In the past couple of weeks, I have done three readings, and in a couple of weeks I will do at least one more. The first reading I did was for a small group of ten people, which was a mix of my professors, my family, and a couple class-mates. The second was for a small youth group in Englewood, specifically their boy’s Marian group of about eight. The most recent was for my old high-school, specifically their FCA group of 30-40 students.
As you can imagine, each experience has been wildly different. Before any of them, I had performed at a couple of open mics and that had gone all well and good. Knowing that I was going to actually be in the spot-light for once, I was beginning to feel physically ill at the mere thought of performing at these events. As much as people told me that I should be excited and should be celebrating that people were showing such interest in my work, I wanted nothing more than to be able to shut my eyes and fast-forward through them. I was sure I was going to faint at least once.
Now I’m not going to tell you that that fear went away. I can’t tell you that, because it didn’t happen. Before each reading I needed hours of rest to prepare enough to keep myself from passing out. I stuttered quite a bit before and after my readings, and especially afterward I was incomprehensible because of jittery overwhelmed nerves. Even after those three readings, I’m still feeling that same dread welling up inside me at the thought of my upcoming reading on the 20th.
However, with each reading I have found that I am finding a purpose for going through this pain that is much stronger than the promise of a few sales. To be honest, when I went into the readings with the idea that I was going to somehow sell myself and my work and that was it, I threw myself into a tizzy. Especially with a collection of religious poetry, it also seemed shallow and lacking. Through crafting each of these readings to follow a specific reflection (for the Englewood group, we focused on being true to your emotions and being honest with God, and for the FCA group we did an Advent reflection), and using my own poetry as a guide for the reflection, but not the focus, I become freer. I become much more open and I find that the discussions that I am having with these teenagers are surprising, enlightening, and enriching in light of the poetry that I present to them in ways that I could have never imagined. I don’t just go to these readings in order to show the audience something perfected- but in order to, through the presentation of it, work to perfect it the next time, with the next work. I find more in my own thoughts through their input than I had ever imagined.
And the compassion of the audiences gives me the strength to keep on keeping on. At each reading, I’ve struggled to be completely open about my disability. It’s hard to know whether or not they will continue to take me seriously when I tell them that I am autistic. But so far each time they’ve shocked me with just how much people linked by poetry can care. I can honestly say that I’ve never had people treat me with such deference and care than I have in these past couple readings- clapping quietly or ‘flapping’ instead in order to keep me from getting disoriented, making tasteful rather than intrusive remarks, and all around treating me like an individual rather than a preconceived person.
I guess what I’m trying to say is- thank you. Thank you those of you who attended these readings, for helping me believe in myself, and for helping me believe in you. I may still be terrified of the next reading, and I doubt I’ll be cured of my fear by the time I get to the one after that… but you gave me a reason to face that fear,and that makes all the difference.