Open your eyes and eat the garlic shrimp
A few years ago I went to Honolulu to take a vacation and participate in an international poetry competition. There were people performing from all over the United states and a few countries. Each participant would give a poetry performance and judges would score them. I don't know what criteria they were using. Those who received a certain amount of points went on to the next round. The winner of the second round would receive a cash prize. A very dear friend of mine was there to keep me company although she was never really a fan of my style of art or the way I performed it. I kept my eyes closed most of the time so that I could focus on the energy, words, and sound. She told me that by closing my eyes I was putting a barrier between myself and the audience and she strongly suggested that I not do it. I knew she was right, but she had no idea that I was actually cutting myself off from them on purpose so I could manage my stage fright. If I had followed her advice and open my eyes to see the audience, I don't think I would have been able to gather the power I needed to complete my mission.
As I would find out years later in Tokyo when I walked right off the edge of a stage during a show, performing with my eyes closed was also very dangerous. That show was with a tap dancer named Kazunori Kumagai. They built a wooden platform on top of the stage. I thought there was space at the end of the platform to step onto. I had no idea that the platform had actually been built all the way to the edge. I walked forward and into thin air and the gasp of the audience. I could hear the thud of the microphone hitting the floor. Oddly enough, everything was in tempo and I was able to pick up exactly where I was supposed to. It was the muscle reflex of the performer kicking in. After the show, I notice that my legs were scraped and bleeding from the fall. In another example of the dangers of performing with my eyes closed. During one of the mega performances I did with Dreams Come True, I accidentally stepped on the band leaders pedalboard and completely put his settings out of whack. My eyes were closed then too and hidden behind sunglasses. He always told me that I should remove the sunglasses and open up my eyes so people could see them but I never did. I knew that if I had done so, I would have frozen up and ruin the show.
In Hawaii, my nerves were not purely due to stage fright. I was beginning to show signs of an illness that I would not get diagnosed for another two years. I won't tell you about it now because I have a whole story dedicated to that episode of my life. I will tell you that the symptoms were shortness of breath, extreme fits of anxiety, and shaking hands. To stay focused I needed to keep my eyes closed. It reminds me of a line from TS Eliot's four quartets, “Go, go, go said the bird: humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
Despite having cut off the audience, I made it through both rounds and received the grand prize for the competition. It seemed the audience loved my performance. The next day my friend and I went out to explore the North Shore of the island. We saw a shrimp truck and decided to stop there for lunch. In case you've never been to Hawaii, a shrimp truck is a food truck that sells different varieties of fried shrimp. The guy manning the truck was so excited to see me. He had been to the performance the night before. “Oh my God! I can't believe it's you! You are so amazing.” he said. Then he piled a mountain of garlic shrimp onto a plate and told me it was on the House. Of course, I was very flattered and graciously took his offer. The problem was he was grinning from ear to ear as he watched the whole time while I ate this Mauna Kea sized pile of buttery garlic shrimp. About 1/3 of the way through the pile, I started to feel sick because it was just too much oil. I did my best to keep my smile on and once in a while say through a full mouth of shrimp, “This is so good.” I kind of remember making an excuse like , “I'm so stuffed I'll just save these for dinner.” Then my friend and I gave one final wave and a shot of thank you before we went off to find Matsumoto's shaved ice. Obviously I wasn't full and I was extremely happy that this man thought so much of my performance that he would treat me to lunch. I just didn't want any more garlic shrimp.