Fear Is An Ally

This is the fifth in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week.

Today’s question is: Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself.

I have always made an enemy out of fear and it has always delivered.

But let me take you back to December 29, 2012. I am scheduled to sing In My Girlish Days – on stage, with a band – at a party in the evening. I am getting ready to leave and feeling uninspired about the whole thing. Plus I have no clue what to wear. Nothing in the closet has any appeal. The lovely new Christmas outfit from dear friends looks fine but wrong. Everything feels wrong.

I call my cousin who convened the event. He’s pulling a lot of things together for the evening and is not keen to chat but I am nonetheless relieved to hear that he’s wearing jeans and a shirt. I can do that. Then I try to do some warm-ups and a run-through of the song. It sounds like crap.

The party is in town and will be going on past the last ferry to the Island where I am living at the time, which means I’ll be staying over, which means I have to pack an overnight bag. Not a difficult task, particularly given that I have over two hours to accomplish it, but because of my state I am almost incapable of doing it. It takes me the entire two hours to put together a little backpack and head to the ferry. I don’t even have time for breakfast.

My car is freezing cold and I feel afraid and alone. I feel like the worst possible failure – my whole life and everything about me is wrong and awful and pathetic. I call some friends and leave messages. Not asking for help directly and not sharing the full extent of my feelings, but letting them know that I’m about to perform and I’m terrified.

Saying it helps to dissipate some of the paralysis but I still feel awful. I tell myself not to try to change this state but just to breathe into it. A good bit of advice that I have sometimes been able to apply to difficult states but not generally to performance anxiety. It helps a bit. I make the ferry crossing, head to a café, order a turkey sandwich and a coffee, which helps to ground me, and then I drive over to the hall.

I arrive an hour early and help the emcee hang some decorative ducks over the band. Then the sound check begins with a young woman singing Feelin’ Good – a song I’ve always wanted to sing. She has an amazing voice and I feel intimidated. I look at the line-up for the evening program. I follow her. Great. I’m right before the incomparable Dan Mangan. Multiple award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter. Swell.

Finally, after waiting for three terrified hours, I’m called up on stage for a sound check. I haltingly try to communicate with the band what I want by way of an intro and plunge into the song just as some of the guests begin to arrive. To my great surprise, I don’t die. What a relief.

Before my big moment, I feel some nervousness but far less than before, and once I get on stage I feel surprisingly relaxed. A friend who isn’t liberal with compliments tells me I was fabulous. A number of people say that I was their favorite act. A choir leader and voice teacher tells me I was the most interesting performer because I was connected to my words. Another said I have “pipes and presence.” A tough-looking woman said, “I want to be like you.”

This experience was tangible evidence that the fear that precedes performing is an ally, not an enemy. How can you connect with your heart without having suffered, even if most of it is self-generated? This experience was an extraordinary gift to me. I felt the fear and I did it anyway. Hurray for me.

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