I hate the self-deprecating, borderline reductive, “I did a thing” jazz we like to do. (My phone capitalizes jazz and…is jazz a proper noun, or do I just talk about the guy from Dru Hill a LOT? (Also, Dru Hill is a tribute to Druid Hill Park in Baltimore, and that, combined with his collaboration with Will Smith in the Wild Wild West video and flipping over booties in Thong Song is how we know Sisqo is a gentle, magical creature, meant to be protected at all costs.) I digress.)
We never just did “a thing.” We took a picture, wrote something beautiful, or even got an award and now we’re proud. “I did a thing is modern language for “I’m basically a god and a captain of my industry, but don’t worry — I’m not a dick about it.” You didn’t just do a thing. You did several things, refined and perfected those things, and brought forth a final product that you’re proud of. That doesn’t make you a dick. It means you worked hard and feel good about the value of your hard work. Stop minimizing that. You’re the bomb and so is your thing.
I’m laying the framework because I need to tell you how amazing I was at Wordplay and I want you to be on board with this public flex. I was amazing Friday night. I was so amazing Friday night that I got clapped out the door. I was brave, hilarious and charming.
If you went to Wordplay, you’ll know that my subject matter was past rated R, but before “if you sit in any of the seats in this theater, you’ll be pregnant. Quite a few of your grandmothers come to this thing. The dignified ones with the pearls and the glasses that they wear on chains. I had to tell my bawdy story to them. And while I want to say it was my pleasure to do so (it was), it was also theirs. I was nothing short of a marvel.
I had a moment, less than an hour before Friday’s show, doing our cue-to-cue, when I was on the little stage and the lights were on me and I lost all of the words that WERE ON A PAPER RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. My voice was devolving into that weird lilt when I have to take a dump but the person talking to me is being really interested and I want to be present but my stomach is pop locking. I knew I was going to burp onstage. I was gonna burp right into that microphone and the audience was going to rise up and murder me, because what if beknownst to me, the purge started and burps were a trigger thing? (I’ve never watched those movies. I’ve raised toddlers and teenagers, so I get the gist.)
I was fourth of five. As everyone told their story, I was present for their wonderful writing, but in the back of my mind, all I could hear was, “you’re gonna fall onstage,” “you’re gonna fart onstage,” “a dragon is going to fly into the theater and tell everyone that you have gas and made yet ANOTHER payment arrangement with Verizon,” “you’re gonna burp right into the mic.”
And of all the things that would happen to me, burping into the mic, in that moment, was my biggest fear. If all I have to do is get up and say words and instead of words, I let out a huge belch (caused by the beer I’d been drinking because I’m a motherfucking champion planner), safe to say I will ruin everything. And then..:the purging.
Storytellers one and two read. Their stories were warm and funny. They tugged at your heart string. Then the third reader got up and they were great too. Nobody burped or fell: there was no dragon. It was up to me to belch right into the mic and be remembered as the girl who ruined everything.
Confession is good for the soul, so when I went to take my place on stage, I had a brilliant plan. I adjusted the mic and said, “I’ve been drinking beer, so I’m going to try not to burp into the mic but I really promise nothing.” And they were mine. And I didn’t burp. I fucking killed it. I killed it so hard I could have audibly queefed and they would have thought it was just a madcap addition to this carnival ride of amazing we were all thoroughly enjoying. (God, I’m glad I didn’t. That would have been a bit much.)
And then Saturday night came. Apparently Saturday’s crowd is a little tougher. The storytellers ahead of me upped their game and they still occasionally got silence or polite chuckles with lines that killed the night before. I wasn’t going to burp onstage. I was going to take a full shit.
Alan, our producer and the story teller who followed me, apparently felt my nerves and said “Hey, just want to let you know that Saturday’s crowd runs a little tighter. They don’t react as much, but don’t absorb their energy. You bring your energy to them.”
Saturday’s crowd had other storytellers. (Though Friday night, Brian Fucking Broome was there. The storyteller text to me said, “Oh wow. Brian Broome is here. He’s kinda Pittsburgh famous!” And I said “oh yeah girl. That’s my husband. He’s here to see me.” Because Pittsburgh-famous Brian Broome and I let all of Facebook know that we are doing to crotch scoonch and marital bliss all the time and he is here to support and listen to me. Chiiiiiiiiiile.)
But I take Alan’s words, and that’s my burp of the night. I’m going to have to follow Friday’s high with flatness. Worse yet, what if I start going overboard for reactions and it just becomes sad and desperate? I don’t want to be Velma Kelly singing I Can’t Do It Alone.
I closed my eyes and just listened to the story before mine — a really good story about a dope person shaking off a past relationship that was warm and funny in all the right places and they reminded me of at least a quarter of the folks I was friends with in high school. It calmed me in its own way. I listened to how they upped their energy and adjusted and even referred to crowd reactions from the night before. They were so comfortable in themselves and their story, that it reminded me of a simple fact: I control the weather.
My mother would tell me this all the time. Growing up, the room — the house even — bent to my mood. If I was happy, it was an amazing place to be. But when I wasn’t, it was cold as ice.
I wanted the crowd to laugh and react. I wanted them to be engaged. Keeping my energy was a feat unto itself but that wasn’t enough.
“You guys are so dignified and classy right now. Let’s change that.”
And *they* were mine. I was Ororo Gatdamn Munroe. And I killed that shit again. One of your Pittsburgh Grams thanked me for my story and how she was glad to know there is no age in getting to that realization. It’s just dawning on me that she was telling me she’s a freak on the low, but Mel don’t judge.
I didn’t just do a thing. I wrote, worked, and was amazing for two consecutive nights. There’s a lot more amazing to come. I won’t be a dick about it, but I won’t reduce it either. As far as working magic with a pen, I’m that bitch, so we should all get comfortable with that as a standard.