You know that thing you do when you’re little? Imagining some Kodak Momentâ„¢ of yourself, surrounded by test tubes, curing cancer? Or pirouetting in yards of tulle before a sold-out crowd? Or addressing the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dressed in tulle, while curing cancer?
In just over three weeks, I’m going to be standing up in front of 200 people and talking about talking. I never imagined anything this weird.
I’m guessing that Nina Hartley, famed star of the adult entertainment world, registered nurse and Berkeley-born offspring of practicing Buddhists never at any point in her life up to now imagined she’d wind up in front of a group of people with her clothes on, reading a personal essay that neatly and elegantly made a universal point about connectedness and self-actualization via a vividly detailed description of an explicit sex act involving her hand and someone else’s ladyparts.
Compared to Ms. Hartley? I’m a piker in more than one way.
I told almost no one about this particular gig. And not for the obvious reason, that it was a sex-ay affair. (Come on, it was held on the back patio of a sex-toys shop, fer criminy.)
No, I kept mum because, as with most gigs I might advertise, I was concerned about quality.
Perform bit roles in enough shitty nickel theater that you drag your family and friends to and eventually, when the stars fall from your eyes, you get it: everyone has his breaking point, and you don’t want your devoted fan base to hit theirs before the event you really need them to turn out for. An evening of erotic anything (barring the one-on-one variety, natch) is not generally what leaps to mind when I think “wildly entertaining”, and a slate of writers whom I’d never read and never heard perform doing erotica? Uh…uh-uh.
I’ll admit, I’m not widely read in the stuff. I’ll also admit that at least part of my trepidation stems from my Midwestern roots. Although thanks to my beloved paternal grandfather, a crazy, arts-lovin’ liberal atheist who became more and not less so with age, I did have exposure to a modest variety of printed adult matter, albeit furtively. (At least, I’m pretty sure I kept my tracks covered.)
My favorites were Playboy (when you’re 9, you really do like the comics) and R. Crumb comix, something I never really thought about until recently. Neither was for the truly squeamish, but both were artfully conceived and executed, and I’d argue that the Crumb stuff was written in as authentic a voice as can be. I remember the shock of recognition I had watching Crumb, the Terry Zwigoff documentary, for the first time. It was like I stumbled into some wormhole and was living in 1971 and 1994 simultaneously, the likeness was so compelling.
Compare that to the awful stylings, nay, overstylings of most adult entertainment and to me, the source of cringe-inducement becomes wildly obvious: forget the feminist POV; it’s just embarrassingly derivative, stagey or stiff, you’ll pardon the pun.
Your voice is your voice is your voice; once you know and trust it, it can accompany you anywhere, from tea with the Queen to bottle swigs on the Bowery (the pre-gussied Bowery) and everywhere in between. You can write a memo or a eulogy or a potty-mouthed song (my choice) and it will be you. Should you sing your potty-mouthed song at Windsor Castle? Probably not without being asked. Neither should you hunker down on your middle-aged haunches and start coo-woo-wooing at a toddler just because you’ve got 45 laps around the planet on the shorty. They’re people, people: as The Youngster used to say, “Short, ignorant people.” (The BF adds, “who don’t pay rent.”) And they have bullshit detectors whose calibration has not gone off-kilter from years of smoke being blown around various bits. Never forget that it was a child who pointed out the buck-nekkidness of El Jefe.
I would never have thought that getting up in front of 35 strangers and singing a song about dirty keyword searches would leave me feeling so much better prepared to stand up in front of 200 and talk about Authentic Communication. But of course it did, of course, of course. More than most of my Toastmasters speeches, although they were helpful in their own way.
There was no governor up last Thursday night, and it worked: me, trusting what I had to say, er, sing, and putting it out there.
What are you afraid of? What would happen if you did it anyway?
Or maybe the question is, “What will happen if you don’t?”