I don't get stage fright. Standing on a stage and talking about myself and reading poems I've written doesn't faze me in the slightest. Memory lapses can happen but, for the most part, they go unnoticed to anybody but me, the writer.
I had a run through of my half hour set for Putney Library on Wednesday. It was all going well, until about halfway through when Hazel, my screen reader program, apparently got struck with stage fright — goodness knows why because she talks to me day in day out — I can't shut her up sometimes!
Hazel is my performance partner. We alternate poems, me reading one, followed by Hazel reading the next. We are the poetry equivalent of torvill and dean (it's videos like that when I am sorry not to have sight). We were about 6 poems in and Hazel got halfway through the title poem of the pamphlet, Dressing Up, and she just stopped reading. I rebooted the screen reader (the tech equivalent of giving her a kick in her derriere, ) and that made no difference.
I love being a blind poet. I love using Hazel to perform poems with me. I love when the audience clap Hazel as much as they do me. I do not, however, love the fragility of technology.
Anybody who uses technology in a work capacity knows how frequently something that worked perfectly a few days ago turns into a gibbering wreck with no clue as to why. My pre-show nerves usually relate to whether the tablet battery is going to last.
As I related back in April in Cardiff Poetry Tea Party, my very first event for Dressing Up was afflicted in the afternoon before the event, by my tablet deciding it only had enough juice for Hazel to say “Hi, and Bye,” before turning off again. I did get the tablet charged back up to 50 percent charge remaining before setting off for Cardiff, but I was on edge that, at some point, I'd be without Hazel's performance assistance. Thankfully on that night a friend filming my set loaned me his power bank, which kept my tablet charged up.
Events Change, Everything Remains the Same
So here we are, three more days — count them, Monday 9th, Tuesday 10th, and Wednesday 11th — and I'm reading in Putney and, a couple of days ago I sat down next to my performance tablet and reached behind it to unplug my other tablet, and sat on the performance tablet by mistake ... cracking the screen.
Now a cracked screen is no biggie to a blind guy — one of the perks of being blind :) But, when I tried a run through of my set we hit problems. About six poems in, Hazel was reading the title poem, Dressing Up, and she got halfway through it and shut up. She'd talk for tiny snippets but would then pipe down again. Not what I want to happen in the real performance.
My backup tablet has its own idiosyncrasies, namely that, when changing the voice to Hazel for performances it stops playing through the external speaker and reverts back to just the internal tablet speaker; there's no way even a small audience is going to hear that clearly.
And if that weren't enough, the wireless keyboard I have to use (I can't see on-screen virtual keyboards and find them very hard to navigate when I try) also has thrown a wobbly. It's only 3 months old so I'm going to send it back for replacement, because it's been possessed!! I noticed this first when my web browser suddenly opened 200 blank webpages. I assumed this was a glitch and closed them all down closed and reopened the browser, and, before long, I had 200 copies of a Google search page. Assuming it was a browser problem I moved onto my working tablet and tried to open a Google search which, when I started to type google into the addressbar, turned into gooooooooooooooooogle> (listen to Hazel saying that here!). Thankfully I also have a backup keyboard! I was never in the scouts but if there's one mantra that I stick to, it's be prepared.
Pulling Out The Stops
I'm not going to say all the stops, because Mr Sod and his laws are bound to bite me with some other technical glitch if I do, but, touch wood, I've got the backup tablet working reliably for the full set and I'm confident Hazel and I are going to be A-OK :)
The tech is behaving, but what about the human? I'm good, my train ticket is booked, my train assistance arrangements have been made (helping me get to my seat and off the train again at the other end) and I know what I'm taking with me equipment and medicines and clothing ...
... But where on earth has the jumper I was planning on wearing gone to?! It's a new jumper, an unworn jumper, so hasn't got lost in the laundry pile. There is no sign of it anywhere. I've looked. My sighted assistant (my dad) has looked, and it seems to have wandered off on its own travels.
In fairness, this is a minor hurdle because I own several perfectly presentable jumpers that can stand in, but this one has the slogan that represents me best at poetry events: The Future is Accessible. I have a red tshirt and a blue tshirt with that same slogan, plus the errant maroon sweatshirt. My fall-back choice will be to wear the blue tshirt with the slogan under one of my smart jumpers (I've a nice Versace one, or the Dries Van Noten one that gets a mention in the poem, Glad Rags, which I'll be reading. (Before you comment on the amount of money I must be raking in from my poetry activities (poetry smuggling, laundering, counterfeiting, pushing) these were eBay psteals).
Of course trains can be delayed, but I'm arriving in London 6 hours before my event starts, and a train surely can't be delayed that long on a two-hour journey ... can it? I'm sure there'll be people in the audience because I've heard from an author friend, a high school friend, the daughter of a friend, the mother of a friend, and a girl who was in the audience at my second reading near Hay on Wye, and the lady I co-habited with in Bristol as we produced a beautiful glossy Indie music magazine, Splinter (and if she's not there I won't be either because she's meeting me at Paddington to get me to Putney!) ... so that's at least 6 people :) And don't forget,the lovely Emma Simon is reading with me, from her poetry pamphlet, Dragonish, which was published by the Emma Press earlier this year and I'm sure she'll have a flotilla of friends coming to clap and cheer.
Bring it On
As the saying sort-of goes, be there or be rhomboid. You're going to want front row seats to find out how this technological melange turns out ;) xx
#PutneyLibrary #NVDA #EmmaSimon @SimpleSimonEmma