Tuesday, April 23, 2013

come alive time

I spent this past weekend in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France with the Franco-Americans in Paris Meetup group.  About 25 of us had come to this part of the country for a visit that included champagne tasting at wineries, cycling through vineyards, dining at a local upscale restaurant, and all-night partying.

After stopping by two wineries on our way from Paris, our shuttle arrived in Reims, where we spent most of our time on Saturday.  We checked into our hotel and quickly reassembled to go participate in a guided tour of the city's celebrated Notre-Dame cathedral.  We then had some free time before the evening’s festivities to take in more of the city center, get some rest, or do just about whatever.

I missed the apéritif with the others but met up for dinner later on.  It was wonderful – I discovered pintade (guinea fowl) and instantly fell in love with it.  Afterwards, we moved to Le Cuba, a nearby bar/club to get the party started.

Le Cuba was packed and the music was great.  Popular hip-hop with a couple of pop songs in there – it was just what I liked to dance to.  Yet I got blocked quite quickly after arrival.  Overthinking?  Perhaps.  Instead of soaking in the groovy atmosphere and expressing myself freely within it, which is what I would have liked to do, I turned in a half-hearted effort, as I felt a little uncomfortable within our group, most of whose members I had only met in the morning, and certainly amongst the crowd at large.  I managed a simple bounce to the music, kept a stone face, remained speechless, looked around constantly at others in the bar, and admired the few who could get down – and even up, on the tables.  It was my default, if not classic, dance club persona.  Few have been the times that I could actually open up in such an environment.  Otherwise, I am uncomfortable most of time.  Perhaps not so much in the absolute sense, but knowing what the possibilities for fun are in this kind of places, I experience a decent amount of discomfort.  The funny thing is that I had imagined Operation Body Rock to help me to transform this chronic discomfort into something similar to comfort, but much closer to excitement.  Several months after its conception, however, the operation has yet to get off the ground.  And Saturday night would not be the time for that, and Le Cuba would not be the place.

I started debating whether to cut the night short (already) and return to the hotel.  Some people eventually followed through with that course of action.  Somehow though, I hoped that I would feel better once we settled in at our next party stop, a karaoke joint.  In the meantime, things simply went downhill from there at Le Cuba, and I began worrying about the vibes that I was giving out to the other Meetup members around me.  It was awful – like a here-we-go-again feeling – but I managed to keep the destruction inside.  At least, I could give myself points for composure.

I got a breather when we moved over to Le Curtayn Club, just around the corner.  The place had two floors.  The ground floor had the setting of a bar with a stage for karaoke that was surrounded by tables and couches for the necessary audience.  The floor below was reserved for dancing.  We took our place at one end of the main floor past the stage, and most of the girls in our group – about eight of them – quickly got their hands on the song catalog and began figuring out what songs they wanted to perform and how they were going to perform them.

I sat a few feet away from this commotion with other Meetup members.  We were the low-key bunch.  All the while, I felt more relaxed.  But I was also rather disgusted with the attitude that I had at Le Cuba.  I knew that I could do better, be better.  Mostly though, I was also thinking of whether to take the stage.  I just could not make up my mind.  I was not sure if I wanted to expose myself in an unfamiliar place in front of unfamiliar people.  At the same time, I had always found the concept of karaoke singing cathartic, and I wanted to redeem myself, show my stuff.  But I kept holding back, not yet ready to make a decision.  The girls, on the other hand, took to the stage twice, once to cover "Barbie Girl" and the other time "Human Nature" (the Madonna version), screaming, dancing, and doing almost anything to cause a scene.  It was hilarious, and I thought that it contrasted very well with the slow-paced and rather uninspiring performances of French numbers that other people gave.

I finally made up my mind – I had to, time was running out.  I seized the catalog and browsed through it.  Within time, I narrowed my choices down to two of my favorite songs: Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and Eminem's "Lose Yourself".  I eventually settled on the latter, even though I wondered if I was capable of getting all the lines in, since once the rap started, Eminem went on till the end of the track without stopping.  That's four minutes of continuous rapping!  Including the chorus!  But I took the task as a challenge and figured that it would provide some "fresh air" if not shock value to the audience (I doubted that some of them had imagined seeing and hearing a black guy rap a song in English that night).  It also helped that I knew most of the lyrics.  Definitely some of most skillfully crafted that I had ever heard.

My determination was tested though after I signed up for karaoke.  The eight girls who created the show earlier all disappeared.  Some went downstairs to dance, others headed for the hotel.  There were only about four of us left, and, yes, we were all in the low-key bunch.  No one was going to sing anything.  And the club was filling up.  I was thinking, "How many random people would I need looking at me?"  And the DJ kept skipping my turn.  After thirty unusual minutes of waiting to take the stage, I went up to ask what was up, only for him to tell me I was seven songs behind.  Ridiculous.  I bothered him until he conceded, and he told me that I was going after the next singer.  Except that after the next singer, he called another person.  So I went to pay him another visit, this time with Philippe, the Meetup trip organizer.  And the DJ told us that I was four songs away!  Can someone say delirious?  Philippe basically told him off without leaving the stage, until he gave us the next spot.  Convinced more than ever that I was up next, I went back to get mentally ready for the challenge.  I went to the restroom one more time – I had been already there on three occasions on every other previous song, in part to calm my ever tingling nerves, in part to respond to the call of nature.

Back in the crowded room, I heard my name called from the stage.  Showtime!  So I went up, checked the mics, made sure I was grabbing the right one, and turned around to face the audience.  Yikes!  There were a lot of people in sight, but not everyone had their eyes on me.  I waited desperately for the beat the drop, and combated stage fright by looking over to the left back of the room where the Meetup crew was seated.  My nerves still had me, but surprisingly not as much as before.

More than anything, I was concentrating.  Once the lyrics came onscreen, I was off.  I kept up the flow, even though it was already work 30 seconds in.  Compared to the voice that Eminem used on the track, my voice was rather weak.  The beat was so infectious – how could I have forgotten? – that I naturally got my hands into it, swaying them in random directions, with all of the flair of a rapper performing on stage.  Fittingly, I eventually lost myself in the music, the moment.  I had only a little space from time to time to notice how the crowd was responding.  A good number of people were watching.  Judging by the looks, surprise seemed to be main reaction.  I found it all amusing really, but I was too lost in the music, the moment, to be seriously bothered.  Towards the end, I was skipping lines because I was struggling to catch my breath while trying to keep up with Eminem's solid delivery at the same time.  I thought that cutting off each line before it ended in order to get to the next one in time was enough, but no!  I practically panted line after line, and a few people in the audience in front of the stage showed their support.  It was touching.  I even had a random girl standing close to the stage imitating my dance moves and rhyming with the last chorus with me.  Where was my hype woman when I had needed one?

I got some cheers once it was done, but I was too enthralled to take them in fully.  The DJ congratulated me once I handed him the mic.  I felt relieved.  I felt high.  The attitude from the earlier part of the evening was a thing of the past.  I was (more) alive.  I joined the Meetup crew who had sacrificed their time to watch me perform, and we immediately went downstairs to get our groove on.  Over there, the music was appropriate, and I got down to it without much of the hesitation of before.

It was only later that I realized that the theme of "Lose Yourself", especially the song's introduction, coincided with my experience of the night post-dinner.  That is, taking advantage of a unique, desirable opportunity and losing yourself in it.  Which is contrary to my typical dance club experience.  Usually when I am in a dance club, and especially on the dance floor, I spend my time trying to figure out what I should be doing and not be doing, how I should be behaving and not be behaving, instead of just doing what I know makes me come alive.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

– Howard Thurman

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