Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reading for the Terrified

This is long because I want to record it for my own posterity. Skip from asterisk to end if you're as bored with my neuroses as I am.

On Tuesday I had the terrifying privilege of doing a public reading of my poetry for the first time ever.*

The fear started when I went in the building and was told the venue was on the 8th floor. Did I mention I am scared of heights? And lifts. So - stairs. No problem - only THE STAIRS WERE SEE THROUGH. Can I repeat that? THE STAIRS WERE fucking SEE THROUGH and Escher-style, extending over acres of empty space.

Dear architects. If someone is taking the stairs up high it is often because they suffer from vertiginous fears and generally neurotic tendencies that mean they can't take lifts. Especially see through lifts. Whoever designed this building, you basically created my own personal worst nightmare. That's amazing! How did you know?

(I have checked with boyf, who is an architect, and he has confirmed that when designing buildings like this very little - in fact practically none - thought is given to those with over-sensitive phobic glands.)

Anyway, I made it up the stairs - after stopping for a bucket glass of wine and squawking lots - and into the venue. On my own, as babe was sleeping in the car while boyf sat with him. I sat down and looked at the bright lights and microphone and reading stand and rows of chairs and my thoughts raced. I think I ran through about all the self hatred-want-to-run-away-can't scripts around forty times, while wondering how red my throbbing face was and how shaky my hands were and how frizzy my hair was. I wondered whether I would pass out before or after I'd thrown up, and hoped that if the latter someone would be kind enough to make sure my hair didn't go in it.

I'm taking the piss only slightly. I reallly am that fucking chicken. In fact, more so.

I'd like to take a moment to thank the stranger behind me who leaned forward to tell me I looked 'really nervous'. Thanks.

Anyway, through the preamble and a first, lovely introductory reading, I mostly sat and tried not to shake. I did a lot of arguing with myself about running away and forbidding self to do so. I thought about the reasons I could give myself for leaving that wouldn't make me hate myself. There weren't any. I tried not to dwell on the silent screamy voice that was saying 'you're an agoraphobe, you can barely leave the house what the fuck are you doing here?' - because that voice is a bit out of date. These days, I am no longer an official housebound agoraphobe, which is thankfuckery wonderful, but does remove the excuse and expose just common or garden cowardice in a rather unpleasant light.

A kerfuffle at the back of the hall interrupted my tortuous imaginary struggles  - it turned out to be a teary-eyed babe clutching ginger stuffed cat, and boyf, looking grim. Luckily babe wasn't looking for boob, but a hug, so shoogled in and sat and I buried my face his hair for a bit. I had vague qualms about being the freaky one with the screamy babe, but he didn't so I swallowed those qualms and got back to the ones about getting up in front of people and reading. It's hard when an unexpected diversionary terror stops you from concentrating on the main terror of the evening.

It's funny, too, how sometimes the smallest things give you courage. I only got through my driving test by staring at the cat hair on my jumper that reminded me of Petra.

Then they started with the poems. I was called up first. And actually relieved, because ho-ho, how sodslaw knewit typical, and also much longer sitting there waiting to do it and I would have started taking the chairs apart in order to self harm.

Then I went and read. It was okay. I walked up like a human being and didn't fall over. I had only mild out of body experience. I felt the cold metal of the podium and I hid a bit behind the microphone, and I managed (I think) not to go too fast. Because you're not allowed to say you're nervous and must look professional, I didn't make any jokes about shitting myself, but I did put my hand on my heart like to still it which boyf said afterwards was as bad.

So I blew the professionalism. Plus ca change.

I did two poems. Halfway through the second I realised it was far too long (a page), so sorry to the audience for that.

But fuck it, I did it. And although you're not supposed to say or feel proud of yourself, I think sometimes nobody else can know quite how much it takes one to do these things that terrify us, so I am bloody well going to. I also got to listen to some wonderful poems and meet some other poets, which was great.

I'm also interested that the night after I woke up from horrible nightmares about territory and accents. I realised that I have a lot of fears to do with being a foreigner, an incomer, to do with the hostility I experienced in my childhood. I realised that I have never felt at home in Scotland, but that I have lived here so long and got so used to being an outsider I never shall feel at home anywhere. I realised something about the audience, how it fascinates and terrifies me, and how we create our own head-audience from fears and ghosts.

*I am going to work on some (short) poems on fear and Otherness now.

Cheers, universe!


Ashley R Lister said...

I really wish I could have been there.

I know how nerve-wracking it can be and I don't think people appreciate the bravery that goes into a public reading.

Kudos to you.


Nikki Magennis said...

You're really kind, Ash, thanks.

I hadn't wanted anybody I knew there, just in case I did something unthinkable, but in the end I'm so glad my son and my partner got to see me read - and actually it was wonderful to know there were friendly faces out there. Not that the audience were unfriendly, but, you know what I mean.

I also think some people are cut out to be performers and some of us just aren't! : )

Jeremy Edwards said...

So proud of you!!

Jo said...

And although you're not supposed to say or feel proud of yourself


Is that a Catholic thing?

Ridiculousness. Of course you must feel proud of yourself.

The clear stairs alone are a mighty reason to feel proud! Though, they might also have been the only thing keeping you in the room, I guess.

Damn, Nikki, that's a lot of fear you have, and a lot you faced. I hope you were taking Rescue Remedy.

Reading this, I suppose I can no longer use my horror of reading sex-extracts and might have to come do the proposed Sh! reading after all, if you're going to do it too...

Sharazade said...

I just attended a ton of readings, spread out over two days, at the Erotic Authors Association conference in Las Vegas. Some readers were downright hams, and clearly loved it. Others were so nervous you could see their hands shake. But as an audience member, honestly, they all seemed 'successful.' There's something really special about hearing an author read her (or his) own work, and knowing that the person is coincidentally nervous about reading in public doesn't matter. You're only aware that they've overcome one more barrier to letting you have that experience, of seeing the selection the author would choose, of hearing the actual author voice those words. It's appreciated, Nikki, it really is, and whether you put your hand on your heart or not has nothing to do with it.

"...but that I have lived here so long and got so used to being an outsider I never shall feel at home anywhere." Oh my. Yes.

Kristina Wright said...

I have a phobia about public speaking as well, so I empathize with your anguish in that regard. But to overcome that fear as well as conquering that rather frightening building to actually make it to the reading is very impressive. I don't know if I could have handled all of that, with or without a bucket of wine. Good for you!!

Erobintica said...

I've heard a lot of poets read, and it matters not at all whether they are smooth-as-can-be or shivering nervous wrecks. If their words touch, their words touch.

And yes, there is something very special about hearing a writer read their own words, be it poems, prose, erotica, rant, shopping list...

You did a wonderful thing. It may be hard to feel proud of it (oh boy do I know that one!), but let yourself.


Nikki Magennis said...

You're all lovely, thank you.

Jo, I have agnostic guilt. : )

What I mean is that it's apparently unprofessional to admit to being nervous, or I suppose to being proud of doing it. I don't know. I keep trying to do this professional thing but I may well have got it upside down.

Yes, you have to come to Sh.

Shar, Kris, Robin, thank you so much. It's appreciated!

Craig Sorensen said...

As one with problems with public speaking, I can certainly relate to your experience. I had my first (and last) public poetry reading in 1997.

It was a competition, I did not place (obviously.) I was choked up, spoke too fast, eyes down on my sheet of paper reading the sixty or so words that I had written and edited and knew like the back of my hand. As I went back to my space, my forehead covered in sweat, a couple of guys said "that was really good."

It certainly wasn't the performance that made the impression (to affirm Sharazade and Robin's points), so this gave me a bit of a boost in my poetry writing.

When they announced the winners, the fellow running the thing looked out at the group and said "we had some nice surprises, and some disappointments," and I'm not being paranoid in saying he was looking at me on the word disappointments. He was close. He was looking at me.

The funny thing was, in the end, this did not bother me. I'm not a good public speaker and I know it. I got a lot out of the experience, and have promised myself a hundred times I'd write about the experience on my blog.

Instead, here I am, hijacking yours! ;-)

To your comment, I also think some people are cut out to be performers and some of us just aren't!

This is definitely true for me, and I don't feel bad about that fact. I've since had a few public speaking type situations, and I've done better at them. I'm not talented, but I get the job done. The anxiety hasn't gone away, but I fear it less and I've found ways to focus past it.

I think you're awesome, and am impressed that you saw it through, especially with those additional challenges.


P.S. And damn straight you should have been proud of yourself.

P.P.S. Sorry for the diatribe.

Nikki Magennis said...

Craig, that's awful! My god. I'm so lucky that the audience was really lovely and I only had my own failings to contend with. Wow. I can imagine that being so nasty you just have to laugh at it. I do think that all writers are not necessarily performers. I've worked with performers - some people thrive on being up in the spotlight.

And thank you!

Anonymous said...

Dear Nikki, you are a star, my idol and my mentor, not only for your poetry but for your hot stories and your modesty. I would like to award you with the Versatile Blogger award and I do hope it doesn't cramp your style! You can choose not to accept this award as it comes with certain onerous responsibilities that do not include public speaking but which can be bad for poetry.

Nikki Magennis said...

Wow, Vanessa, how very lovely of you, thank you!

I'm really touched. In fact I'm a pretty hopeless blogger these days. I'm also living a bit peripatetically right this minute and working on a borrowed laptop with a time limit.

I hope you don't mind if I postpone passing on this award for the moment, while I flit about writing poems on the backs of ferry tickets and tying messages to seagulls' legs.

I look forward to reading some of your work, soon, too! : )

Vanessa said...

Oh, don't worry. It took me nearly a whole week to do everything that comes with the award. LOL. I tried to give it to your small stones friends but I couldn't work out how to leave a comment. Loved your Blackpool piece.