For three years I have been working on a play called, “Love and Disaster.” The opening scene popped into my head, whole cloth one day, and then, during a writing workshop, the rest of it began to come into focus.
I had completed the first act, had a scene performed in a showcase, and was feeling pretty good about it. And then I got sick. Like really sick. Hospitalized four times in less than a year sick. After selling my beloved home, and six moves in under two years, my body rebelled. I was diagnosed with acute ulcerative colitis, and until they found a medication that worked, I kept getting sick. And I wasn’t feeling very funny.
Months went by where I could barely shower, never mind come up with witty dialogue and plot lines. I was scared, depressed and wondered if I’d ever come back to being me again.
And then, about two months after my last hospitalization, I felt like reading what I’d written. And I laughed and laughed some more. My brain had begun to function again and I began to write. Five months later the second act was done. One hundred and twenty-two pages and three years after it had burst into my head, it was done.
I handed over a copy to my teacher/mentor/friend, and a few weeks later, I got back a bloody corpse of a manuscript with more notes written in red ink than I knew what to do with. But I tackled it one note, one page at a time and rewrote it. And then rewrote it some more.
Three weeks ago I got word that the theater where I’ve been studying for almost four years was going to do a stage reading of it. We’d discussed the possibility, but this was way sooner than I could have imagined. I was excited, terrified and terrified some more.
A cast was chosen, and we had one week to prepare.
For those new to theater, a stage reading is a cast, sitting in chairs with music stands and scripts reading, but still acting like gifted actors do.
The job of getting the scripts copied and put in notebooks was up to me. That ended up being a complicated wreck of a situation where it wasn’t downloading, and I was freaking out. There I was at the Staples copy desk, laptop in my arms and no one could help me. Blood sugar and patience plummeting I went home to get lunch and gather myself. I was panicking. With a history of panic attacks, this wasn’t unfamiliar, but it was really unwanted. So I ate something, talked to my brother on the phone, and gradually calmed myself down. And then I called a friend who’s a tech wizard. He very calmly told me to go back to Staples, download it to a thumb drive as a PDF, and bingo, it would work. It did. $170 in copying fees, a new thumb drive and eight notebooks later, I was in business.
The next morning as I prepped for a radio show I host, I stopped to run to the store for some bananas for breakfast. As I drove to the store I was talking to myself about why I was still feeling anxious and on edge. My live-in boyfriend was away for the week taking a class so he wasn’t there, but it’s not like I haven’t been on my own before. Then all of a sudden, it came tumbling out - oh my god, I’m so scared! What if no one laughs? What if no one comes? What if everyone who does come happens to need to leave at intermission? In the three minutes it took me to get to the store I wrote a mental list of about 247 reasons why this was a bad idea and cried like a baby. I pulled it together, bought my bananas, recorded my show and re-read an email from a wise friend that said, “Do the thing, and then let the thing do its thing.” Meaning, let go and see what happens.
Miraculously, after I acknowledged the fear, had a good cry and remembered my friend’s wise words, the angst subsided. I began to get excited. Still nervous, but also excited.
The night of the reading I was scared, but happy scared. About 40 friends, associates and fans of theater came. They laughed in all the right places, were on edge in others, and ate the cupcakes I had baked at intermission. At the end we got a standing ovation. It was a moment unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We did a talk back - me, the director and cast, and it was surreal. And something I will never forget.
The reason I wanted to write this and share it, is because I want everyone to know that no matter how it might look from the outside, when you’re taking a leap forward, it’s scary. I described the feeling to a friend, saying, it’s like taking all your clothes off, standing on a stage and asking people, “What do you think?” Vulnerability makes us squirmy. But we don’t always see the vulnerability in others and think we’re the only ones who get scared. Take it from me, you’re not.
Whether it’s a presentation at work, singing in front of a crowd or asking someone out, it’s a risk, and it’s scary. Please know that. Putting yourself out there is always scary. But it’s also the only way to grow, to move forward. As my brother said to me, “How lucky are you that you have something to be this nervous about?!” He was right. If you’re never nervous, you’re not growing.
I don’t know yet what the future of this work is, and I’d be lying if I said I’m cool with that. I’m not, I’m worried, and I want it to move forward. But while I wait I am doing the only thing I know how to do - I’m working on my next play. Because you know, I need something to look forward to being nervous about.