The Unravelling: Creativity and Vulnerability
We’ve all heard the well-meaning but rather empty saying of “just picture everyone in their underwear” when it comes to overcoming stage-fright. But reversing this feeling of exposure onto the audience never eradicates the feeling of immense vulnerability when sharing your creative work. There is something that feels so tender about what we create, it can often feel like an extension of ourselves – whether this is healthy or unhealthy is a question that I’m still pondering.
Last week, I was invited to share some of my spoken word at a music and poetry gig in a pub. Whilst I’ve performed poetry live in the past, the majority of my performances have been commissioned works for particular events, celebrations or ceremonies. When writing around a prescribed theme, there’s this safe distance between my words and my personal life. Whilst I see great worth in connecting the dots between any piece that I’m commissioned to write and my own experiences or values, these particular pieces are closer to capturing collective emotions as opposed to my personal, individual process.
In the context of my writing as a whole, and outside of these commissioned works, my poetry is full of personal process. I love the concept that writing is not just about the piece at the end, but the journey of creating is in itself, the crescendo of creativity. It’s about more than the finished product. So far, only a few of these personal pieces have been translated from page to stage. A fair amount has been shared on a page, but there is always another layer of vulnerability when delivering these pieces live on a stage. Onstage, I can’t separate myself from my words with the intermediary of paper or a laptop screen.
For this gig last week, I had to fill the longest time slot I’ve ever been given for spoken word – exciting and terrifying all at once. There was no specific commission for the content so I could not hide under the shade of an overarching umbrella of a particular theme or occasion. Looking through my journal of poems, I knew that what I needed to share would include the pieces that still feel incredibly raw. Pieces which would require an unravelling. An unravelling of all these different threads I have so delicately woven together in my history of performance poetry: a little humour here, a little heartbreak there, a little wordplay and metaphor intertwined everywhere.
After the unravelling, what is left is me.
Am I enough? Is my joy, my pain, my perspective enough? Is there enough weight and substance to my story if it’s not tied into a wider narrative of the world?
And that’s when the fear came.
The fear of being stripped bare. The fear of being inadequate. The fear of being misunderstood.
I love Spoken Word. I love going to Open Mics and listening and sharing – it’s normally something which I deeply enjoy. So I was a little alarmed when I was so plagued by doubt, insecurity and regretting my agreement to perform. The openness of the pub where I would be performing was so different to the cosy, intimate poetry lounges which I’m accustomed to. In those creative spaces, I feel like there’s a mutual respect which is a given. In this new space, however, there is a dedicated audience in the front but it is full of people coming and going in the background – most of whom may have zero interest in hearing poetry, they just want a drink after work. I realised that this was the core of my discomfort.
Do I only deem my story worth telling if others deem it worth listening to? And am I only willing to take the risk of vulnerability if I think it will be met by affirmation?
In the midst of that unravelling, I learnt and I am continuing to learn that connection is on the other side of what feels like this teetering, shaky bridge of vulnerability. Speaking to those in the audience when I get off stage, for me, is where the magic happens: hearing about the impact of my words humbles me, time and time again.
I am so grateful for the way in which the words and creativity of others has shaped and moulded me. And as I am unravelled in the process of writing and performing, others find parts of their stories and journeys in the threads I have had the courage to loosen. Creativity is this beautiful exchange: I find parts of myself in the threads of others, others find parts of themselves in my threads. We have the power to weave together the fullness of our stories through the language we have each created and contributed. There is beauty in the final tapestry – but even more so, the wonder is in each thread that makes up the whole.