A personal story inspired by the post Pretty Ugly, by Marc Ensign.
I was going to be an embarrassment, one way or the other. Either I stood up in front of everybody, or someone announced that I backed out at the last minute.
It was my family reunion’s talent show, cobbled together by a few cousins, that involved maybe five acts. My extended family includes about 80 people, 50 of which were present, so this wasn’t a small show.
I had brought my ukelele, which I had been playing for about two months, because, hey, it was fun to play. I even played it on the 9-hour car ride there. Since we had arrived, two or three days before the show, my whole family thought it was the coolest thing. So when my younger cousins asked me to be in their talent show, I said yes.
They put together the lineup at the beginning of the show, and I was to go third, after my sister. I didn’t have anything prepared.
It was when my sister began to play that I realized my peril. She brought her saxophone to the reunion, and was, at the time, studying for a Bachelors of Fine Arts in saxophone performance at one of the best in the school.
She played two incredibly difficult pieces with amazing virtuosity, soaring through runs, caressing lyrical melodies, and showing musical dexterity that left us all stunned.
And the whole time, I was panicking.
What was I going to do? By all musical understandings I sucked at my instrument, especially compared to what preceded my act. And I had nothing prepared.
I spent the second piece trying to find a way to quietly leave the room and justify the embarrassment of flaking out. Because if I went up there, it would be a catastrophe.
But then the second piece ended, and it was my turn.
And in my complete, desperate acceptance of impending humiliation, four words barged into my head. So forcefully, in fact, that they came out my lips just under my breath.
“Let’s just rock this.”
There was nothing else to do. I still didn’t know how, but whatever I did was going to be 110% of what I had.
So I stepped up to the mic and opened myself up.
I told them that what they were about to hear was nothing like what came before it. I told them about how I had started playing two months ago and was driving my parents nuts by playing the same chords over and over and over again, even on the car ride. I played the chords to “Hey ya” by OutKast because it had a section that you don’t have to sing (shake, shake it).
Between what I was saying, my family was laughing. A lot. Not at me, but because they could tell that everything I was saying was true, was authentic. When I said it, they knew I was driving my parents crazy, that I was dismayed I couldn’t actually sing (which is practically required of uke players), that I wasn’t trying to impress anyone.
What was sure to be an embarrassment turned into a uke and comedy act.
Aunts were asking if I did comedy regularly, and people said my dad was crying and could hardly breath he was laughing so hard.
And no one knew that before I stepped in front of the mic, I was terrified.