Courageous and mortified

This week I’ll be introducing a new group of friends to my 14-year-old self. I have finally gotten the DVD copy of my summer performance at “Mortified”, a showcase of people who reveal embarrassing parts of their adolescent selves by sharing diary entries, poetry, and the like. My show was attended by a group of loyal and loving friends, but not everybody was able to make it, given that “Mortified” shows always sell out. So I’ve invited some of them over to watch it on video.

It will be the first time in years that I have seen myself in a taped performance. I hope it’ll be better than watching Audrey’s and my skydiving video from last month, in which I looked awkwardly at the camera and snarked about “jumping out of a frickin’ plane.” And it must be better than the tape of my speech at high school graduation. I’ve never worked up the nerve to sit through that one, as I couldn’t stand hearing the speedy cadence of my words. When we showed the tape to my grandparents, after I’d graduated, I left the room in shame and came back to some pointed advice from Gramps: “You should talk more slowly!”

During preparations for “Mortified”, the producers told us—the performers—again and again that we had to speak slowly enough for the audience to understand what we were saying. At least I knew I wasn’t the only person to have that problem. By the end of rehearsals I felt that I’d improved a bit, but I didn’t know how I’d behave on stage with a microphone at my lips. My voice through a microphone sounds like something unfamiliar and uncontrolled, with every vocal habit and intonation magnified.

The show ran for two consecutive nights in June. I was third in a lineup of six people. Prior to my turn I was able to sit with my friends in the audience, but when I came up on deck, I had to sneak backstage to wait and pace and go over the “script” that was taped inside the pages of an old journal. They were all my own words, cut and arranged to form a sort of story arc that was representative of my life at the time. I didn’t feel embarrassed by them anymore, as I had at the beginning, when I first shared my journal entries with a semicircle of show producers. I had learned to laugh at the words without cringing too painfully. They had become a performance piece, with me adopting the role of a younger, more vulnerable self but having enough perspective to know that everything turned out alright.

Still, in the spotlight I was as vulnerable as a teenager. The audience picked up on it from the moment I stepped in front of the microphone. Being “Mortified” fans, accustomed to seeing people at their most awkward, they knew just what to do: cheer me on. I got a warm round of applause and smiles just for saying “Hi” and stating my name. Not a bad start. As I continued with my introduction and then with my piece, the audience responded as strongly as I’d hoped they would.

They laughed most at my callbacks to trends of the mid-1990’s—a poem in which I lamented not having a pager like the other kids at school, a series of journal entries about my addiction to online chat rooms. They shared in my sorrow at feeling uncool and not having friends. Sometimes there was a groaning mixture of mirth and pity, as when I talked about my excitement at having an Internet “boyfriend.” I was really pleased at their reactions, especially at the amount of laughter I received. Their warm response was a dose of confidence that carried me through both nights of the show. 

Intermission occurred right after my piece ended, so I bounced offstage and directly into the arms of my friends who were sitting nearby. As much as I have always disliked being at the center of attention, my ego and I are very receptive to praise; however, nothing mattered more than the admiration and pride I felt from my friends, and I was eager to be folded back into their circle. Now, I guess, their support is the reason why I don’t mind sharing the video, despite the discomfort of seeing myself onscreen. I could benefit from learning to see myself the way my friends do: as a person who is courageous enough to show the world who she really is.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your 14 year-old self with me. And your current self! That was a lot of fun, Nolan and I had a good time. My only wish is that I’d been there to give the 14 year-old you a big hug and tell you that everything was going to be all right. But, not having a time-machine (dammit! How fun would that be?) I can’t make that happen. But I’m here now- so if you ever need someone to give you a hug and tell everything will be okay, look me up.

  2. kristenpdx

     /  October 24, 2011

    Thank you, Ryan! I had fun with y’all over at the house too. And I might take you up on that hug sometime; I do need them.

    Wouldn’t it be fun to go back in time and talk to a younger version of somebody you know now? You could totally freak them out, but also you could totally make their day.

  3. That would be pretty fun, yeah!

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