Performance anxiety I

[November 2009]

This evening, yesterday evening, all most strange. I’m getting nervous when I’m onstage. Why? That is an interesting question. Let’s look back just a little.

So – and yes I know that I start too many sentences this way – I’m in some godforsaken place which looks and feels like it’s a film set. Only the film is an urban Deliverance. And not even that urban. Small town deliverance. Midsomer mutants. Hell, it was strange. This is how strange …

Imagine yourself in the seventh of what seems like an inexhaustible supply of charity shops. You are looking through the tat and shite of a crappy, odd little town full of very, very strange people … there is something strange, however; something you can’t quite put your finger on. And let’s face it, you really don’t want to put your finger on it, either. Then your eyes stray upwards, and you get a fuzzy, out-of-focus picture of what might well be a colony of multi-coloured fruit bats. Then, slowly, your eyes focus … it’s a little like when you look at the ceiling of the car, and the plastic shit with the little holes in totally fucks up your vision. Your brain can’t work out whether they’re super-close up or miles away. So it refuses to process distance, and you see indecision. Your eyes focus, and you truly wish they hadn’t. Those bars you see in american films where they cut your tie off and pin it to the ceiling. That’s what’s going on (wouldn’t you punch the bastard?). Except it’s not a plague of roosting ties, but a plethora of pants. Yes pants. Conjure up that image and be really, really afraid. You must be going. But you haven’t yet looked above your head … oh, so you’re standing directly beneath the ‘special’ pants section. Here the bats are leather, pvc, red, black, lacy, crotchless – there’s even a whip.

No. not far enough. I’m drinking, playing old tunes to a friend. Wow! She says. That’s beautiful. I’m flattered. Then she says I want to sing it. Good luck getting someone to play it, say I. I want to play it with you. Dream on, say I. But she wheedles and flatters and finally grinds me down. The plan is to play two songs at an open mic evening … one populated by friends. We rehearse. Damn, I’m good. The song is good. Let me explain. It is played in an open-tuning, and the right-hand fingers play constant sixteenth notes. For four and a half minutes. Fast. It’s really, really tough. We take to the stage, and I start the rolling … and after 90 seconds or so … I get cramp. My right hand stops. Just s-t-o-p-s. I grimace and let the tune roll with some judicious strummage … then it stops again. And again. It is all I can do to stop myself from destroying my guitar. The second tune I sing – it’s all about anger, but I’m too angry; too stressed; too freaked. As we leave the stage I am incandescent with rage. Everyone says how wonderful, but they lie; they fucking lie … and then a kid says are you pete langman? I say yes he says when are we going to hear you play the electric guitar I say never I don’t anymore and he starts arguing, hassling, and I just want to hide …

Cut to a family do. In mutant town. I’ve been practising one flamenco piece on the guitar for a few weeks, and my grand-parents in law want to hear … so I sit on the stairs into the dining room and start. Me, her and two old people who speak no english. I’m a little shaky, but am coping. This is, say, six years after the open mic fiasco. Then my in-laws walk in. I shake. I stop. I actually tell them to fuck off. I point out that they weren’t invited. And I begin to realise that my real problem is one of stage fright. Performance anxiety. Good god. I can’t cope with being on the stage.

So there I am, sitting through a long memorial at which several grandees are speaking. And I am to provide the final word, so to speak. No pressure, then. I [and please note, I am now continuing this several weeks later, blind, so to speak. As an experiment] eventually take to the podium and crack some gentle academic jokes, with suitable pauses, and all laugh, as directed. Any nerves visible put down to emotion.

So, what do I do when asked whether I want my contribution published? You are kidding me? My instinct is to say no, because I’m mildly rude about my father, which will, I suspect, upset my mother. But then to refuse might be considered churlish.

This isn’t stage fright anymore, but publication anxiety. I still haven’t received a copy of my first essay to be published. The submission I sent in last week languishes uncriticised, and my own collection, well, the report basically said the essays are fine and dandy, but the intro blows. More christmas work.

© Pete Langman 2009

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