Some of you might remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned that I would be participating in a body-image-themed slam poetry monologue event on my university campus, called The Body Monologues. I mentioned that for the first time ever, I would be getting up on stage in front of potentially hundreds of people and poetry-slamming my way through my own recovery story, which, though I’ve written about it pretty regularly for over a year, is something that made me want to curl up in a hole and hibernate until after the event.
Well, the performance was yesterday. Was I scared out of my mind? Absolutely. Did I need to pump myself up by listening to Two Steps From Hell the whole afternoon beforehand and doing weird stress-relieving exercises backstage for two hours? You know it. (Side note: the best way I’ve ever found to get rid of stress is to stand on one leg while reciting the “to be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet silently in your head. People look at you weird, but it’s impossible to be nervous while focusing on both your balance and the Bard.) Did I almost leave the auditorium midway through because for some reason our director thought that it would be a good idea to let me go last, giving me plenty of time to freak out? Yeah, that too.
But I did it.
And I killed it.
I had the whole monologue memorized, I delivered it like I’d done it in front of people hundreds of times, and I even got the audience to cheer while I was still speaking, which made me feel as excited as that turtle to the left. Maybe it helped that the entire auditorium was darkened, so I could barely see that there were even people there, and it was like me practicing in front of the mirror. Except the mirror got excited with me.
And that, my friends, is pretty awesome.
I’m not going to give a rundown of the entire night (mostly because I spent the better part of it standing on one leg trying to remember what came after “this mortal coil,”), but I’m so proud of all the participants in The Body Monologues. We told our truths even though it was scary, about our battles with and for our bodies, our processes to self-acceptance, our struggles, the expectations of others, around subjects ranging from race to gender to sexuality to agency to size to age to everything. It was empowering. It was amazing. It was brave. And I’m so happy I was a part of it.
Because I don’t have a recording of me getting up on stage and actually reading the piece (I may later, I’m not sure, but I think the event was recorded), I’ll provide the text for my performance below. Imagine me, if you will, standing on stage all by myself, doing that weird thing I do with my hands when I’m nervous, and then beginning…
Did you ever do that thing, when you were a kid,
and you still liked to play with words,
so you would say the same one
over and over and over
until all you were hearing was sounds and not the sense of things,
you were just making noises with your face
but it was so strange
to think that your mouth could make that sound?
The first word I remember making mean nothing was pilot.
I was about seven years old.
I found it in a book and read it
over and over and over
Pilot, pilot, pilot, pilot
until what the hell was I even saying,
what was a pilot, and why did we call them that,
and why did it sound like an infectious skin disease
if you said it more than four times in a row?
The next word I remember mutilating was
I heard it everywhere,
in the subterranean murmuring of strange couples at restaurants,
in the spreadsheet charts of your friendly neighborhood doctor’s office,
behind the masked words of my friends and teachers and
total strangers that I thought were saying things
about a person they hadn’t even noticed was in the room.
I started speaking a different language
than everyone around me
for whom fat was just fat
-is fat just fat for anybody?-
I was bilingual
in English and
My language didn’t have a dictionary.
You translate it by instinct.
You look great.
Translation: you looked way better before,
but you look fat now,
and I’m trying to be nice.
The road to pulling the verbal trigger
is paved with intended compliments.
Saying nothing would have been better.
If you want to gain weight, you should start eating more protein.
Thanks, Doctor Oz.
If you want to cut off your arm,
I’ll go get you the best saw from the tool shed out back.
It’s that easy.
You did tell me you’ve got a nasty paper cut.
Why not go all the way?
Gotta admire your willpower. I mean, you always eat so healthy.
I am always watching you eat,
and I’m quietly judging every bite you force yourself
to put into your mouth,
waiting for you to slip up and inhale that sleeve of Oreos
while the devil on your shoulder is whispering
for you to sell your soul to Trans Fats.
Those whispers you thought you heard in the restaurant?
They were real.
How about you try starting therapy.
To be followed by,
How about you try seeing a different therapist,
How about maybe you stop going to therapy.
How about I start starting and stopping seeing a therapist.
Your coping mechanisms are not responding.
Have you tried turning it on and off again?
If you don’t try harder to get better, you never will.
Response: Thank you.
That was a motherfucking
Do you mind if I take notes?
They gave you a PhD to tell people that?
I write my check and smile
and vow never to come back.
The voices have taken a Sharpie to my vocabulary
and every second definition from the top
has been replaced with
worthless slash hopeless slash not good enough slash failure slash disappointment slash
You know what?
I’m through repeating myself.
I want you to hear my voice rise up like a phoenix,
a phoenix that doesn’t care if being a phoenix is a cliche because that’s what it is,
I’m a motherfucking phoenix.
And if you know the rhythm of bilingual repetition,
self-translating self-destruction with an eating-disorder-to-English dictionary,
that if anybody anybody tells you that recovery isn’t possible
they can go fuck themselves
and I will burn anyone who tries to say it with the flames of my motherfucking phoenix wings,
because I’m coming up on one year and five months
and I am alive,
and nothing I say is repetition,