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StageFright

stagefright
Orazio Gentileschi: The Lute Player (1612)

"I'm just barely learning … ."


Once the manuscript's submitted, a form of StageFright settles upon the budding Author. He wants feedback but dreads it. He wants acceptance without suggestions, especially those damned helpful ones. Part of him hopes his submission just gets lost in the mail. Should the package return, he might file it on an easily overlooked shelf and conveniently forget to open it rather than submit to the judgement of the world out there. It might be a special curse that those who engage in the performing arts—and make no mistake, Authoring qualifies as a performing art—all suffer from some degree of StageFright. We desperately want to share our gift, however modest, with a world that deep down terrifies us with its casually harsh criticisms. Formally trained artists get themselves subjected to toughening up exercises as a part of their studies. They're taught to dish out harshness and also to take it in huge volumes so that they might relegate others' judgements into mere background noise. They learn not to take that shit very personally, to interpret criticism as first about the critic, and to thereby hold their creative space. Even the trained ones, though, experience a kind of StageFright as a form of respect for the performing space, which should rightfully always awe an artist at least a little bit, lest they grow calloused about entering it.

In my youth, my first real career was as a 'single acoustical artist,' as a so-called singer songwriter.
I performed in small clubs and at many open mic nights, but I never took any stage cold. I'd practiced, imagining myself before audiences, pretending to hold a stage while sitting in the wee hours singing to myself. I became so accustomed to performing a set to myself that I could almost access an automatic pilot once on the stage. I'd learned early on that time moved really differently once I took a stage. I might take that stage but the stage would easily over-take me if I lost my head, my sense of presence. I would play each tune about a third too fast if I wasn't actively compensating for stage influence. I might babble between songs if I had not practiced and remembered some seemingly off-the-cuff patter I could pretend to just be making up in the moment. I'd stage each performance or it wouldn't appear genuine, a commonly experienced paradox of all performing.

One cure for StageFright is to just never show up. Let the performer take the stage. Leave that regular guy to wait in the car until the show's over. Adopt a persona. Be an authentic performer, another curious contradiction of terms. I could be so well practiced that I felt armor plated, as if nothing could penetrate my defenses. It took me many years to take a stage without suiting myself in such defenses, to sit there and accept the vulnerability that actually came with that territory. There are good and ample reasons why so many performing artists end up as drunks and druggies. Call it StageFright or performance anxiety, vulnerability seems the chief requirement to take those stages, and it leaves any performer feeling constantly threatened, however sanguine each might appear. Life gets weird when performed in front of a live audience.

It appears that my submission might have fallen into the publisher's spam filter. A bcc: I sent to my Authoring consultant ended up stuck in his spam filter, so he advised me that it might have happened to the publisher as well. He suggested just calling up the publisher and asking, but I don't want to appear pushy. Publishers tend to receive piles of submissions. I've heard stories of interns reviewing dozens of them over a weekend, attempting to winnow out the few that might warrant any deeper perusal. The process tends to be brutal, worthy of an Author's dread. That any submission ever passes muster must be a miracle. That any deserves acceptance just seems unlikely. I years ago received a package holding a returned submission from a publishing house. I couldn't bear to open that box and filed it on that easily overlooked shelf for the next six months or so until The Muse asked what that was. (We've already established that I'm a
BigChicken.) Embarrassed, I admitted what I'd done. She asked if it might be okay if she opened the box, and I assented. Inside, a kind letter suggested some minor edits and that a slight shift of focus might render the material publishable. By then, the window the publisher had opened had closed and so that project was never published and didn't go any further.

The finest performances never occur upon any stage, but I swear they occur in practice, when the audience is just imagined and the performer's not subsumed in contradictions. Authoring, too, might reach its zenith before any work's actually published, perhaps before submission. Only the Author ever witnesses those Authorings, though, of course, he's not ever sitting where an actual reader might. A whole menu of practices must accompany Authoring to compensate for StageFright and all the other paradoxes performance brings. I'm just barely learning these.

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This Friday takes the stage after a week of hyper-learning for our protagonist. I encountered unexpected complications in my Authoring story this week. While I did manage to make my first submission, I also encountered unanticipated complications. I suspect now, that a hero, before returning from his journey as a hero, strongly considers just disappearing as a coward or a pretender before acquiescing to accolades, and that this reaction, this reconsideration, might just be a part of every healthy hero's story. Talk about unlikely learning. The week was just what it was, perhaps apocryphal, maybe not.

I began my writing week as the opposite of any action figure, stalled in
Cogitation. "I will come to believe that the Cogitation made all the difference, an assertion eternally unfalsifiable, which might also even be accurate."

I stumbled upon my unifying theme, the meme I seem to resonate within everything I write, in
CopingBetter. "My meme, my anchoring philosophy seems to be centered around one great insight which proposed that perhaps what I struggled with was not very likely a problem but a feature and so the solution to the apparent problem probably wasn't for me or anybody to fix anything, but to better cope with its presence."

The most popular posting this period found me
AllIn to my Authoring. "They do not change their species, just their color, while I seem to attempt to change much more than my spots when I start a new series. I become the object of my pursuit, or, as I've been demonstrating through this quarter, a cartoon caricature of the Authoring to which I still aspire."

I reported that Authoring seems to involve an awful lot of not knowing, of
KnotKnowing. "Now that the way I'd imagined Authoring should have worked has disqualified itself, I'm left wondering what's next and a little pissed at just how thick I turned out to be again."

I remembered those good old days of Authoring, when books were often best sellers before they were even published in
Serializing. "I guess that Authors might be Ink junkies, working not always for money or recognition, but for the reassuring sense that we exist as attested to in Ink."

I confessed that my Authoring efforts had left me feeling as exhausted as a spawned out salmon in
Spent. "It appears that he had been pursuing publication one-handed, attempting to maintain his previous sufficiency while also investigating the means for eventually utterly undermining it through Authoring."

I ended my writing week where I suspect all heroes end up about a week before ending their journey,
ReConsidering "One of the more useful outcomes of any investigation might be the inevitably different perspective focused perception produces."

And so my writing week ends with certainty suspended. Our protagonist does not know or presume as he did when he began this investigation, and I suppose it's poetic justice if his enquiry produces something previously unimagined, or even unthinkable. Authentic enquiries tend to work like that. There's never adequate Cogitation at the start, even if the goal is no more than simply CopingBetter without fixing or changing anything. I tend to go AllIn and deplete my reserves, then encounter untieable knots. I live as if in a serial adventure, sometimes an action figure and sometimes Spent. I sure do seem to spend an awful lot of my Authoring time Reconsidering, scared shitless with StageFright again. Maybe that's what Authoring always was. Thanks for following along on this strange adventure.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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