Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Poets and Comedians, Part Three: The Fifth Chakra Blues*

Poets and Comedians, Part Three: The Fifth Chakra Blues*

Part Three of my Poets and Comedians series was going to be about the dearth of female comics with their own successful podcasts, as compared to the many male comics who are wildly successful in this realm—Adam Corolla, Chris Hardwick, Kevin Smith, and Marc Maron to name just a few. This led me down a path that started to feel unmanageably large in scope and just more a bit more than I can cope with right now. Instead, I’ve decided to talk about my own relationship to speaking, which is really where this whole idea came from in the first place—that is, my fascination that someone can confidently talk for up to an hour or more straight without it ever occurring them that they aren’t going to be utterly fascinating to at least someone. This attitude represents a level of self-confidence I find awe-inspiring and completely unattainable.

I went to high school in a dirt-poor town in a remote area of Upper Michigan, and they didn’t have a drama department to speak of, so I didn’t begin studying performance until, through the miracle of a small scholarship and some generous financial aid, I was able to go to the local university, which had a fairly reputable drama program. Being a painfully, almost pathologically shy girl at the time, I paradoxically found a lot of relief in acting. It was very freeing to be able to escape mentally and emotionally into a character; to be able to express the intense feelings I had through the safety of transforming into someone else. I did have horrid, hand-trembling stage fright, but once I was on, I was completely transformed. I could dive into almost any persona and both hide myself and express myself fully at the same time.

In some ways, I feel this now about writing poetry. But both acting and writing, while they are authentic forms of expression, also put up a barrier of safety between myself and the world. It’s not me raw; it’s me processed and churned and formed and presented. It is voice--in poetry, I hope a more and more authentic voice as time goes on, but it’s certainly not me flying without a net; simply talking off the top of my head and fully expecting to be found intriguing and charming.

I’m very comfortable being the quiet one. I feel much more attuned to the role of listener, reflector, receiver. I suspect there were a number of forces that formed this in me. I come from a big family of bellowers and yellers, and maybe turning completely inward, simply going “off the air”, was my way of coping as someone who found screaming and fighting intolerably painful. Maybe it’s because I learned very early on that there were certain secondary rewards for acting in the role of caretaker and banishing my own need to be heard. Maybe it’s just something I absorbed from the culture around me; that as a female, it’s unseemly to call attention to myself; that I should step aside and let the men bluster and clown and natter on; that it’s my job to be a good audience, but never try to grab the center of attention. Or maybe I’m just scared of calling attention to myself because I’m afraid, deep inside, that I am really a very boring person.

Reading my own poetry out loud has its challenges, too. I feel incredibly vulnerable unless I create some sort of persona around the reading, and even then, it’s a layer removed from acting. One less piece of protective armor there between my heart and the audience. And, there are times when I hate my own voice. There are times when I feel like there is far too much talking in the world and I want nothing to do with it. There are times when I feel that I could never speak another word and still be perfectly happy. Speak up, I’m often told. You never speak up for yourself. Say it; say your piece. But often, my throat is simply unwilling to work on my behalf.

And there is a part of me that wants to know what it feels like to grab a mic and command attention. To speak about nothing in particular with complete authority, to know with utter certainly that I am being heard, and found amazing, funny, and irresistible. This is another reason why I am so fascinated with comedians and the whole process of performing in that way--podcasting and radio in particular, where there are no visual cues to go on and the performers depend on the intimacy of voice alone. It seems to require an even more intense vulnerability than either acting or reading poetry. It seems to require both an insane confidence and a sort of deep, driving insecurity and need to be loved.

I have the deep, driving insecurity part in droves. What I need is a shot of that insane confidence. What I could do with just one small taste of that stuff!

--Kristen McHenry

*The fifth chakra is the throat chakra; the seat of expression and speaking our truth. Some consider it to be the etheric template upon which God created the blueprint for the physical manifestation of humans.

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