My heart is beating rapidly. Stilted breathing. The inability to sit comfortably in my skin.
I recently performed at an open mic in Austin, my first musical performance since moving here. As soon as I got there I could physically feel the nervous fear rippling through my organs. I've performed before and seen that the pre-show fear is almost always unwarranted and disproportionate to the task at hand. Rationally thinking, there's usually nothing to be afraid of. The intimidating experience is rarely as terrifying as the preceding weariness would have me believe, often times the performance even goes well.
Where does the fear come from?
Before performing, I''m afraid that my show will be too weird, too esoteric, too inaccessible--an echo of the patterns of self-doubt graciously bestowed upon me by adolescent experiences of feeling rejected for being who I am. I'm terrified that the audience will judge me and deem my work worthless. These are the thoughts that gurgle like bile in my skull before the show. I can rationalize them. I can call to mind previous occasions that have disproved my fear. I can remind myself that the opinions of others shouldn't be the determinant of my actions.
I can remember all of those morsels of mental encouragement, yet the fear will still be there, still gnawing and tearing at me. Still telling me that I'm an idiot, that my ridiculous songs will never amount to anything, that I should go home, drink, masturbate, eat, watch TV, distract myself, and return to a cave of familiar, but fruitless and unfulfilling, comforts.
On my stool in the bar, I am antsy, shifting my legs. My limbs are as restless as my mind.
While that reptilian creature of comfort in my head screams at me to GO HOME, RUN AWAY, there is still the part of me that knows this is what I want to do. This part of myself knows how much I enjoy performing and catalyzing experiences of shared absurdity and playfulness. This part of myself knows that, as nervous and dread-smothered as I feel now, I will feel even worse if I don't follow through on my creative urges.
I sit and watch the other performers. My stage time is coming up. Why am I so concerned about a minuscule ten minutes at an open mic anyway? For a moment I consider not wearing the tutu and face paint I normally don, to be a little less weird, a little more nuzzled by the warm inner membrane of my comfort zone. In the end, I decide, fuck it, if I'm gonna do it, I might as well do it right, go all out.
After all, it's just a tutu. Who doesn't enjoy a hairy man in a tutu?
I head back to the bathroom, put on my dress and face, and return to my table. A couple sets later and I'm called up. As I'm getting my gear set up on stage, a woman who sounds at once enticed and confused by my appearance says, "It's about to happen." Into the mic I say, "Yes. It's happening," and laugh at the feeling of being publicly foolish.
Addressing the audience, I tell them, "I used to live inside of my mother."
"Me, too!" someone replies.
"I don't live there anymore. It's so much more spacious out here."
I begin my song, Mr. Grizzly Sips His Milk. For the most part, my singing is wordless, comprised of guttural wailing sounds improvised to mesh with the digital instrumentation I've written beforehand playing from my laptop. I throw in a couple of nonsense lines about the pervasive presence of enchiladas in the universe.
When I feel my inhibitions attempting to restrain my expression and my action, I do my best to recognize them and go beyond them, imbuing my voice with as much presence and feeling as I can muster so that the sounds of my mouth can reach the ears of the audience and make a fluid connections with their minds, hearts, and bodies.
The qualities which I had previously feared would ostracize my performance and myself--the qualities of strangeness and silliness--seem to be the very elements that capture the crowd's attention, allowing me to take them on the auditory excursion of load-lightening humor and mind-opening absurdity that is my intention for us.
My set finishes. Contrary to all of the dread I had felt only 15 minutes earlier, the short set went really well. I was able to get into the zone, that interior headspace of uninhibited expression. The audience not only listened, but enthusiastically enjoyed it. And so did I.
It feels good. I am quietly ecstatic, already wanting to do it again.
I know that the fear will come up again. Some shows will tank. Some will connect. It will resurface in this endeavor and in all other facets of my everyday life. The fear is not something that can be out-thought or explained away.
If there is something I wish to do but which I am scared to try, the only solution is to ACT, to just DO the thing I know I want to do.
Maybe the nervousness will dissipate. Maybe it will shrink. Maybe it will grow. Maybe the fear will make a very plausible case for giving up and trying something safer, easier. Maybe it will seem that there is no logical reason to act, but if that desire to follow my curiosity and inspiration is still here, then none of that matters. What matters it to DO IT, to do it as well as I can, and to make sure I enjoy the process.
If you'd like to hear my music, you can find it here.
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