I thought I had a thought about something to write about here. The jump was a Facebook status I saw with a quote that boiled down to whether you could call yourself an artist.
I usually don’t. Sometimes I do. It’s usually when I am melodramatically claiming insights and wisdom and sensitivities I don’t actually possess. Recently, I did gesticulate and gesture broadly while declaring “Fuck them all, I’m an artist,” to a work friend (he is beleaguered as I am by those people who cannot discern wit and sarcasm from assholic behavior).
Generally, I’m more unsure. Although, as M. will shout at me, ridiculously so. If I don’t trust my words or my way with words, why the fuck should anyone else?
It’s a baby step that I now tell people that I’m a “writer” (yup, note the quotes and do the little airy double-fingered gesture) or admit to blogging or working on a book, now with M.’s sage advice an admitted collection of essays. Essays I can manage; a book creates a dry heave kind of thing in my brain. Hmm, not a great visual that – a retching head.
It’s important, I think, that you have to at some point say “fuck it, I’m in the club.” I’m tired of waiting for permission to decide what I am.
I never or rarely call myself a stand up comedian. I say (admit) I’ve done stand up comedy (and suppose I might again).
At night in dim clubs and bars, there was a mostly unspoken hierarchy, and there was a definitely bitched about gripe of who got to call themselves a comic. I think I took the atmosphere too much to heart, too personally, and I couldn’t bring myself to compare my meager offerings to people who made money and gigged madly and got auditions.
In retrospect, I wish I had brassier balls to front myself as belonging, even if I didn’t feel it inside. After all, I drank beers (and retro-shamefacedly even slept) with clowns who cashed checks built literally on fart jokes. Fart, fucking, jokes.
(Cue the smoke and vaselined lens with swirling colors, I feel a nostalgic memory coming on….
Back in old Boston, there’s a dingy room in a basement of what was once a bank. The tiny tables behind the stage, where comedians impatiently wait there turn, is adjacent to the black, iron wall of the bank’s vault.
I chatted and fiddled with my list of jokes in front of me and nursed a beer. A guy who at the time got paying gigs and took a shine to me, leaned over me to whisper sweet nothings of advice, and no doubt peer from above my head at the fun bags in my blouse.
He explained that I was too smart, and audiences don’t like that. My success, it would seem, would best be served by following his lead. He suggested I stand up from where I was sitting and watch his carefully calibrated performance unfurl.
Woman that I am, because I do sadly believe woman are a bazillion times more likely to politely follow these kind of orders, I got up to watch.
No lie, it was painful. Scampering and dancing on stage and a solid gold bit that if my dim mind remembers culminated in the comic gold of not being able to tell if the farts were coming from his dog or his grandmother sleeping on the couch. GOLD!
People do laugh at that shit, I’ll give him that. Although, sometimes it’s the uneasy laugh of watching someone fall spectacularly or the cruel laugh at the handicapped or maybe the giggle from watch monkeys flinging poo at the zoo. So, indeed the room had laughter in it.
A couple of people later, it was my turn. He returned the favor to study my set and give me notes.
It was one of those nights I only sort of remember. My best moments on stage are the ones where like a trained athlete it’s all muscle memory, mechanics and flow. Everything rolls out instinctively, not held up by my conscious (and self-concious) thought of what’s next.
I ripped it. The audience was listening and laughing exactly where I planned. They were silent on my words that would lead to revelation and release. But, in my game, in that ultimate zone, I don’t remember the details.
Admittedly, those nights were rare for me. I could measure my success by the astonished smiles and back pats from my friends and acquaintances back stage.
In a comedy club, a cold handshake with no eye contact tells you your fellow comics are embarrassed for you. In contrast, there’s a warm spread of people reaching out to touch you, pat you, congratulate you, smile when you’ve just nailed it in the end zone.
My would be suitor, smiled and offered the perfunctory hand shake and “good set.” He didn’t try to sleep with me again after that night.)
Those moments are the ones that make me want to sell myself harder. I only wish it didn’t take negative stimuli for me to feel the need to conquer.
There’s a bit more in my head. Stuff about what happens into the next decade, now that I’m about 10 years deep in M.’s and my relationship, just shy of that many years into my California dream, and looking down the barrel to 49, knowing it was 38/39 when it all last shifted seismically. And, as they say on Madison Ave. and Cupertino, wait there’s more.
But, for now, I’ll have to consider a part 2.