A Strange Fear
I was getting ready to give a lecture. All the chairs were filled and the nice woman from the local writer’s organization was beginning her introduction. As I paced in the darkness by the edge of the stage, a small panic began to build in me. Though I’d done this lecture before, I preferred to leave the first third of it to inspiration. Standing there minutes before I was to speak, I thought, “I don’t know what to say. I haven’t got one thing to say to these people.” Oddly, this stage fright reminded me almost exactly of my days in the theater when, standing in the wings waiting for my entrance, I would feel as if the door to my memory, where all my lines and stage directions resided, had become locked in fear. What a nightmare of naked humiliation, as the whole play collapses around my frailty. Then I would step on stage, and there are the magic lights, and there are the other actors, and everything is alive and happening and I am a part of it and I know everything I must say and do.
That was how it felt that night before I was to speak, even though I had memorized nothing. But on this evening, as the panic began to build, a voice in me whispered, “You will know what to say once you are behind the podium.” And then the nice woman was saying my name, and the nice people were applauding politely, and there were the lights, and there were their faces, and I needed only to speak to them.
Stage fright is not unlike the panic I can sometimes feel when away from a book project. While cooking dinner or mowing the lawn I will think, “I don’t understand this book at all. It is completely inscrutable.” Which it is at that moment. And then I will meet the page again and I will see what I could not in my kitchen or my backyard.
Just as there is a part of me that knew my lines when I was in a play, so too there is a part of me that knows what to say or write what has not yet been said or written. Yet that part of me belongs to the moment for which it is summoned, not that meager daily fear that all will crumble if I cannot know my entire life like a play that has already been written. If I am honest I will see that I belong to that moment too, and the strange fear that distrusts all creation belongs to all the ideas that are never born.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.