Storytelling

Yesterday was a big deal for me.  It wasn’t just my 2 year blogoversary for ISWTG.  I also participated in my very first storytelling event and got back on stage after 12 years.  It was for an event for a new storytelling group in Austin called Testify, with new topics monthly; this month, the very first show, was on creation.  There were 5 producers of the show and one was an old friend from high school who I’ve mentioned a dillion times on my blog, GS.

She and I were in a performance poetry group in high school.  I actually handed over my student-director reigns to her after I graduated.  We were in Bye Bye Birdie together: I was the mayor’s wife, had exactly no lines, sung slightly off-key in the “adult” chorus (as opposed to the “kid” chorus, which makes sense if you’ve seen the play), and fainted largely and exaggeratedly as my claim to fame.  I was a big hit for my bit part, if I do say so myself.  Mostly because I had a big head in high school.  GS was an actual lead, had a great voice and many, many lines, and basically directed the play.  She went on to direct all of the plays her senior year, after I graduated, because our awesome drama teacher’s job had been cut to save the school money.  GS moved up to Austin after graduating, like I had, and we both went to UT, staying great friends.  She moved away and across the country in the almost-decade since graduating, and moved back last year.  I visited her in SF while preggo with Ans on my babymoon.

GS and the other 4 producers each asked someone they knew who had a good story having to do with creation to be a part of this show.  About 6 weeks ago I started freaking out about going back on stage, regardless of having done it before.  My motivation in high school had been angst – I didn’t care what people thought, and performed in spite of being well received, in case the opposite were true.  In college, at my open mics, I spoke in indecipherable riddles, protected by the vagueness of my words; if people didn’t like it, it was because they didn’t get it.  I was protected because there was no way of them knowing if my story was good or bad.  My lack of confidence only afforded me confused audiences that applauded out of polite support, but no real wide reception of my talent.  I let writing and performing go to the wayside.  I wasn’t satisfied putting myself on display and could feel that I wasn’t connecting with audiences.

I went to grad school for landscape architecture at UT and still had to speak in front of large groups.  I was nervous, sure, but worked on making sense and presenting an idea, albeit in a different form: drawings, renderings, models, and descriptions.  I still present to clients now, doing my best to persuade their imagination to see what their yard could be, if they ignore the overwhelming suggestions of existing conditions.  I started writing again, two years ago yesterday, to myself, and to an invisible audience.  I wanted to make sense.  I was anonymous, but I thought it was time to put myself out in the world with my point of view.  I found a confidence that had to do with a new passion – pregnancy, motherhood, the making of the things.  I could be funny if I wanted to.  I could make friends with strangers on the Intertron if I tried.

I have always enjoyed telling and hearing good stories.  Without realizing it, this blog became a platform with which to share my stories (starting HERE, with my first post out of the current 445).  I could collect every story I could think of, both my own and out of Hubs’ story bank, and tell them with handy pictures to help readers – you, my dear readers – follow along.  I write essays sometimes, too, but on the whole, this blog is filled with my stories.  Ones I find humorous, educational, poignant, and personal.  I feel comfortable sharing/oversharing details of my family life because I wanted to work on the craft of making a point.  In around 600 – 1,300 words, I wanted to made a brain dump of some meaningful event and put it in my back pocket.

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Me on stage.

Me on stage.

Last night, I sat in a black wooden chair on the stage left, in an auditorium that seated 50-odd people, and waited my turn to do this thing in person.   I was nervous, sweaty, and dressed in one of 12 dresses I tried on in front of Hubs and the grandmas.  We agreed on the turquoise dress I wore for my brother’s wedding.  I had moisturized, actually shaved my legs, and tried to remember how to blow-dry my hair.  I wore earrings and a non-nursing bra because I wouldn’t be holding a 1-year-old.  I started shaking as my turn grew closer.  Would I blow it?  Would I stutter and restart awkwardly like the second time I presented the story to GS and Kate, another producer, to record while arranging the order of speakers a few weeks before?  I feared the worst.  I *almost* felt like I had no business being up there.  Shut up brain, and act like I was talking to the most interested listeners in the world.

My name was called, and Kate, now the host, gave me an intro.  Lots of women were in the audience, and so were a large group of my supportive friends and fam.  The neighbors, JH and BE.  My mother and MIL.  Hubs.  Billy, who was just back in town, after having moved back from Seattle.  Jess, who was preggo at the same time as me, who left her baby at home with her partner to hear the story she heard when visiting us at the hospital when Ans was first born.  I saw their eager and smiling faces, and took a deep breath.

I memorized (ish) the first couple of lines, but wanted to let the story tell itself, because I sound weird when I recite.  Like, really, really stilted and unauthentic.  Hence my non-acting ability.  I slightly stuttered over my first joke and Hubs told me he cringed a little, because he knew I was nervous.  But that was it.  Just a nervous first 30 seconds, but the audience immediately got wrapped up in the delivery of my delivery, and laughed, cringed at the parts they should actually cringe at, and I had them in the palm of my hand.  I looked out and saw faces of gals and guys who wanted to know how my story ended, how I ended up with a baby in my arms after receiving no medical interventions, letting gravity, my family, and the best midwife in the world hold me up while I birthed my greatest creation: a baby.  I wrapped it up conveniently and accidentally, and felt…amazing.  I felt like I put myself out there, really and truly out in the world with actual people, who liked me and were interested in my story.

This image was projected after my story as I walked off stage and Kate closed out my turn.

This image was projected on the screen after my story as I walked off stage and Kate closed out my turn.

All I could say to people who came up to me afterwards was, “thank you.”  I was stunned, a deer in headlights, that I had done it.  It was like I gave birth again!   Hubs took me outside to tell me, with sweet tears in his eyes, that he was so proud of me.  He didn’t know who I became on stage, because it was me without fear, without trepidation.  It was the me he knew in our private life at home, and he was star-struck.  It’s the highest compliment and the best reception I could have asked for.  The only one who had heard me practicing was Ans, who encouraged and interrupted me to babble her side of the story.  So to hear me coherently (and quite frankly, not ramble as I tend to do for real stories) tell our biggest story, Hubs was moved.  My friends told me to do this again.  My mother told me to write a book.  My MIL couldn’t stop hugging and kissing me.

I put myself out there, and it was worth it.  I might just do it again.

[Stay tuned for a video of my 15 minutes on stage; I’ll post it when I get a copy.]

Jells.

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17 thoughts on “Storytelling

  1. Jells that’s so awesome that you put yourself out there and accomplished what you wanted to. I loved that you made an impact on people in the audience. Such a great feeling. You make birth sound like the great and marvelous thing that it is. It’s very refreshing.

  2. You were amazing…confident, beautiful, gut laugh funny and you told the beautiful story of the birth of our precious second grand daughter. Still thankful we didn’t get kicked out of the house halfway through labor. Love you much.

  3. Pingback: I’m a finalist in the Austin Birth Awards! Vote for me! | I'll Sleep When They're Grown

  4. Damn the new Gmail way of sorting shi–um, stuff!! I just saw this in an inbox!! This is wonderful! So proud of you, Jells!!

    PS I’m a Gran now!!

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