work out prior to the show was the beginning of my story, or rather my entrance, but often my entrance is dictated by whimsy and circumstance. I had decided at the last minute to tell a story that was wholly different from the one I had been contemplating for months. I chose to tell the story of my experiences with the Fey in and around the stone circles and megaliths of Ireland. That story dealt with how my faith in God was entirely replaced with experience of the divine and the mystical.
I chose to wear one of my long formal Indian dresses and tights, the long red dress and gold leggings. In the Indian style, I topped it with bangles, ankle bells, a scarf, and my trademark bare feet. It’s been cold here lately, and it was only one degree above freezing by the end of the night. At least it was warm at the venue. As we all hung and paced around backstage I began to dread that I had made a terrible mistake. For a start, news was coming in that the show had been sold out, people were lined up outside, and most of the storytellers were, quite sensibly, studying their notes and rehearsing their well-prepared stories. All I knew, at long last, was how to start the story, beyond that I was placing my faith in Shiva, my center, and faith that I would vibe off the crowd and improvise. Truth be told, I was figuring I didn’t have to rehearse something I lived, something that changed me. Seemingly being the only one so recklessly unprepared, It was starting to seem like a really bad idea.
At one point as I was pacing and breathing deeply in the greenroom I began to panic, but thanks to my dedication to meditation, my understanding of the nature of reality being that which we make it, and my recollection of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, I had a genuine understanding that I had a choice. Like Bilbo walking down the cavernous hall before his first encounter with Smaug, the dragon, I too walked down the hall between the backstage door and greenroom before facing my own dragon. Like Bilbo I realized, as I felt a fever of panic swelling up in me, envisioning myself freezing up and panicking, unable to go out onto the state or speak once I was in the spotlight, that such an outcome was only one option. “Here, Justine, is where you fight your real battle,” I told myself. Like Bilbo, like Arjuna, like Justine, I chose. The choice was between the reality in which I sunk into a nervous and incompetent panic, or the one where I catwalked with ankle bells jingling across the stage barefoot and in control. I chose the story I preferred. I chose to stop the rising panic and face down the dragon with confidence. After all, I am a barefoot wild woman, a panther woman, not a quivering coward.
I was to go on second, the first storyteller, Gail Johnson, told the kind of story that could not have been more suited to a progressive Gainesville audience as her tale took place during the election and inauguration of Barack Obama. What I didn’t know was that her story had a mystical ending. This, of course was a perfect setup for my story. I chose the mysticism of Ireland over the political anxiety of my escape from Chile as an illegal immigrant because that story was my story, as now more than ever, to me… mysticism matters.
From the greenroom I watched her deservedly leave the stage triumphant, and on the monitor watched the MC give me a brilliant introduction. It was surreal. This was like real showbiz, an elegant auditorium, a sold out show, a monitor, a green room, lights… camera… action.
I stood at the door, stage left, and felt a surge of energy as my turn to take the stage occurred. Stepping out onto the stage with a bottle of water and a shot of whiskey, and a surprising amount of confidence, I chose to fulfill the promise of her introduction, of their confidence in having chosen me to perform. The smiles and eager eyes of the audience set me at ease, and to me they looked like a crowd of happy little Ganesha’s full of wide-eyed anticipation and warm blessings.
From my first words, they were with me.
“I didn’t do any preparation for this show… as I realized that preparation would affect the process but not the performance… we’re about to find out if that was a mistake.” I took a shot of whiskey, they laughed… “This is the story of how I lost my faith…”
and I killed ’em!
Yeah, sometimes it feels good, real real good.
But I won’t tell the story here, you had to be there, I’m glad I was, and I’m glad they all were too. But I will tell the moral of the story, and that his how my faith had been replaced with experience of the mystical. Faith can be easily toppled by the words of atheists, but no words from any atheist can put a dent in a standing stone.
They applauded, and I returned to the dwarves in the greenroom victorious and with a small golden treasure stashed away inside the folds of my dress. And Smaug… he was dead!