According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety. Anecdotally, I know people who’d rather undergo electric shock therapy than speak to a room full of strangers. Sometimes, I’m one of them.
And yet, there I was at Glendale Community College last night, gearing up for my first public poetry reading in years.
I was there thanks to Sara Dobie Bauer, my wickedly talented friend who snagged a spot as one of their featured speakers. Actually, snag is the wrong verb. Earn is better, because she’s utterly brilliant.
Before Sara, there was an open mic, so, duh, I should take the opportunity to put my work out there, right?
I almost didn’t read. We were late, having been waylaid by a bus that broke down in the left turn lane off the 17 and onto Dunlap. I figured it was a good excuse. “We were late. People were already reading. I didn’t want to be rude by signing up while someone was pouring their heart out. I’ll read next time.”
And I’ll admit I was a little intimidated, too. It was an eclectic crowd, and a pretty talented one, too. Would my work pale in comparison to theirs? Would I go home feeling worse for having read my poetry? Insecurity is a needy bitch.
But not reading would’ve made me a coward―and my pride can’t have that. Thank God I’m an artist with ego.
In between poets, I snuck up to the host and asked if it was too late to sign up. Of course it wasn’t and I scratched my name onto the list.
With each poem shared, the knot tightened in my stomach. I could feel adrenaline in my extremities. I visualized myself walking up to the mic over and over in my head. I may have tripped in one of my fantasized scenarios.
Then my name was called. My friends cheered for me. I didn’t trip. I made a joke about wearing shoes that were too tall for the pre-set microphone, but it’s all good, because I’m loud.
And then the words came out. And it felt incredible. I found my spirit and my cadence. I felt connection with the room. I was reminded of my voice and how powerful it can be.
Here’s the piece that I read. It’s dedicated to all my ladies out there who, at times, feel like utter disasters―because there’s beauty in the mess.
By Tiffany Michelle Brown
Ever touched a beautiful disaster?
She is retractable and gives
In just the right places,
Ebbs and flows and reaches
She carries the imprints of within
And without and radiates
The change of day after day,
Year after year.
Her time is now.
Her palms are heat and honeyed noise,
Soft to the touch,
But weathered and capable
And moving, moving, moving
To the next space, the next place
Where she can leave her exceptional mark.
She rushes over you,
Skims the surface,
Dives below and makes you dream.
She always has capacity
And will never be satisfied unless
She can hold you with both hands.
Ever talked to a beautiful disaster?
She is bubbling and tipsy
And perched for conversation,
The words spilling over,
A cherry red exhaust.
She begs for history, for the moments
That make you scream, for demure ruckus
And the stories, their stories
Those stories beneath your skin.
She is quiet when her brain is humming,
Gracious when you look at her just so,
A lascivious mosquito
If you can handle it.
She’ll tell you her secrets
On swing sets and subways
And between bamboo sheets,
All sweetness and subtlety and
Devoid of indifference.
She is saying this to you.
Ever loved a beautiful disaster?
It’s a trip, a turn, and a tumble
Into an unknown surety,
A warm jasmine comfort
Carefully pressed between your shoulders.
She’ll connect the dots
And echo what’s been good
Throughout the canyons
Until she can no longer
Breathe you in.
She is unpredictable and hoping
And restless and longing
And pulls down the arching sunset
To cool her reconstructed paper mache heart.
She’ll give it to you,
Beating and pulsing and alive
Because for her,
Love is about leaping into arms
And recreating what has already been given
Again and again and again…
Ever witnessed a beautiful disaster?
The beauty is in the breakdown.
She is the breakdown.
She is pliable, resilient, worn, and welcome,
A scar that holds her world together
With a stitch of a smile and sweet potato fries.
Her tragedy holds to the bottom of her feet
But the rest of her body flies free
So that she stays simultaneously grounded
By injuries of the heart, body, and mind,
But hopeful and lifted,
Face to the stars and back to no one.
She is the reason we keep going.
She is home, she is heart, And she is wanting for nothing but
Another chance for beauty.
After the open mic and before the featured speakers, the group collectively took a break. Bathrooms were down the hall and bags of Doritos were on the counter. Partake, poets, partake.
A woman with gray hair and tons of energy came up to me and told me that my poem was evocative and that she felt like a beautiful disaster. I grinned and got excited. I told her that the poem was for her, for anyone who’s ever felt that way. She said she’s turning 64 next week and that some sort of public speaking is on her bucket list. She’s never considered poetry before, but now she’s inspired to try.
I just kept telling her over and over, “Do it! It’s awesome. You have to!” Yep, the girl who almost backed out of the reading in the first place instantaneously became its biggest advocate. And here’s why.
I’m a big believer in doing the things that scare you in this life. Face the monsters under the bed. Leap into someone’s arms. Expose your soul to strangers at open mic nights.
Because sometimes your fear turns into inspiration, connection, and strength for others―and that’s pretty fucking cool.