There were so many side conversations at the ADF Imbolc Retreat. The rituals are nice, the presentations are gems in their own right, but its the side conversations that really stick with me throughout the experience. Not only do you get a chance to catch up with people you have not seen in nearly forever, there are deep, conversations that take place spontaneously that are sheer magick.
One of those conversations took place at the top of the hill, overlooking the camp. And it was more than just a conversation, it was a moment where I got to see myself through someone else’s eyes. And I not only understood what was being said, it was echoed later in a handful of other conversations.
Being blunt and honest here, I do not have the most positive self-image. It tends to show in the way that I present myself. And it bleeds through in so many other ways. My self-defense mechanism is self-deprecating humor. Its my way of deflecting what I perceive as the way others might view me, by finding ways to subtly (and sometimes not) insult myself. As was told to me at that moment on the hill, its not pretty to watch. Its also cute the first few times; after that it becomes a huge turn-off in leading towards serious conversations.
There are a few people who have seen beyond that sheer covering and gotten to understand me a little better. But again, that self-defense mechanism tends to drive others off to the side. And it doesn’t just hurt my relationships. It has destroyed parts of me slowly from the inside. My self-deprecating humor has led me to developing an even thicker coating of an introvert. Once people get to know me a little better, they realize that the aspect of introversion is another of those defense mechanisms that I employ.
During the retreat, I sat around the fire and marveled at how everyone was so comfortable getting up in front of everyone and singing, telling stories, and reciting poetry. The next morning (Saturday) I was approached by one particular individual who asked why I didn’t get out front and tell stories. I replied that I was not that kind of person. The response back was to notice that another person got out there and told stories by the fire too. If that person could do it, so could I.
That one moment planted an acorn, and the tree has already started to grow from it. I watched everyone around the fire during the Bardic competition. There were folks who sang serious songs, some who brought their own marvelous compositions to the fire, those who utilized bawdy humor for their contribution….and each tightened their belts and stepped up to the moment. And then there was the one recitation of poetry, where I watched someone that I know utilize the poem, the moment, and the environment to transform themselves into the poem itself. A truly magickal moment that I will never forget. Sitting there to the side, I kept thinking back to the earlier conversation…and realizing that I could do that too.
“Except,” said the back of my mind, “You will have to get past your fear of crowds.”
“But I really can do this,” I responded. “I acted in school plays before. Not only did I memorize all the lines of the play, but I even created an English accent for my character – who happened to be a Tory sympathizer. I have done this before.”
“Forty years in the past,” I dutifully reminded myself.
There it was. My own self-doubt rising up to sow the seeds of the unknown. He and I have dealt with one another for so long, I even know exactly what flavor of coffee he likes, and how much sweetener to add to it. We have danced this dance many times.
“Your hands are too small.”
“No one wants to hear THAT voice.”
“You are not very good at that at all.”
“But! I did enter the Creative Writing contest a few years back. Not only did I win my category, my poem was chosen as the best entry overall in the competition. I didn’t just win a first place award, I won a best-in-show aspect. So there! Folks outside of my own friends and family loved the work enough to declare it to be good.”
“Yes. But your entry the next year placed third overall in your category.”
“That’s because I entered in the adult category rather than the student – and there was only an option for essay or short story. But still, it placed. Besides ti was never really about placing anywhere – it was about submitting it.”
Sometime during the evening after the Bardic competition, while I was watching everyone around the fire continuing the singing and storytelling – I realized that this is something I can do. I do have the ability to be all of this, and more. I merely have to believe in my ability to do it. I won’t be the next David Bowie, or have the relevance and polish of my hero, Robert Frost – but I don’t have to. I just have to be the best that Tommy can be. The idea is not to be the best, but to share the emotional aspects of what I have in my Life. Joy, sadness, anger, despair, elation… all of that can be encapsulated in the poetry that I do write, as well as the stories that can be told.
Getting over my fear of crowds….can be done by confronting my other biggest fear: myself. I need no critics, including myself. I only need to want to be the Bard that is trapped somewhere underneath all those defense mechanisms. And obviously there is something worthwhile down underneath all of that – I wouldn’t have created defense mechanisms to protect it otherwise.
So, I’ll start with the podcast. Retelling shorter stories and reading poetry 0 including my own. It won’t be the primary feature, but it can be a part of the overall show. And it will be baby steps towards overcoming my own fears that are generated by me. As I have said before, 2017 looks to be another year of change and transformation. Some thing are coming to an end within my life. Others are the slumbering acorns that are now awakening. And that little voice in the back of my head? Well, if he shows up…I’ll strangle him in my sleep. I can do this.