It’s just fear talking…
When you haven’t made art for awhile, starting feels scary.”Do I still know how to do this? What if the idea doesn’t work? What if it does and no one wants it?”All that beginning mumble-jumble stuff. The same stuff, over and over.
Why? I think it’s because we as artists use our very souls to make things that didn’t exist before we made them. And once I think that, being scared is all kinds of sensible. Once we’ve been doing it for awhile, skill and habit take over and you don’t notice the fear as often. But before then, the trick is to realize that it’s only fear talking.
In early September, the ecomuseum whose board I chair hosted an Open Mic in the Val Marie Hotel in the village where I live. It was a great night, with lots of community contribution and many talented musicians on the stage. I’m not a musician. I decided to read a story.
I’m not a performer either. I can give a workshop or a speech without blinking, but that’s me acting as myself. Acting as the voice of another character is something else entirely.
The story I chose is The Dishcloth Concert of Oliver Hyde, by Richard Kennedy. It’s a good story. It’s about music, and it’s about what the human heart is capable of if we let it be. It’s also a bit strange and a bit long. At 10 or 12 minutes’ reading time, there’s lots of opportunity for failure. If people start to whisper, you’re dead.
So I don’t know why I decided to read a story. I was scared beyond thinking.
I begin to read. And my left leg begins to shake. I look for audience awareness of my fear. None so far. My leg is vibrating like a tuning fork. I send it a wordless message: “Just don’t, okay?” It stops.
I’m into the story. My mouth is so dry I can barely speak. Once again, I watch the faces. They don’t know. I need all my language for reading, but there’s a part of my brain that doesn’t use words. With it, I think, “This is only terror. It doesn’t count.” I’m literally scared spitless, but how could I stop?
And once more I calm a quaking limb. The audience can’t tell. They’re still with me.
It must be about eight minutes now. A glass of water? Really, it wouldn’t help. This isn’t about thirst. Again I think, “Just terror.” In another few minutes, when my throat goes dry, it’s a relief. The terror isn’t holding, it’s working through me. I will get to the end.
And I do. There’s applause. Warm applause. Not sympathy, not “Thank heaven that’s over.” Appreciation. I may never know why I needed to get onto that stage, and I did it. No one died. Not even me.
So if I can read a story, I can begin a painting. All that muttering? It’s just fear.
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