In advance of my JATH show reading last night, I spent much of yesterday with the feelings of depression and futility that come of stress for me. Normally I would not feel too much stress prior to a reading, because I actually LOVE to read out loud, and feel fairly confident in my skills…but for various reasons, by the end of my preparatory period, I had semi-decided to kick it up a notch, and basically perform my piece MEMORIZED. Due, I think some traumatic piano recitals as a child (or I could be wrong about this, the piano experiences themselves might have been traumatic because of some innate or preceding problem) I have a real terror of going “off book.”
But, despite this, the more I practiced my piece, the more I felt the memorized sections coming alive in a different way–a way that didn’t combine that well with the read sections, and so I started trying to memorize more, and by the end, I had the essay about 95 percent memorized, which on one hand is good–because you are very familiar with your material (for a reading)–but on the other hand 95 percent memorized is not familiar enough for a straight, scriptless, performance. because you will blank on part of the 5 percent and not be able to get back on track. So I knew I was going to bring my music stand up on stage with me (which was fine, as I had promised a reading), but I also knew that, in actuality, I was “performing” instead of reading, and that when I froze up, there would be a long awkward pause, because I would have no idea where the hell I was in the manuscript…and this kind of glaring flaw in a performance terrifies me to my core.
I’ll digress from this post’s original intention even more, to say that, yes, this forgetting-plus-pause is exactly what happened in actuality–but it was nowhere near as mortifying as my fears would have suggested. Basically I laughed it off, the audience laughed…I found my line and was off and running again in about 10 seconds. To evaluate: I would say that for a reading–I did a nice job–because I hear lot of better authors who are not great readers. As a theatre performance–which I think unconsciously is my standard for such things–it was not even that bad. The event was very casual, and a few gaffs can even make you seem more accessible to the audience (but more than a few would get tedious very quickly.) So anyway, it went fine…
But what I was planing to say was–I spent much yesterday in a very particular state. Depressed, yes, ruminating, much. But as a corrolary, feeling a strong desire to write about each thought as it occurred to me. In such a state, I have a different perspective on things, and though perhaps it is not excellent for my mood or mental health, it can actually be fruitful creatively. I get hyper aware of the world, and give smaller things a bigger attention. In fact, the piece I read last night was a result of a similar introspective and overly analytical mood–and of writing about an experience as I was having it. I remember literally sitting on my bed writing about watching a spider as I watched a spider. I think this kind of minute by minute attention to details and observations of one’s changing reactions to it is what can lead to a kind of immersive experience as a reader…
But here’s the thing I’m getting to–I didn’t write anything yesterday. Even though I felt a strong urge to do so–which is not so common as to be cavalier about–there seemed to be no opportunity. I was driving (and sadly I am not a verbalizer, though I do have a recorder and am trying to make strides in this regard, I feel weird and stagy talking to myself), and then I was at the hair cut place. I remember thinking “I usually have to wait for my haircut, I’ll ask them for a piece of paper,” But my stylist was ready for me, and then then I was driving, and then I was writing emails, trying to fill seats left by some last minute cancellations, then heading to class, then choosing what to wear, arriving at the theatre, and the moment was upon me, the performance over, and that thorn in my side–the pin prick to my additional awareness, disappeared with my stress. It was time to go out with friends.
Now the time has come when I can write, but I can only summarize what I remember, the elusive strand of feeling that maybe I could had attempted to wrap words around like plaster to make and imprint–is gone. And I might try to recapture it–but my personal writing hour is nearly gone, as is my self-allotted number of words for a blog-post. I can say that part of what I was thinking yesterday, was how, in this time, in this place, our lives may be too full. Although I had some loyal and generous friends in the audience last night, I know if was an effort and a choice for them–and the largest proportion of the invitees could not come. They had birthday-party dinners to attend, lectures, a late night work shift, or other engagements. This is not criticism of them, I myself, because I was doing the show did not attend another friend’s improv show. Tonight I am not going to a party because I am going to another party. Yesterday, I found this depressing for other reasons, but today I am thinking of it in relationship to the writing life.
One of my favorite writers, David Sedaris, once jokingly noted in one of his pieces that he spends eight hours of everyday writing about what he did for the other eight. If I remember correctly, he might have been questioning the potential narcissism in such a situation, but what strikes me is how, to create what he does–kind of found art pieces built of all the fallen twigs and stray rocks in the landscape of your life–you would have do just that. And it sometimes feels like Sedaris leaves no small thread unpulled. If he takes a bus ride, he writes it down–a trip to the doctors office–writes it down, and later weaves these things together with theme. And I guess this is the real purview of personal essayists. Seneca wrote about bath houses and noisy neighbors, Montaigne, his kidney stones and recent books he’d read. Good essayists have theme–but the tapestry of the essay is not possible without the record of all the little mundane details. And these small specific details about his life are what grounds me as a reader, and enables me to accept the “bigger” content–whatever comedy, observation, moral might be presented.
And this is why I find myself concerned sometimes by my own “event-to-event” living. Without even being among the “most productive” or “busiest” of my friends, I run from one thing to the next, with little time in between to contemplate, to process–and to do those things in a tangible fashion, which is to write.