Ladies and gentleman, I bring today, an article detailing a milestone in the life of Ismael Manzano, or a least a stepping stone on a dirt road of my life. For any of you out there that know me, I don’t have to tell you that I am far from perfect. Among my many faults, genetic and emotional, I suffer from a disease called stagus-impeteous, known throughout Greece as speakus-pussious. Or in layman’s terms, stage-fright.
So when I was asked by my Creative Writing professor to do a poetry reading at a small bar in the Village, I was—at first—skeptical and very hesitant. Regardless, by the end of the class, my hand was raised and I had volunteered to read some of the poetry I’d written in class. She said we had seven minutes, and warned that that could be a long time when you’re staring at a bunch of strangers. Why I agreed to do this, I have no idea. I guess I just wanted to try something different, to challenge myself a bit. Of course, she’d asked us to do the reading almost at the beginning of the semester, but the event itself wasn’t until the end of the semester, so I had plenty of time to mull over my decision. As the time drew closer and I realized what I was about to do, a slight panic set in and I was looking for a way out that would not involve admitting that I was afraid of public speaking.
My inventive yet ultimately useless excuses ranged from losing my voice to being abducted by poetry-stealing aliens that sucked the knowledge of writing and reading poetry out of my head for a short period of time. While I don’t think my professor would have taken the former as a legitimate excuse, the latter might have worked, had that idiot I hired to pretend to be an alien hadn’t contracted mono while practicing his ‘probing’ techniques with some farm animals.
Anyway, back to my harrowing adventure. The night came much faster than I would have liked and I was growing numb as I realized that I’d invited about twelve people to watch me fall flat on my face. I’m not being self-defeating, I’m serious! Over the summer in an English class I completely froze when reading a piece of a play that we’d read and had seen other students act out several times that week. I just choked. Couldn’t even utter a word. But I sure did do the nervous chuckle thing with the grace and talent of a deaf pianist. So the night came at last and, fittingly, it was the coldest night of the winter so far. I believe it was something like seventeen degrees in the morning; I didn’t want to think about what the temperature was at seven in the evening. I was freezing, I was nervous, and I was really considering whether alien probing stories would be preferable to standing up and reading.
My only salvation was that I was not going first. In fact, I was going close to last, which was good for me, because it meant if I threw up or choked or passed out or just exploded due to some random cosmic joke, I would not have ruined the entire evening for everyone…just the two poor bastards who would have had to follow my little bit of what I would have later claimed to be ‘performance art.’ What? You don’t think a guy vomiting on stage of a poetry reading says something about the regurgitation of high, privy culture into lower forms of popular culture by carnivorous parasites such as those that infest the networks and produce horrid reality show after reality show in an effort to capitalize on the lowest common denominator of television viewers without once trying to expand their minds or guide them toward more affluent and stimulating forms of entertainment—he, he, he…I wrote stimulating. Anyway, I think that would have made a good statement, but alas, since I hadn’t the stomach to eat that day, I could not possibly have vomited anything, social commentary or otherwise.
So I’m there with my wife and the customers just keep piling into the small bar in Alphabet City. Most of the people there are either students or were invited by students or professors. I knew it wasn’t really a professional affair, more of a trial run for anyone who might one day wish to pursue this line of work, but it still scared the hell out of me.
The first performer went up and he spun together a tapestry of verbal imagery the likes of which belonged at a poetry slam competition, not at a simple student gathering like ours. And he did it all from memory. I was in shock; and about ready to bolt. I might have done just that, had I not invited everyone and their mother…and had they all not been surrounding me to prevent me from doing just that. As the next few students went up, I quickly read and reread my poems, trying to decide which order to put them in and if I could do anything not to make it sound like I’m reading from a dictionary. I hadn’t memorized anything and I did not think that I could memorize it in time for my turn,, not enough to properly emote anyway.
Finally it was my turn. I was helped by the fact that the person before me fumbled a bit—sorry anonymous friend, but it’s true…and thanks—and as I ascended the small wooden platform, I was hit with a sense of calm and confidence. The calm came from the fact that from the stage it was so dark I could hardly see into the audience anyway, and the confidence came from my horrible vision. I pushed by glasses slightly down the bridge of my nose, kept my head straight and looked down to read the words written on the pages. The result was that so long as I was looking down, I saw clearly what I needed to read, but when I looked up or around, all I saw was the blurriness that comes with having horrendous nearsightedness. Ha! So I read, and looked up when I reached lines that I had memorized and tried my best to emote when I thought it was prudent to do so. The result. A standing ovation and a clean, vomit-free stage. My heart was still beating like a jackhammer and I don’t think I heard anything of what anyone was saying for about ten minutes after that, but the point was, I’d done it. I’d tricked them all into thinking I’d actually faced my fears. Yeah. Suckers! I couldn’t see any of you guys! You were all blurs to me! Ha!
But I was just glad I didn’t get up there and vomit on the mic. But who knows, if I’d done that I might have been praised for my use neo-expressionism, neo-dadaism or neo-vomitiousism. Well, that’s my tale of a time I did something I’d never thought I’d be able to do. I hope that it can help someone out there conquer or circumvent their fears in some way. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you actually conquer your fear, only that you fool everyone into thinking that you did so you can get them all off of your sweat-drenched back for a minute.
But enough of you. Since I’m a bonafide artist now. I’m going to grow a goatee, wear all black, snap my fingers instead of clapping, and look down my nose at all of you talentless hacks. You can’t tell, but I’m doing it right now.