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.
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,