How to Cover Your Shame



whatrustaring at

What are YOU staring at?


I don’t even know what you’d call it. I called myself a “humorist” in the program but that was because my vocabulary is lacking. In a talent show, where does, “Making witty observations while wildly gesticulating in front of a slide show of 19th century underwear” fall? My friend Sonja, who is brilliant and organized the show, called it “spoken word.”

17 acts, mostly singers, a touch of dancing. An unsettling tightrope walking clown-mime whose humor just…probably would have struck gold in continental Europe. And me. Me and my underwear slideshow.

Sonja worked meticulously on the order of the acts. She wanted the pacing to be even, so if you were the sort who got bored listening to middle aged men pine to their guitars, you’d be presented with tap-dancing after to keep you focused. She did, in the first half, an astoundingly good job. I was in the second half.

Right before be there was a duet, two middle aged men with guitars. A duet slow and searching, mourning the loss of life of every American solider through history. I had been sitting upright clutching my notes for an hour and a half, constantly plucking my blouse to try to keep it from setting in a wrinkle, tying and retying the bizarre ribbons around my sleeves. I had re-brushed my hair and touched up my makeup.


Oh god no. Don’t make me follow this.

Somewhere around “annnd the lives we’ve losssssst…the tears we’ve criiiiieeed,” I pulled my notes over my head and slumped down so low in my seat my carefully chosen pencil skirted-bottom nearly slid off. God Almighty. No. She put me after the most depressing act in the program. Couldn’t I have followed that awesome 80 year old in the checkered pants who did a really good Sinatra medley? Or the sexy middle aged gypsy who kept shaking her ample bottom while purring “cry me a river”?

There were other factors in play, if I’m too be honest. I’ve known fear, I’ve known crippling anxiety that makes the whole world have bared teeth. So I was able to distinguish between that and the anticipatory excitement of this performance, even though it was still uncomfortable. But then again…I have to able to function through my discomfort. And hell why suffer if you don’t have too? Anyway this is my way of saying I took an extra dose of Klonopin before the show, which was beginning to ebb from groovy to sleepy by 8:30.

The MC of the show was a beautiful young woman who is a New York Times bestselling author. In creative non-fiction, no less, my own genre. If I had a genre. Which I don’t because I have no book. She was a tremendously competent MC. Witty, warm, bright. Enough to really, really make me feel like a thick old frump in bizarre Oregon talent show. She bantered with each performer while the stagehand moved things into place.

I was not told there would be banter.

I shuffled onto the pine stage and faced the 200 or so faces that I had been told I would not see because the lighting would make it black. This was a lie…there they were. Smiling, but mostly not smiling…thinking about dead soldiers, likely.

The MC asked me the title of my presentation, which was now illuminated on a screen behind us. Just enough to my side that I couldn’t read it. And I swear to god I couldn’t remember it.

“Suhhh…ttt.” I had actually thought of some keen responses back when the pills were groovy. Even a simple, “I was not told there would be banter,” would have been nice. But I mumbled out, between a few uhhs, a part of my title,  and faced the lights.

opening slide

THIS! This was the title, dammit.



lady on pot

Actually an image very integral to my speech. Why they didn’t wear underwear in centuries past. Cuz even a lady has to tinkle.

I have spoken into a microphone exactly once in my adult life, and it was for a wedding toast. I spent much time last night; in fact in the motionless dimension of memory it seems fully half the time, frowning at and adjusting the microphone in front of my podium. And saying, “I don’t know how to work a microphone,” into it.

How did it go? a few friends have asked. I honestly have no idea. I think I remember…two big laughs. I do not know how many I planned for but it was more. There might have been more. I forgot to inhabit the character who was meant to present this piece; a person six degrees sweeter, more innocent, and magnificently more prim than my actual self. Instead I just did…myself. Which means, I read a speech with some odd jokes in it, aloud. I am not sure that is the same thing as a comedy presentation.

That’s how it feels anyway. I don’t know. When I got down the only thing I remember is my husband was flushed and grinning. He doesn’t grin. Never. Ever. He was proud of me, for real. Happy for me. That was genuine. He’s incapable of faking. My daughter, who I intentionally brought so she could see her mom be bold, was smacking her hands in front of her with that perfect open mouth sparkling eyed excitement only little girls can project. But they love me. Their joy is of infinite value to me, more than the rest combined. But as a performer, it only proves is that I did not fully humiliate myself.

So, I didn’t kill it. I guess that should be okay, seeing as how this was a first. I’m sure Louis C.K. didn’t kill his first time in front of a microphone. Maybe even that adorable MC who reminded me of what I can never, ever be didn’t even kill it the first time.

But I felt alive. And making mistakes is so so much better than making nothing.

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