Yowza. Today marks exactly one month before I step onstage at The Blue Room Theatre, for the first time as a ticket-selling solo artist. I’ve finally twigged that my parents and my friends and my friends’ friends and my parents’ friends will be coming to see this show (bless them). Nerves? What nerves? HA HA HA I’M TOTALLY FINE.
Okay, so the caps-lock suggests that I’m a bit nervous. Well, dur. This show is intensely personal and I’ve spent the past year pulling out of myself as much feels and honesty as I could handle, before sifting through the raw materials and moulding it into something an audience could enjoy. It’s been a process of painful personal growth and self-doubt and pushing through roadblocks that seemed insurmountable. It’s been REALLY HARD. And clearly it has also been really important to me, otherwise I wouldn’t have kept pushing.
But there was a moment, shortly before I previewed the show at Metro Arts during its creative development stage, when I became very worried that I was changing – for the worse.
I was sitting in a coffee house, at a meeting with a couple of friends, talking about a project entirely separate to my show. Before the meeting, I had been staring at pictures of myself for a good hour, sorting out publicity material, and writing copy about how great my show was and why everyone should come and see it. That stuff will mess with your head. After a few hours’ writing about yourself, your creative practice, which is your best side, why you’re this generation’s Bertolt Brecht – holy wow, you won’t know which way is up. (This goes for writing funding applications, too.) I had come to hate my face. I thought if I had to spend another minute figuring out how to work in quotes about my “genius”, I’d puke. But I also felt disproportionately large, like my own image was filling my vision and I couldn’t see around it. I couldn’t remember what it was like not to think about me. I was miserable.
Anyway, so I go into this meeting at the coffee house with this mindset, trying to yank myself back into the present and pull me out of myself. You know, to get back that feeling where you’re “just a pair of eyes” (as Tavi Gevinson would say) and you’re engaging with the people around you. I fail horribly. I’m tetchy, sharp-tongued, restless and easily offended by the lovely people I’m sitting with. Things ain’t right. I’m out of my groove. After the meeting I walk away, settle down, send apology messages, and reflect. What is this knot of terror sitting in my gut? Why am I so out of balance?
I realised that, after years of dancing around the edges of my dreams, I was finally plunging in head-first. After a long time of joining other people’s projects, working on other people’s visions, and reviewing other people’s creations (all of which I can’t wait to do again), I was now working on a project whose success depended entirely on my abilities. If I can self-aggrandise for a moment, I was like James Bond in Casino Royale: I had bet the whole endeavour on me. And that terror – that lizard-like feeling that makes you selfish and jumpy and defensive and small – it was crawling up my throat.
I didn’t feel ready. I’d gotten in too deep. I was going to fail.
But, as my spirit animal Amy Poehler says, “Great people do things before they’re ready”. You can only find out that you’re ready by trying. I mean, I guess that’s true – I’m about to find out! The ego thing is pretty hard to get around, and I’m not going to further self-aggrandise by pretending that I’m the only one struggling with this. That lizardy ego can crawl into the mouths of any person in any field, and my greatest dream is to live free of it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t chase my other dreams as well. For a long time, I think I unconsciously skirted around my ambitions because I was afraid of what a little success would do to my head. What if my dreams came true? What if I became insufferable? (The latter is a real danger in the arts.)
But making myself small and holding myself down and only allowing myself a fraction of the joy I wish for in life – all of that is an ego-trip in itself. It’s the ego that says “Look how much I sacrificed”, “I am strong for holding myself down”, “It takes incredible willpower to walk away from your dreams”. I predict that eventually these thoughts alone would not be enough solace for the adventures you denied yourself, so you would start trying to impress upon other people how difficult your struggle has been. Then you become that person in the bar, slurring “I coulda done it, y’know, I coulda bin a STAR”.
So, in one month I’ll step onstage and try something. I’m nervous, of course, but I’m also thrilled to be trying something I’ve been dying to try my whole life.
And if I keep working hard at it, and trying and pushing at these dreams, maybe one day I’ll be able to pay someone to do my publicity material for me. YES.