Leaping From the Lion's Mouth
A lot of you probably didn't know I'm a musician, yeah? Hell, a lot of you probably don't know I'm a writer, but I'm working on clearing up that little omission too, so might as well give you a bit more of my own backstory.
I've always loved music, and by the time I was in high school I was writing (really terrible) songs. The songs got better as I started experiencing the world, and through my 20s I seriously entertained the idea of being a musician full time, in one capacity or another. I worked in a recording studio, played shows with friends, and eventually recorded a couple of albums, even. About the time I was in the studio on the second album (Obsidian Bridges), I started looking at solo shows. I played piano, did a lot of drumming with other bands, but on the rare occasion I tried to do my own thing. One evening I was out with some friends and, on a lark, hopped up on stage for an open mic night. They had a lovely black grand piano and I just couldn't stop myself. I played two songs - the first was one of the first songs I'd ever written, an instrumental called "Between the Mountains and the Sea". It was a song I played so many times I could do it in my sleep. I opened with that, and, buoyed by the reception from the audience, jumped into a song I'd been working on all week in the studio, called "Shades of Grey."
It's a nice and contemplative piece I'd written about love and the struggles to find a balance between certainty and doubt, and it was one of my favorite vocal pieces on the album. So I launched into it, and got to the end of the first chorus...and forgot the words.
Now, I've done this before, you know? Anyone who's been on a stage even a single time has had that moment where you forget what you were gonna say. But this time... I completely choked. Like, stopped right there in the middle of the song and froze. That's never happened to me before, and.... man, it was one of the most potently horrible two seconds in my life. I managed to finish the song - don't ask me how - abandoning the verse and cutting it back to only one chorus, got off the stage and hid in my seat. I think there was a smattering of applause, but I could barely hear anything over the pounding in my ears.
I felt like I was drowning.
I never got back up on stage to play in front of people again. It's been, I think twenty years, and I don't even play for people privately much anymore. We have a piano - it needs to be tuned and repaired - but every time I look at Amelia, I remember choking. Ugh.
Failure sucks. It really does. It haunts you. And I know, I know, when you fall off the horse, you have to get back up. Yeah yeah yeah, blah blah blah. It's easy to say phrases like that. It's easy to read advice off like that. But when you're the one who took the punch (even a self-sustained one), only you know is the suffocation.
So, I stopped performing, and eventually I stopped recording as well - though for different reasons - and I drifted into several years of unartistic life. I frequently thought about performing again. Or writing. But each time it would enter my thoughts, I would feel the frigid grip of failure squeezing the life out of me.
Fast forward. The options to be a full time musician - studio or otherwise - feel long since abandoned, but I still feel the yearning to create something. And suddenly, my old friend storytelling drops in, and, I'm hooked all over again. Short stories, novellas, novels, I can't write fast enough. I self publish. I submit to agents. I self publish more. I get signed, and, now, here we are, on the dawn of a new book.
And out of nowhere... the chilled bus of remembered failure turns the corner and draws a bead on me. What if the book sucks? What if nobody likes it? What if...?
It takes me the better part of a whole conversation with a couple friend of mine before I realize that this whole feeling isn't a new feeling at all, but an old one. A very old one. The glossy keys of the grand piano swim past my eyes, and I feel the familiar chill in my chest. The pounding in my ears. Well, s**t.
So there it is. Turns out choking in one arena can be choking in another. I hadn't actually known that they were compatible forms of stage terror. Lucky me.
But you know what? My obsession with pop culture references may help me. One of my favorite films, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the third AND FINAL installment in the Indiana Jones TRILOGY), contains a scene near the end of the film where Indiana must face three challenges of faith in order to proceed: the breath of god, the name of god and the path of god. Humility, Discipline and Trust.
Now, setting aside any religious connotations to those points, where it kind of applies here is that whenever we set about to perform some new task, these are pretty wonderful qualities to aspire to - but they're each difficult to really nail down well. And for me, I'm really wrestling with that twenty year stare down into the abyss. Logic doesn't work. There's no negotiation. There's no reasoning things out, beating them up, paying them off... it's just me and that moment of truth, where I have to step out into the nothingness and trust that something's gonna catch me.
We all have those moments, after all. It's something we haven't done, we haven't completed them, or something that we've tried and didn't succeed at. And now, that lingering shadow is burned into our optimism, and it's all we can see.
But at this point, the way I see it, we only have two options - to do nothing or to do something. And I've been doing nothing for twenty years, and that hasn't really worked out so well for me.
It's out of my hands now, anyway. I'm stepping off, into the void.
Let's see what happens.