You guys, I’m going to be part of this national storytelling event in May called Listen To Your Mother. LTYM is sort of like the Moth, but all about moms, which is not nearly as Hallmark card-y as I am making it sound. There will be no sixteen-inch rises on acid washed denim or “Live, Love, Laugh” painted on driftwood, just good old fashioned stories about sex, drugs, and motherhood. Emphasis on the motherhood part, probably, but, hey, you never know.
Anywho, it’s going to be recorded and the whole dang world will be able to watch it afterward via the LTYM site (and their YouTube channel). I’m going to be searchable on YouTube, y’all. I know this should NOT be blowing my mind here in 2015, what with the drones soon to be airlifting my groceries and cars parallel parking themselves, but it IS blowing my mind.
I think, deep down inside, I’m still a little girl sitting behind a manual typewriter and wondering why anyone would want to walk all the way to the end of the memoir section to find a book by an author with a last name starting with “Z”. Going from not-published/closeted blogger to Internet-famous-in-certain-circles overnight feels rather advanced. Obviously, the part of me in touch with reality, the part that understands very well that she’s typing on a computer no fatter than a pad of legal paper, sending this post to outer space and back so that people in both Pakistan and Alaska can read it simultaneously, well… that part understands she doesn’t need to iron her spats and polish her monocle for a public speaking event and that, sooner or later, she was going to have to come out from under her stacks of paper and subject herself to criticism. That part acknowledges she has been reticent to do this and has hidden away all her potential for attracting both criticism AND fame for a long time. Hell, that part understands that, at this point, there are dogs more famous than her. No, wait. Dogs have been famous for years now. There are owls more famous than her. Because the part that is still sitting at that typewriter? Waiting for someone to notice her? The part that feels she will never be good enough? She’s still here, too.
Accepting that I might be good at something is just hard for me. And accepting that I might be good enough to beat out other people, well… that’s nearly inconceivable. I had to audition to get into this event. I had to stand before a panel of judges! And read something I’d written! I had to hold my elbows because I was nervous! And I got in despite the elbow-holding and the stumbling over my own words!
If not for Mr. Burdy, I might not have made it. He held the baby while I paced the house in noise-cancelling headphones and edited the first draft. He listened to me read the final draft and offered killer feedback. He drove us down to the audition and circled the block with the kiddo in the backseat while I read for the judges. And then he talked with me for nearly an hour afterward about the process.
Oh, and my writing mentor, Peggy. She was the one who suggested this whole thing in the first place. She believed I actually had a chance. She’s so darn smart, that Peggy. Nonchalantly goading me toward a goal like that, acting like I could do anything I set my mind to, like I didn’t have MASSIVE anxieties around being good enough. Everyone needs a Peggy or five in their life. Thank goodness for Peggy.
The whole process was a huge back and forth, up and down. I didn’t think I had anything to say on motherhood. Then I thought I did. Then I didn’t. Fer chrissakes, who doesn’t have something to say about a mom, their own or otherwise? I agonized for hours and days over how to pull together a bunch of unrelated notes on early motherhood (I’ve been scribbling left handed and half asleep) into a cohesive essay.
You know what was life-altering about this whole experience? Not the getting in part. It was that I granted myself permission, first, to not go, and then to really fuck it up. That’s huge for me. I’m not the kind of person that likes “practice”. I don’t do yoga. I don’t play an instrument. It involves too much disappointment, and not being valedictorian, of, say, making an omelette. So my usual M.O. is that I’d rather just not practice. If I can’t walk in, master something, mic-drop, and strut out, I’d rather not even try. Mature, no?
The night before the audition, I was tossing and turning over not being able to totally NAIL the audition. But then I looked over at the tiny crib that holds my daughter and something changed in me, something that felt like a tiny earthquake somewhere in the vicinity of my solar plexus. I felt a shift, a letting go. There was something else, specifically, someone else to consider with this decision. Somewhere around midnight, a little voice in my head was telling me something that went like this:
No one’s going to blame you if you don’t go. You can just not show up, you know. Sure, that’s crappy for the judges, and SO unlike you, but there’s a first time for everything, right? Look! It’ll be the first time you ever bail on an appointment on purpose! Won’t that be fun? You’ll get to do a normal thing! A very normal thing like simply not show up to a thing you said you were going to show up for! Millions of people do it ALL the time! Besides, you are the sleep-deprived mother of a five month old. A FIVE MONTH OLD. No one is expecting anything from you. You’re not even expected to be able to brush your teeth for three sequential days, never mind write and perform a piece about motherhood. Seriously. Give yourself a break, call the whole thing off, and go to bed, would ya? Your kid needs you more than this contest.
And then, ’round about 5 am, there was another speech happening from the podium in my head, and it went like this:
So what if you don’t make it? Won’t it be worth it to have tried? I mean, how are you going to get better at this whole writing thing unless you try out for stuff like this? Maybe this is one big learning opportunity. Yes! A learning opportunity. Isn’t that what all the self help people rename all the crapstorms in life? “Opportunities”? And what kind of an example are you setting for your kiddo over there? Rather than sweat this, just tell yourself you don’t have a horse in this race. If you get in, it will be a pleasant surprise! If you don’t, well, you’ll have written an essay that you can do something with later. Now go back to bed already. Your kid is going to need you in the morning.
So, bleary-eyed and relieved, I cobbled some stuff together and went back to sleep. And the next morning, by the time I left the house for the audition, I had something to read.
And I got in.
And I’m not saying this because I want you all to marvel at how I wrote in the dark by the light of my phone a winning essay. No. I want you to marvel at my ability to just say FUCK IT to winning. I want you to marvel at how the old me, that anxious old me, just bowed and stepped aside for the new Mom-Me. And how the new Mom-Me considered what sort of an example I might be setting for my daughter in not honoring her commitments. And how it might look to her to quit in the eleventh hour. I did a very grown up thing there, folks. A very grown up thing indeed. I finished something. And I didn’t faint or get adrenal exhaustion doing it. I admitted that writing takes practice.
So, if you’re in Seattle, get your tickets here for the May 9th show. While you’re on the site, check out the amazing performances from years prior. I’ll be practicing here at home until then.