The Limitations of Black Boot Armor

The Moth GrandSLAM at The Music Hall in Williamsburg, photo by Justin Lee

The Moth GrandSLAM at The Music Hall in Williamsburg, photo by Justin Lee

I thought if I had the perfect outfit, I wouldn't feel so vulnerable up there on stage.

Of course, one part of me is too wise to believe that, but another part of me couldn't help giving it my best shot.

I've been feeling a little angst-y about my clothes lately. Earlier this year I pinpointed some major food intolerances and when I stopped eating them a couple things happened: my skin cleared up for the first time since I was 12, and I dropped a size. Or two. I know that this is a problem that feels like no one has the right to complain about, but it didn't feel good to feel like my body was getting lost in a bunch of extra fabric--it felt like I was disappearing. And I didn't want to disappear on that stage.

So I went out and found some clothes that fit. I had my black boots that make me feel a little badass (not a lot, mind you, just enough). And then it was time to go. I pulled on my first boot and grabbed the zipper, which promptly fell off its track.

I wish I could say that on my way to sound check I am preoccupied with loftier things, but the truth is I was cursing those damn boots and mourning my perfect outfit. I threw on my rain boots, tossed a second pair of shoes in a bag and ran out the door.

On the subway I decided I was also wearing the wrong bra, and it was all I could do to not call Justin while I was going over the bridge and ask him to bring me another. Now you're really being crazy, I thought.

It's not like me to be keyed up about the shows, but this time was different. I was telling a story that happened pretty recently and is still close to the surface. It's also important to me, and I worried that I wouldn't do it justice in the telling. As long as I obsessed over my clothes I could avoid thinking about my story and that final moment when it's just me and a microphone and a whole lotta people listening.

It's easier to walk out into the spotlight with a funny story. I don't have a lot of experience in this department, but it's happened once or twice. I think what is much harder to me is giving the audience a window into my sadness. When I get really quiet alone with myself, or really really true, an ocean of sorrow is there, its tide rocking underneath everything.

Sorrow doesn't rank so highly in the entertainment department, but some stories won't let you go. You have to give up "being bulletproof", as Brené would say, leave behind your black boot armor. The things that are hard to say are just hard to say.

Nothing makes me feel more fortunate than being received by a compassionate audience, or spending a night among friends who let themselves be seen, who create together a night of big belly laughs and damp eyes and the courage to be just as we are, to say even the things that are hard to say.

My friend Micaela Blei won the night with a story that was tender and chilling and fierce, all at once. You can hear an interview with her on Retrospective.