Performance Anxiety II

[December 2009]

Now, there are several types of anxiety from which a performer can suffer from. While I don’t play the guitar any more, and certainly not in public (and when pointing this out to someone recently I was interrupted by my companion who said something along the lines of ‘what you played for me was beautiful’, and it was all I could do to prevent myself from saying something incredibly rude about her musical taste and discernment), I do perform. Every lecture, every seminar, every tutorial – each one a performance.

So, for reasons best known to myself, I suggest to my first-year poetry class that we visit the sea, and talk about sea poetry. Of two seminars, I get eight students. My best efforts to say ‘turn up early’ fall on deaf ears. One can’t afford it, another is late. I stay behind to chaparone. But the train is ok, I hand back essays. I talk about stuff. It starts to rain. Cheers, world. One student (the late one) hasn’t brought a coat … typical. We walk to the windswept palace pier and get buffeted and rained upon, rained at, rained over … then head west. Every step is painful as I think i’ve utterly fucked up and they’re miserable. I order mulled wine at the pub we’re travelling to. A wise move.

We arrive, and my poet arrives. The students self-consciously read their selections, Naomi reads from her forthcoming collection, and performs a published poem. I can’t decide whether they like it, or hate it. They are more chatty than usual, but it’s still a little like pulling teeth. Have I simply lost them? Surely not … or they wouldn’t have come. But the arrogant ones from the second group simply didn’t show. Well, they’ll regret it come exam time – and they’ll blame me.

You see, this is me. I’m sat somewhere above the north atlantic, on my way to a relaxing holiday in Northern California, and I’m worried about my students. Jesus.

I really ought to be concerned that I’m visiting a friend I haven’t seen for sixteen years. It could be an utter disaster. Really. Who knows? Last time I saw her eldest son he was eighteen months old – now he’s eighteen and at college. And what have I done? Well, that’s a good question. Let’s make a list. The years they fly by, it’s true (and this plane smells faintly of urine), but when we say ‘what have I done? Where’s it gone? Are we just kidding ourselves, or perhaps being total fuckwits?

so. in no particular order:

Bought and renovated one flat, renovated one house, bought and renovated another.

Written two novels, one kids’ book, fifteen short stories, about sixty songs, around sixty magazine articles on guitar playing, and some ten interviews. Two letters in the guardian, two independent interviews, one article for the independent, one for Prospect. Achieved BA, Mres and PhD. Published one essay in a collection, edited one collection, provided another.

Married, divorced. Oh, hell, slept with several women. Ok, didn’t sleep that much.

Become a cricketer and level one cricket coach, brown belt at karate, learnt to climb and almost snowboard.

Learnt the hard way how to be a sound engineer in the theatre.

Been a tour guide.

Made educational videos.

Performed heaven knows how many gigs.

Built a recording studio and recorded lots and lots of music.

Became a guitar virtuoso.

Taught christ knows how many students the guitar (including one rich one) and various types of english lit.

Made friends, lost friends. Buried one cat.

Been best man at one wedding.

[lacuna to be filled]

Developed an interesting disease which is trying to define me.

Been to America twice (three times in a few hours), Zanzibar, Spain, Morocco, Florence, Rome, Paris, Nice, the Isle of Wight, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Slough …

Taught at four different universities, one music school.

Now, I’m wondering whether that’s a lot, or not much. Sixteen years. Where does one draw the line at interesting things to do or have done?

I don’t know, either. If I had time, I’d have a mid-life crisis. But that can wait until August, when I’ll be unemployed again. Probably. Possibly.

© Pete Langman 2009

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