Playing to an Audience

In high school, I adored the stage. I was never one of those people who said, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” Nope. I liked the spotlight, thankyouverymuch. If I couldn’t play a big role, I may as well just work backstage.

I’m not saying I had the right attitude about that. And I did play many smaller roles, but I craved center stage and I got it often enough to fuel further ambition. I will never forget the joy of playing Ophelia and having a nervous breakdown on stage in front of all those people. I was Lucy with Dracula leaning near my neck. I was a suspected murderess with Sherlock Holmes hot on my heels.

I was happy.

Flash forward to grown-up Heather. I always had this dream to perform poetry, and in the last couple of years, I’ve gotten to try my hand at it. One of our pastors started asking me to perform as part of a worship service. Then I attended a workshop at the library and ended up reading at a show in town. All of it is fun and exciting and makes me feel alive.

But there is one difference between my high school stage experience and this one. In high school? I had nerves, of course, but once I was in front of the curtain with my mouth open, I felt at ease. I could play the crowd. I knew my role and I adored every second of it.

When I perform a poem, my hands shake. My chest rattles. I feel lightheaded.

I mentioned this to the Middle Sisters and the conversation turned to the why of it. It is a pretty obvious why, I think. In both instances, I am playing to an audience, but…

In scenario 1, I am playing a role. I am somebody else. I am standing in front of people, hoping they like my character.

In scenario 2, I am myself. I am standing in front of people, hoping they like me.

It’s the same reason I spent most of my returned-to-college public speaking class ready to vomit (well, that and the fact that I was in my third trimester of pregnancy).

Being yourself is scary, isn’t it?

This past Sunday was our last Sunday at the church where my husband has served as youth pastor for seven years. There were lots of tearful goodbyes and so many encouraging words spoken. One dear friend told me, “I appreciate that you and Corey are always real.”

I thanked her and told her this…

I learned early in my adult life that I don’t like secrets. I don’t like hiding things. It is so much easier to tell the truth and to live exactly as myself. Sometimes, my opinions and actions come back to bite me in the butt… it’s true. But when they do, I am facing consequences based on who I really am and what I really believe. I would rather someone not like me than to have them like some fake version of me.

Mostly, this has worked well for me. There ARE people who don’t like me. I lost a friend because I am “too liberal.” And it hurt, because I liked her a lot and I didn’t need her to be less conservative to make our friendship work. But she couldn’t live with my beliefs and so moved on. She set boundaries, and I respect them. I have dealt with situations where I am the only one willing to call the awkwardness out on the table and name it, confront it, ask how we can fix it…

I sometimes make people uncomfortable.

It’s rarely really me that makes them uncomfortable though. When people don’t want to face something, it can be incredibly difficult for them to watch YOU face it. It brings up feelings of guilt and not-good-enough-ness. But that isn’t YOUR fault. You can’t fix things for them or even make them want to do the fixing. Half the time, you don’t even know there’s something they need to fix, because too many people hold all that inside their secret hearts.

So, you do you. You do you and let her do her and be at peace.

Yes, when I stand before a room full of people and perform a poem, I still shake. Those are my words… my feelings… being spread out before the masses for consumption. And I want them to like me.

I want them to like me, but I don’t need them to like me.

I will always shake. It will always be scary to lay oneself open to possible rejection. But I have lived through a lot of rejections, and even if they don’t get easier, I have certainly learned they do not kill me.


*originally published on Middle Places


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