'The problem,' Jonathan said to me as he dropped me off back at the house, 'is that you had them hanging on your every word and then you scuttled off. It was like you were disowning what you'd said.' And the thing is, people, he's right. About the latter part anyway. I would never be so ungallant as to presume that people had been hanging on my every word. Yes, there may have been silence, people may have been listening but, y'know, someone might have climbed up on stage behind me and started creating a balloon animal kama sutra. Correlation does not equal causation.
Jonathan was talking about my performance at the Shatila Social gig at the Cumberland Arms last night. I had pledged to write a poem especially for the event and to include anything people mentioned in the poem as long as they sponsored me to do so. In the end, only the redoubtable Kevin Cadwallender took me up on this offer, promising to contribute 'five shiny pounds' if I mentioned Torchwood in my poem.
Well, Kevin, you owe Peter Mortimer five pounds:
Paging through the fanfic,
pansexual Mary-Sueing, superfluous
slash: Gwen/Tosh, Rhys/Ianto:
gimlet-eyed women with too many cats,
and boxes full of knitting magazines
conjuring a warmth within
that hairy-knuckled male hands
will not bring: imagining
Jack’s lips, in plasma-screen
Hi-Definition, skin glowing
in the spaceship light,
pressed against the Doctor’s,
faces meshing, black glasses askew...
Huh. Losers. Perverts. Weirdoes.
Am I different? Am I worse?
I’ve lived an imagined life of decadence
in private, casting it with
friends and workmates, colleagues, exes,
people on the street. I’ve pictured
your fist in a black leather glove,
wrapped up in, ripping at, my hair;
I’ve flinched, half-smiling, at the thought
of your teeth snapping shut
on the soft parts of my skin:
what difference is there here but dramatis
personae, the decision not to dream
of sex by proxy? More honest, maybe,
but I pass you in the corridor. We talk
and I feel awkward. The fanficcers –
they have that?
Maybe at conventions.
Obviously it's not really about Torchwood, of course. It's about adult situations, or at least the imagining thereof. In this it actually formed part of a weird triptych of poems about sex in the final part of the evening. Kate Fox started it by talking about unmentionable parts of the anatomy, her partner Alfie Craigs did a long and very satisfying extended metaphor comparing poetry-writing to having sex for the first time, and I wound up forming the unappetising filling in this weird improptu sex-poetry sandwich. Obviously it's an uncomfortable situation for an uncommonly pious child of the Almighty such as myself to be in, talking about, y'know, the filthiness and that, but that wasn't why I scarpered off the stage as soon as I was finished. I was in fact afraid.
I was afraid that people might applaud.
All performing artists fear applause on some level or other. We fear it being withheld, but we also fear it being given too liberally. There's nothing like a massive round of applause to politely tell someone - especially some shitty poet - that they've had their moment in the spotlight, and would you kindly get off stage. But for me, there's another thing I fear about applause. I'm afraid, you see, that if people are applauding, then -
maybe that means they like me.
I've never really got used to being liked. Being loved. Being wanted. If you want to completely throw me, if you want me to feel scared and shitty and to question my self-worth, don't get in my face and insult me, because I'll just insult you back. Instead, offer me a compliment.
Compliments fuck me up. The thought that someone out there, some other human being not related to me by blood, wedlock or longstanding friendship, might consider something I do to have been of worth, might actually feel something about my continued existence other than a strong inclination to want it over with as soon as possible, frightens the shit out of me. Don't know why. Maybe I won't ever know. But it does. And for me, that moment when you've stopped performing, when there's a chance that people might have liked you and, worse, might be about to let you know, is absolutely bloody terrifying.
All of which is no excuse, of course. Leaving before the audience have had a chance to say a proper goodbye, whether with bouquets or bricks, is just bloody rude, and I apologise wholeheartedly to anyone offended by my scuttling behaviour. Rest assured, it will not happen next time.