I overheard her tell someone that she didn’t like reading one particular line, that it was just so hard for her to say out loud. I could only imagine how difficult it was going to be for her, standing in front of hundreds of people and saying words that hurt her so deeply. But my new, brave friend was determined to tell her story.
When she walked up to the podium that night, I found myself doing something I haven’t done since my freshman year of high school. While this wasn’t a basketball game and she wasn’t shooting free throws, I found myself staring holes in the back of her head, sending all my positive thoughts her way and shouting (internally), “You can do it. You can do it. YOU. CAN. DO. THIS.”
Being a member of Kansas City’s Listen to Your Mother cast was an incredible honor and handed me so many gifts – including entry to an amazing team of women I never would have otherwise met.
Actually, despite the similarity I sensed between the show and a basketball game, “team” isn’t really the right word to describe this group of women. “Colleagues” or “cast-mates” wouldn’t be right, either. “Family” is more like it.
Listen to Your Mother is a a series of staged live readings about motherhood that took place in 32 cities this year. This was the second year for a Kansas City show. And while I submitted a piece on a whim – and at the last minute, as per usual – Listen to Your Mother (LTYM from here on out, if you don’t mind) is quite the production. As the FAQs explain, each show is auditioned, directed, produced, and rehearsed with professional production values, creating a well-crafted and memorable theatrical experience.
Still, I went into the whole thing with a no-big-deal attitude. I showed up to the first meeting late, and I took thank you notes to work on to our first reading. YOU GUYS. (Forgive me, LTYM friends?)
The short story about that first reading is that I didn’t write any thank you notes. But not because I suddenly remembered my manners (ironic given my choice of do-while-I’m-bored task, eh?). Let me tell you a bit of the longer version.
A few weeks after submitting my piece, auditioning and being told I had a place on the LTYM cast, I drove to the [gorgeous, in case you’re wondering] home of one of the producers. I knew of Erin from somewhere – Blissdom? the Kansas City bloggers group on Facebook? the general blogosphere? I don’t know, but I do know that I’d heard about LTYM first from her, on Facebook. So, in the way of the internet and psuedo-familiarity, I felt like I knew her.
The other ladies – despite our get-to-know-you meeting a couple weeks earlier – were strangers to me.
While we waited for everyone to arrive, we milled around Erin’s basement, making small talk and giving the snacks (and beverages…and maybe each other?) the side eye. As I visited with some of the ladies, I thought two things.
First – I thought I was getting a handle on who my fellow cast-mates were. This woman is this type; that woman is that type. I’d probably be great friends with her; I obviously don’t have anything in common with her. And her? She totally intimidates me so I’ll just stay on this side of the room.
Second – I couldn’t figure out why everyone was so nervous to read their pieces.
Seriously, these women were so nervous! When we drew numbers for the order we’d read in, those with the lowest numbers were visibly shaken. When they realized we were expected to stand at the podium and read (instead of staying seated around our big table), others made it clear they weren’t excited about that.
Have they never given a presentation? Or been in a play? What is the big deal?
Then the reading began. And, all of a sudden, I understood. And I realized that all the things I thought I knew about these women from a few minutes of chit chat? It was all wrong. I was all wrong.
One by one, they walked up to that podium in our new friend’s basement – and they opened up their hearts and poured out their very souls. They had bled onto paper and now they were bleeding on that podium. Souls bared, hearts opened – and bonds immediately formed.
Also? Attitude (MINE.) changed.
The piece I submitted and eventually read aloud in our show was heartfelt but not heart-deep. I shared a small piece of my story, but these other women? They shared Their Stories.
Not to say that what they wrote and spoke about is the only part of their stories. But they shared big things, deep things, important things. They shared STORY.
And you know what happens when you share Story? When you open up your heart and stand soul-naked in front of a group of virtual strangers? You become a family.
The 13 other women who shared the LTYM stage with me last weekend told about loss, about love, about the ugly parts of motherhood and the beauty. They told their stories in ways that challenged me. They challenged me about making snap judgments, about thinking I knew “what kind of woman” someone was based on a comment or outfit or small-talk conversation. They challenged me on topics I’d never considered and some I had.
And most importantly for me, for now – they challenged me to tell my story.
Story. Gah. Why can I not escape this whole idea of STORY? It’s everywhere this year – and, honestly? I’m a little tired of it! I don’t want to tell My Story. I want to tell stories, yes. And then I want to be frustrated by the lack of connection with the people I refuse to trust with My Story.
I’m logical like that.
Am I saying that I have some deep, dark secret I’ve been holding out on you? Um, no. But do I have parts of me – big ones, deep ones, important ones – that I haven’t dared share? YES. And am I terrified to be completely real, despite my claim to be an authentic writer, one who writes about real life, someone who “keeps it real”?
Yep. Hypocrite and scaredy cat, party of one.
I don’t know what this all means – for me, for my writing, for this blog, for my new group of friends, those women I never would have met if I hadn’t decided to try out for Listen to Your Mother. I just know I can’t stop thinking about it. About story. Story. And those brave women who told theirs.
(Well, that and Ricky Martin and Tom Selleck and strange bus rides and Yoda and, ahem, pedicures gone awry. I think about these things, too, LTYM friends.)
Why yes, Mary, I do find it hard to tell my real story and sadly, especially in a church setting. I did it quite a lot when I was in a twelve step group and other subsequent support groups, but I don’t find it that easy in a woman’s church group. I have had more than one run in from such groups and I found it better to keep myself protected and hidden from that again…. I also had a bad experience with a therapist once too. That time I learned to trust my gut about when and where it was safe to share my deepest pain. It is intimacy at it’s best and needs to be protected as such.
I am very glad you found a safe place with wonderful Godly women to do some of that.
Oh Lina, I hate that you’ve had such bad experiences with women! I agree that we should protect our hearts and be careful who we let in to the deepest parts of ourselves. But I pray you find a community – even if it’s just community with one other – where you are safe and loved and can truly share.