I once went on a date where I was asked to read some poetry aloud. It was one of the most awkward things I’ve ever had to do.
I love poetry and don’t mind sharing my own writing, even to someone I’ve only just met – in fact, I’ve posted a few pieces on this very blog. But reading out another person’s poetry was intimate in all the wrong ways.
So this guy essentially asked me to perform a monologue to him. I don’t remember who the poet was or what the poem was about. I only remember that Juan pulled out a little A6-sized book and the cover illustration was some sort of perhaps Impressionist painting.
We were sitting in an Irish pub so I must have skulled a good measure of my caña before I cleared my throat to give the reading my best shot.
By that stage, I was theoretically proficient in Spanish – but the language wasn’t yet as much a part of my heart and faith the way it is today.
There was nothing wrong with the poem. I simply wasn’t able to inject the passion, drama and spirit that both the language and genre cried out for.
I just didn’t feel it, y’know?
It was like being forced to ignite intimacy in a vacuum. A strange, male vacuum waiting to judge you.
Another example: I’m hopeless when it comes to salsa dancing. I’ve received a lot of advice over the years from many unfortunate dance partners. Most of it boils down to “You just have to feel the music”. I couldn’t. I can’t.
Aesthetically, I enjoy the music of salsa – it’s brilliant (check out the video below). Physically, I’m not uncomfortable with the intimacy of the dance. But I can’t connect my spirit to the music or the movements.
Again, it’s trying to ignite physical intimacy within a genre of music that, for me, is not an emotionally intimate space.
I used to have a similar issue with playing in the worship band at church. Even when we chose songs that I did connect with spiritually and emotionally, I somehow couldn’t bring that intimacy to the stage in corporate worship.
And then, one day, I could.
I attribute it to a large amount of technical and spiritual preparation on that particular occasion, plus a strengthening of my bond with the other members of the band and an overall accumulation of corporate worship experience that helped me feel more comfortable on stage.
That day, things clicked profoundly for me. That day, it was no longer my intimacy with God in an intimacy-free space – it was intimacy ignited in a place of relationship.
Unsurprisingly, getting to this stage takes a lot more time and effort. We were made for intimacy, we crave it – but often we seek it without investing in a context for it.
Maybe it’s due to my personality, but in my experience this sets me up for disappointment.
For me, a stretch of melancholy often follows a moment of intimacy. It’s a melancholy that inspires me, but it can be painful and winterlike all the same.
In hindsight, reading poetry isn’t such a bad strategy for getting to know someone. It reveals a side of a person that you might not see even in the course of a deep and meaningful conversation.
It’s actually a way to get emotionally naked without divulging any explicit personal information.
It’s a case of intimacy through words, where the intimacy is not derived from the words themselves.
It’s a performance that, ironically, unmasks you.
At least at the time, I found it a bit full-on for a first date. I guess each of us is comfortable with different types and levels of intimacy. I for one would have preferred to divulge explicit personal information about myself.
But I never got the chance – I never did hear from Juan again.
PS: Above is one of my favourite salsa songs, ‘Pillo buena gente’ by Andy Montañez. So funky.