Stage Fright – for Writers?

I never suffered from stage fright – not the debilitating, get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-you’ll-have-to-shove-me-out-there kind. Sure, I was excited and nervous before I went onstage, but once I was out there in front of an audience, I was fine.

I was home.

It was fun.

It was real.

I’ve been writing for as long as I had been dancing (from pink tutus to pink toe shoes, days long over) and have been singing (may my singing days end only with my last breath), but yesterday, for the first time, I experienced a kind of “writer’s fright.”

Because yesterday, I gave thumb drives containing the draft of my book to my brothers. I’m not seeking comments from them. I just thought family mentioned peripherally in the book should be among the first to read it.

I’m not sure they will, but at least I can say I gave them the chance. No surprises.

I offered the same opportunity to the Bulgarian. He demurred. But I tried. Then I promised him I would never contact him again.

Sunday, I’ll be giving the book-on-a-memory-stick my two best-friend-former-work-colleagues, and I am seeking their comments.

Which I know will be brutally honest.

Ranging, I imagine, from “are you out of your mind? Destroy all copies of this, now!” to “well, a really great editor might be able to make it tolerable.”

(Of course, I’m secretly hoping for, “this is a work of genius! It’s poignant, funny, gripping, heartrending – I couldn’t put it down! It made me laugh and cry – simultaneously!” or, “this must be published – I’m contacting every literary agent I know and telling them they have to read this immediately!” I can dream, can’t I?)

These friends have never hesitated to be straight with me, and even when we disagreed vehemently, we’d get over it.

So why the “writer’s fright?”

I’m not worried about criticism of the writing itself. I’m happy for constructive criticism that helps me fix that.

I am worried that the book will change the way my brothers and my friends see me. They will read things they didn’t know about before, that might shock them or make them cringe, or see me as weak (even though they already know that I’m ridiculous).

As I watched my book churn its way out of my aging printer (to have a hard copy, in case every other form of backup fails), and clipped into into a (quaint, retro?) three-ring binder,  I felt a kind of resignation.

My truest self is in that book. I don’t know why it is easier for me to reveal myself in a blog, and now a book, intended for large audiences of strangers, than it is for me to share my deepest self with the very limited audience of family and friends.

Is it a tabula rasa thing? Strangers haven’t known me before, so they’ll judge me only on what I put before them? Whereas family and friends know more?

I don’t think so. I think that writers have essentially the same deal with their audiences as actors and improvisers do.
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In the theater, we “suspend disbelief.” We “look through the fourth wall.” We make a deal: “for the duration of this show, we agree that the emotions, thoughts and reactions  elicited in us are not real, and as soon as the lights come back up, we may pretend they never existed.”

Whereas every actor and improviser worthy of being in front of a live audience knows damn well that what happens on stage is much more true and real than what we, outside the theater, agree is reality.

Because real reality is just too much for most of us, most of the time.

So we bury it in stories. Including true ones.

Humanities 101 teaches that artists (actors, dancers, musicians, composers, writers, poets, visual artists etc.) unearth reality for us – often embedded in metaphor, or draped in mystery, or flowing in a melodic line that will get you every time – but that one way or another unmasks something that we ordinarily need to keep veiled. They give us a “safe” way to experience the fullness of our humanity for the duration of the show, or the length of the book. Then we are allowed to go on about our everyday stuff, feeling somehow edified, unburdened or relieved.

(If unmasking reality that most humans would prefer to keep hidden most of the time is your job, is it any wonder so many artists are kind of nuts?)

But hey, all I’ve done is write a memoir (like everyone else in every coffee shop on the planet has done, or is doing right now.) I’m not claiming any great artistic mantle for myself. I just have a true story to tell that I hope has some universality to it, that will help anyone who reads it feel a bit of “real” reality, the reality we don’t talk about, but that we allow ourselves to safely visit in the pages of the books we love.

Wishing you the comfort and catharsis of a good story, a great show, or some beautiful music, I remain,

Your humble, devoted, nervous, wary, and waiting for reactions,

Ridiculouswoman

 

Living Out Loud, or, Middle-Aged Woman Rules, Part Four

Middle age comes with a soundtrack.

As in “oomph!” every time you sit down, or stand up.

As in “umph” for each step up the stairs.

Or “ow” when the knee, or the arthritic finger, or the kink in the neck flares up.

Sophie cat, up there, makes middle-aged meowing sounds, too, when she plops down on the rug, or heaves herself up on the bed, making it by a claw.  Meee-OOOWW!

There was an episode of Frasier where Martin was niggling Frasier about becoming middle-aged, asking “can you get out of a chair without saying, “oomph?” I’ve searched for a gif of it, but can’t find one. I think it was in an episode called, “Fortysomething.” Ha! Forty! I guess in the ’90s, forty was considered middle aged. But I’m all, “hey, sixty is the new forty! – or thirty five, even! Right? Right???” Cha, I wish.

Lately I’ve added, “aaaaaahhhhhuuuugh” or “ooohwaah” when I bend down (from the waist, to spare the knees – at least I’m still pretty “stretched out” from my younger dancing days) to pick something up.

“Umph” and “oomph” and “aaaaauuuuugh” as accompaniment to my every movement have become almost involuntary.  They help me get through the motions of the day. A little vocal punctuation to help me get up the stairs, out of the chair, follow through on the yard work and the gardening tasks.

But recently I signed up for our local park district fitness center, where sound effects are, um, sort of…not-so-much.

I have begun a six-month fitness plan, intended to get me (us, because my daughter needs to move, too) moving through the winter (winter is coming). While I love a brisk walk through autumn woods, or on a snowy bright winter day, the stark truth is that walking, by itself, will not prevent the creeping return of pounds lost only when I was on my feet all day, lifting and pulling heavy things working in warehouses I don’t work in anymore.

So heigh-ho, heigh-ho, off to the gym we’ll go, where after 10 minutes “warming up” on the treadmill, 10 minutes on the rowing machine (imagining a lovely row down the Cherwell in Oxford, where long ago I’d watch the college rowing teams drill) and a few reps with tiny barbels, I’ll push and pull a cart weighted with 270 pounds, with wheels set to the highest level of resistance, back and forth down half the indoor track as many times as I can (ok, twice down and back) while my daughter semi-reluctantly plays with the heavy ropes.

So far, so good.

Except for the risk that I’ll add sound effects to the proceedings.

Fortunately, many other users of the facility employ earbuds. There are a few ladies of a certain age, like me, walking briskly around the indoor track, or using weight machines set at age-appropriate levels. There are several white-haired gentlemen working to preserve such mobility and physical strength as they may have remaining, and a smattering of younger, mid-career men maniacally testing their endurance on stair machines, treadmills or ellipticals, pursuing conquest, dominance, mastery – or something. We stay out of their way.

All in all, though, this is a pretty laid-back facility.  We seem to have discovered the times of day when it isn’t crowded. Nevertheless, having realized that when in motion I’m in danger of making “oomphing” noises, I have imposed a few gym-inspired middle-aged-woman rules, to wit:

  • Arrive in make-up and lipstick. It doesn’t matter if you’ll sweat it off or shower it off later; what matters is that the other users believe you look like a hag only AFTER a vigorous workout. (Good for you! Way to go for the burn, lady!)
  • Wear BLACK fitness pants, bootcut if you can find them, and a not-too-tight-but-not-too-loose t-shirt in a flattering color, v-necked, because it makes you look a little taller and you’ve been putting that Oil of Olay night cream on your décolleté too, haven’t you, and damn that looks pretty good for a woman of your age, but go for elbow length sleeves, if you can find them, because you’re trying to get rid of your wings, not flap them in public. EEEEEWWW.
  • NEVER shower at the facility. In the name of all that is holy, do that at home.
  • Restrict sounds to millennial-style yoga-breathing – inhale! Exhale as you push! (Wait a minute, that sounds like childbirth….)
  • SMILE, though your legs are aching (you know the tune), Smile, though your abs are shaking, smile, while you push the machine for your tush… Etc.

I’m supposed to get the verdict, or at least some insight, into the source of the ache in my bones from the rheumatologist on Friday. I want to believe I can’t bend the ring finger of my left hand because Mike isn’t letting go, or is peeved that I took off my wedding ring, but from what the doc said on the initial exam, it could be anything from calcium deposits to something systemic and vaguely terrifying involving my liver or pancreas.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, I remain, your grunting, oophing, umphing, trying to keep smiling while sweating,

Ridiculouswoman

Serenity in Solitude, Anxiety Alone

I enjoy my own company. (According to friends, colleagues and former teachers, I also enjoy the sound of my own voice.  A bit too much, apparently. Fair enough, working on that.)

I have long found serenity in solitude. I enjoy a night at home with a good book and some classical music on the radio. I go to the opera by myself and enjoy watching the crowd watching each other at intermission. I write, and sitting alone at my computer, writing, is probably my favorite thing to do.

Before I met Mike, I had made peace with being a single woman. When I was in college, I drove myself to California from Chicago and back once a year. As a young professional, I took myself to Disneyworld (where one of the “cast members” asked me, when I stepped up solo in the Pirates of the Caribbean souvenir photo studio, “couldn’t you get anyone to come with you?”) and I took myself skiing in Breckenridge.  I went to theater and movies and bars. I enrolled in improv classes and ended up performing 4 shows a week. I had fun. I didn’t stop hoping to meet a guy, but I didn’t pin my happiness on it.

Only then, when I’d learned to be happy on my own, did Mike show up.

What happened to that self-assured solitude?

Lately, when I have a moment or two by myself, cracks appear; I feel my composure  peeling away, flaking off, like the veneer on the antique composition face of Baby Margaret, my Mother’s childhood doll.

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Baby Margaret, my Mother’s childhood doll. She’s wearing a bonnet my mother knitted, and a dress that I wore as an infant.

Right when I need to recapture confidence and even serenity in solitude, I find anxiety when I’m alone.

I was cleaning the bathroom and I suddenly started breathing hard, on the brink of sobs, thinking about taking care of my daughter as I try to help her gain more independence, and feeling inadequate. Talking to Mike, aloud, asking for help.

I’m nervous when driving home from choir rehearsal in the dark. It’s only 15 minutes away, but in my car alone I feel weirdly vulnerable, exposed. Fearful, even. As if I’d left a door unlocked somewhere, putting valuable things at risk.

That’s not me, or at least not who I think I am. I think of myself as strong, capable, enduring; sometimes soft and sentimental, maybe, but no ‘fraidy cat, no scaredy-pants.

I come from hardy stock. Women who gave birth on leaky 17th century ships crossing the Atlantic, or without doctors in remote farmhouses in Maine and Massachusetts. I myself gave birth without painkillers. So I’m disappointed when I feel panic rising.

Mike could calm me down when I felt panicky, which was often, back when I was working high-pressure jobs with toxic bosses or impossible goals. I got some major panic mileage out of those times. It drove my colleagues crazy, and tried Mike’s patience to the breaking point at times.

I kept that panic button pictured up there (with the Hallmark characters called Hoops and Yoyo, who kind of crack me up) on my desk, to remind myself of how charming I am when consumed with anxiety.  Here’s what it sounds like when you push it:

Sweet, huh?

What happened to that confident single woman, who travelled alone, went where she pleased, and knew she could take care of herself?

Well, she got married. Became someone who took care of others, as a mother, a wife, a breadwinner, a caregiver – and now a widow.

Isn’t getting older supposed to make you bolder? Isn’t surviving loss supposed to make you wiser? More open and easygoing? Less prone to worry and fear?

It doesn’t seem to be working for me that way just now.

Which brings out the spirits of the hardy New-England ancestresses in my head, especially Grammie E, a retired New England schoolmarm, thirty years a widow herself after caring for her dying husband, in her mid-70’s, wiping her hands on her apron after producing a kitchen full of  homemade donuts at 5 am, telling me to just pick myself up and go outside for a good long walk, deah.

Then come home and scrub something.

Well, I did get the salad veg drawer in the fridge washed out today. So there’s that.

OK, Grammie. I’ll suck it up and do my job to build my daughter as independent a life as she may want.

And then?

Well, if my knees can take it, I’m going skiing.

Maybe I’ll meet a nice guy on the slopes, tee hee.

Daydreaming is what makes solitude serene.

Awaiting the rheumatologist’s report, while trying-to-stop-feeling-sorry-for-myself-and-get-my-creaking-joints-and-fat-ass-to-the-gym (or at least outside for a brisk walk),

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, solitary,

Ridiculouswoman