Tag Archives: fear

First Show, Last Show

For the past five years, a small local theater has put on something like an open mic night every fourth Friday under the name “No-Shame Theater,” and invited all forms of original creativity. Singers, actors, and all sorts of other performers would show pieces that ranged from depressing to hilarious, from cute to offensive, and from truly terrible to delightful. Entry was free, and folks are strongly encouraged to drink from the bar. Last night was their very last round of this evening of fun and the end of No Shame Theater.

A friend of mine works closely with this theater and has attempted to bring me along for the past several months. This was the first time I could make it, and it was really quite an experience. There were all kinds of different pieces. Many of them focused on the artist’s emotions regarding the end of No Shame. One in particular re-wrote the lyrics to “This Land is Your Land” to be about the family nature of No Shame. She played it on an accordion and passed out lyrics. The sing along had a wonderful community feel to it.

I wrote a song a few years ago called Menstruation Rag which makes fun of the experience of menstruation by being brutally honest about the situation without ever actually saying the words “blood,” “menstruation,” “cramps,” “mood swings,” or “period.” No Shame Theater seemed like just the right place to share it with an audience, so I signed up to perform.

I watched the others as my turn neared. With each performance I felt myself moved, but the nerves began to grow. The only time I had tried to perform my song prior to last night, I ran off stage in the first stanza due to stage fright. I promised myself this time, it would be different.

There were pieces that were lovely, pieces that were sad. Pieces I didn’t understand, and pieces that I couldn’t tell if they were serious or trying to be really bad for the sake of laughter. Others were genuinely funny. It really was a wonderful experience, despite my shaking hands and clenching heart. What was I so afraid of? Nothing about performing could cause me actual harm.

Finally it was my turn. I took to the stage. I was in a pool of light surrounded on three sides by darkness filled with people silently watching. Waiting. I reminded myself that when Menstruation Rag had been named aloud in the beginning by one of the MCs during a listing of the night’s pieces, the pun-y title alone had already gotten laughs. I told myself that this audience wanted to hear my song. I told myself they were all drunk anyway.

I took a deep breath. I started to sing. My voice was so tiny and shaky, that I wondered if they could even hear me. My eye caught on someone in the front row who seemed to be listening to me with sincere intensity. I used that to bolster my courage and sang louder. People began laughing at the hilarious honesty. I relaxed ever so slightly. The second stanza fell from my lips and laughter came at me from all three directions. Excellent!

Transitioning from the second to third stanza, my voice faltered. I couldn’t remember the next words in a song that I sing to myself every month because I get a genuine kick out of making light of my period. (Ha, ha! Get it?) I paused. I verbalized “I’m sorry.” I tried again. It didn’t work.

“I’m sorry, I’m just so nervous,” I said. The whole room erupted with cheers and applause.

“YOU’RE HOME, BABY!” roared someone in the back, “YOU’RE HOME!”

“DEEP BREATHS!” someone else shouted, as the cheers died out so they could listen.

I felt their support, and thanked them for it. It was amazing. Instead of feeling like one giant block of fear and anxiety, I felt like only about 90% of me was comprised of such things.

I backed up to the transition lyric, re-sang it, and people already started giggling. I got through the next stanza and finished the rest of the song. My hands were still shaking. I was a total wreck. But, I finished it. I did not run. Fear lost. I won. Mission accomplished. I sat down to cheers and whistles.

During the next performer’s piece, I shook in the arms of the person who’d come along with me while my friend across the room nodded at me in support. Adrenaline. Who knew? I closed my eyes, put my head on my friend’s shoulder, and reminded my animal brain that nothing around me was going to hurt me. I was safe. Deep breaths. Calm down.

The last performer took the stage. This piece was a neat little speech about the performer’s experience with No Shame, all tied together with themes taken from the very first piece the performer had ever performed at No Shame. Towards the end, he gestured at me and told the crowd that this was part of why No Shame was so inspiring and important. He talked about the courage to get up and risk failing.

I thought about how the fear of some nebulous, undefined concept of “failure” had filled me with anxiety to the point of causing some version of said “failure.” I thought about how I fearlessly tackle much bigger things in my personal and professional and student lives. I decided once again that fear of failure really is an absurd fear, as real as it is. “Failure” really can’t hurt us, at least, not this kind of failure. I renewed an old promise to myself that when making decisions for myself, the fear of failure will not outweigh the potential benefits when real danger is not a factor in the failure. I hope everyone reading this finds the courage to tell a needless fear, “Here, dear, have a seat and watch me do the thing.”

The Parable of the Anachronistic Alchemist

A prodigy graduate physics student at UC Berkeley in California’s bay area worked secretly to create a time machine. The device was designed to transport up to two people and their clothing, two small cases of gear, and enough fuel for a return journey through time and space. Calculations regarding Earth’s location in space over time were integrated into the operating systems, allowing the driver the ease of entering a date, time, and Earth surface coordinates into the console.

Our student had a fondness for alchemists from history. Their obsession with such goals as turning lead into gold did not blind their judgement when it came to the process of discovery. In fact, these individuals began to carefully record the results of their experiments, and ultimately created the fundamentals of what is known today as the scientific method.

When the time machine was complete, our student dressed in destination-appropriate clothing, bid adieu to the cat in ancient Greek, and arrived moments later outside Alexandria in the middle of a summer night in the year 176. After an incredible adventure that is not relevant to this story, our student returned to the vehicle with a new friend who was an alchemical practitioner, and a deeper understanding of the ancient Greek language.

Our student brought the alchemist to Berkeley’s campus, sneaked him in to the chemistry library, and showed him the wonder of one of her favorite collections of knowledge.

“Nearly two thousand years of exploration and discovery have lead us to this and more,” our student said in ancient Greek.

The alchemist looked around with eyes full of wonder. Book after book the alchemist pointed out, and our student translated the title. Sometimes they read in the books. As time went on, the alchemist grew wary.

“This cannot be,” he said. “Elements that are not alive? Metals as discrete, separate elements that do not mature into precious metals? Everything here is based on these concepts, and these concepts must be false. Therefore, this library is full of nothing but lies.”

Our student was perplexed and tried to discuss the matter further, but the alchemist wished to return home. Our student complied, leaving him back in ancient Alexandria where she had found him. Back at home, our student contemplated the situation. It did not make sense for someone who was dedicated to truth and reason to dismiss something just because it conflicted with previously held beliefs.

Graduation finally came, and our student took the podium. After thinking over time about her encounter with the alchemist, it flavored her speech to her fellow graduating scientists.

“…truly embracing discovery can be difficult because it means letting go of preconceived notions, and preconceived notions are comfortable. They help us understand the world, so losing them is scary. As we go forth into the real world let us remember, in former president Roosevelt’s words, that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Go forth. Let yourself be afraid. Discover truth.”