Stage Fright – for Writers?

I never suffered from stage fright – but is there such a thing as “writer’s fright?”

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

 

Divestiture, Episode 4: Life is a Harold

Life circles back, in complex layers, like a Harold…

I first came across the idea of “synchronicity,” that thing where lots of people all over the planet seem to start thinking about the same thing at the same time, when I became interested in Jung, back in college. (I think the Police song came later. I think.)

As an improviser (after college, but still many years ago) I would experience a kind of synchronicity with my fellow players, when everybody seems to share the same insight or have the same thought or impulse at the same moment. It’s called the “group mind.”

The team I was on performed the “Harold,” from the early days of long-form improvisation. “Harold” is a thirty-minute (or so) performance involving games, scenes and monologues, in rounds of three. Each “scene” would return twice after its first appearance, with each repetition layering over, often in subtle or surprising ways that only come together at the end, on what came before.

It doesn’t work if any of the players try to predetermine or “script” what happens next. It only works if everyone is working off everyone else, and the next thing that happens, happens only because of whatever has happened before.

This sense that everything that happens is somehow connected to everything that happened before has been a theme in my life, and probably in yours, if you stop to think about it. You’ll suddenly remember a past part of your life that seems to have circled back around, but at a new and more mature or complex level. Like standing on a long spiral staircase, looking down at the previous circles of your life.

In my latest round of tidying up, getting rid of piles of old crap that oppress me now, a few moments of this helix-shaped laddering of life hit me in odd and unexpected ways. Which is kind of how it is supposed to work. To wit:

• Someone on one of the Facebook groups I participate in replied to a comment of mine by saying it was “en pointe” – and I said (truthfully) that “Ha! I used to dance “en pointe!” The next day, what did I find in the closet? A box full of old pointe shoes (really, really beat up pointe shoes) that I had saved from my teen years, and forgotten about. Smiled, and tossed them.

• Because I am having a period-style dress made to wear at an upcoming event celebrating the era of my favorite books, I suddenly remembered a dress I had made for myself, by hand. Again, back in college – I was flat broke, but I was one of the soprano soloists in “Messiah” for the Christmas concert, and I didn’t have a dress. So I went out and bought some really cheap red satin (which scandalized the orchestra, angry, I guess, that they had to wear the uniform “concert black.”) IMG_20180910_164019.jpgI ripped apart a sundress that fit me well, to use as a pattern. I laid the satin out on my dorm room floor, and came up with a way to make a criss-crossed bodice that formed cap sleeves without having to cut and sew sleeves separately. I attached that to a long, bias-cut skirt that came to a point in front. Except when I was done, one side of the skirt was shorter than and kind of off-center to the other. So I improvised a ruffle on that side, by hand again, to even it out. I loved that dress and was proud of designing it and sewing it together in a marathon all-nighter, a week or so before the concert. I couldn’t remember what I’d done with it. And what did I find in the closet? There it was, in the very bottom of a box, underneath old college papers, exam books (really? Why on earth did I save those?) and programs from recitals and performances long past. Tossed the exam books and papers, kept the programs and the dress.

• Very recently I wrote about my late husband Mike’s journals and what they revealed to me, after he died. And what did I find in the closet? A journal of my own that I had forgotten existed, that chronicled the first days and weeks of our romance – how we met, where we went together in those giddy, dizzying first days and weeks, and, sadly, how early in our relationship we started fighting. I found the earliest poems – written for me or read to me. My journal consumed only about 15% of the blank book it was written in, blazing briefly with the astonishment of those long, wild first days of love – a love that too quickly sank way down, beneath the surface, submerged for decades under the responsibilities of child-rearing and the stress of a long and difficult marriage; the love that returned to us in a profound, mature and painfully poignant way, at the end.

There’s nothing sentimental about improvisation. It’s there and then it’s not. It’s ephemeral. You can’t recreate a great “Harold.” You can only experience it while it is happening, and maybe remember how great it made you feel while you were in the midst of it.

Not unlike life.

Still tidying up, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, moving onward one-cleaned-out-closet-at-a-time,

Ridiculouswoman