October is full of things meant to scare you: ghoulish sites and hair-raising sounds, grisly stories and spine-chilling escapades. But if you have never had a case of stage fright, it means you still have a few degrees to finish up before rounding out the circle of fear.
For those of you who haven’t, chances are it’s simply because you have never been through a ceremony like marriage, a graduation or have been asked to carry the final torch to light the Olympic flames.
Have you never been the center of attention for a recital, a birthday or burial? (Hey, that last one could occur. People have been buried alive. And I would imagine it’s got to be somewhat stressful.)
Maybe you haven’t even given a toast or led a fascist movement.
For people who have experienced something akin to the above, they usually announce one of two things:
- I like having people watch me.
- Allowing people to watch me is creepy and should be illegal.
If you fall under the first category, you can choose to stop reading this essay, pat yourself on the back, and head back to your chair on the judges’ panel for American Idol. Of course, you’re welcome to continue reading and catch a rare glimpse at the other side of normal.
If you find yourself assigned to group two … walk with me a minute. Let’s remember why it’s best to leave the spotlight for the big boys.
The first thing that happens is the invitation to walk on stage–an enticing summons that fills your head with mind-altering thoughts of flattery. Ah, this person sees in me that which I knew deep down was there: GREATNESS.
Apparently, the word is out. You need to be shared with an audience of more than just your bathroom mirror.
You accept the call. Wave it off as if it’s something you routinely do and hope to remember to jot it down in your calendar. Of course, details will come later. No worries. Loads of time to prepare. Yes, it’ll be fun.
The second thing that occurs is nothing.
That is, you do nothing for three months except occasionally see the penciled notice in your calendar and dismiss it from your mind with the same gesture one uses to swipe a mosquito from your vision.
Next, you’re sent reminders. They pile up on your phone and email account. A note is left on your car. Somebody hunts you down at the gym. Remember you said you’d perform? This suddenly translates to: You promised to give me your kidney.
Things begin to crystallize. Like the fact that you were a dolt for agreeing to do something like this in the first place.
You begin to practice at home.
You realize your material is best suited as an ingredient in the manufacturing of pellet packaging matter.
You make another choice. Anything will be better than doing what you originally thought would be acceptable. It’s awful.
It’s all you have.
You go back to the original. It’s not as bad as you thought.
The night before, you stay up until 2:30 debating whether or not you can pull off a sudden case of laryngitis, scurvy or congestive heart failure.
You wake in the morning to realize that sadly, you’re healthy, apart from a slight tremor you developed in the middle of the night.
You show up at dress rehearsal hoping for a large sign indicating the show has been canceled and participants will still be generously acknowledged in the local newspaper.
Instead, there’s a woman with a clipboard, a dour expression and a habit of glancing at her watch as you approach.
Your tremor increases, making your car keys jingle like tiny sleigh bells in your hand.
The stage manager tells you where to sit, where to wait, where to walk and finally where to point your mouth when the time comes. Smile up there. Don’t look down. Please don’t trip. This is reinterpreted as Wait a second. I can’t breathe. What’d you say?
It doesn’t matter. You’re dismissed. You must come back in two hours.
How much gas is in your car? How far can you drive if you start now?
You return out of guilt. And the fact that you have only a quarter of a tank and you’re fairly certain someone was tailing you the entire time. You hate accountability.
You sit. People filter in. The muddled noise of the crowd is a swooshy sound not unlike the fuzzy garbled reverberation of the one word echoing in your head: idiot, idiot, idiot.
The curtain opens and the first act plays spectacularly.
The crowd applauds and your tremor is now sizeable enough to register on the Richter scale. The applause dies down apart from one person who continues on. Why won’t they stop clapping?
Wait a sec. That’s your heartbeat.
You cannot feel your feet.
Person after person and group after group performs with eloquence, style and ease. These people belong here. Look at them. They don’t even wave to their parents in the crowd–that’s how practiced they are.
It’s your turn. You’re tapped on the shoulder and sure you would have felt it had your whole body not gone numb. Your vision grows tiny, two infinitesimal pinholes of light at the end of long dark tunnels.
Are you onstage?
You wave to your parents.
Something happens and you wake up to applause.
Finally, you are in your seat, smiling ear to ear. You are given more pats on the arms and shoulders than a gazelle in a petting zoo.
“You were fabulous!”
You shake off the compliment with a nonchalant shrug. Aw shucks, it was nothing. I could do this in my sleep.
Apparently, you did.