I’ve been thinking about Things That Scare Me for a while, and when I wrote it, it turned out much longer than a blog post. So here’s an excerpt, including photos of the video shoot in Steve Garfield’s dining room cum video studio.
A few weeks ago, I had to film a video greeting that would be shown to 14,000 people who had registered for an online conference my company was holding. It was a short video – no more than a minute or so. All I had to do was smile warmly and welcome folks for dropping by – sort of like a digital version of a Wal-Mart greeter. It sounds easy enough – fun, even – but for some reason the prospect of the filming completely unnerved me.
Maybe I was worried about the number of potential eyeballs gawking at my every move. Or maybe I worried about stumbling over my script, like saying shit instead of sit. (And the more I worried about that one, the more convinced I became that it was going to happen.) Whatever the case, certainly that Tuesday when I entered my friend Steve‘s house in Jamaica Plain, near Boston, and Steve pointed his camera at me and told me to start talking, I worried about all of that at once. I felt excruciatingly self-conscious, awkward, and scared.
I was what grownups in the 1970s called a “nervous” child. I worried constantly. I was afraid of lots of things – snakes, the dark, monsters, our house catching on fire, deep water, loud noises, being kidnapped, the school bus, Russia, talking to adults, answering the telephone. I was thin-skinned; it was easy to bruise my feelings. Everything embarrassed me.
Typically, this came out at night. During the day, I played outside with the other neighborhood kids and – other than taking pains to avoid a few key triggers – generally got along okay. But at night I’d lie in my twin bed watching the shadows on the wall, and imagine all sorts of horrors that would twist my insides into a coat hanger.
“Mom!” I’d yell, as suddenly another thought occurred to me. “When was the last earthquake?”
From her recliner in the den she’d yell, “Go to sleep!”
As I grew, I learned to tolerate my fears. I learned that the school bus wasn’t so bad when, mid-way through the kindergarten year, a cute blond-haired boy named Eric decided to sit next to me. I tried answering the phone once or twice. But still it took until I was in my early 30s before I started to understand that the very things that still scared me as a grown up – meeting new people, speaking up, finding myself in a new situation – are the very experiences that I should embrace rather than refuse, no matter how terrifying the prospect. Harkening back to Nancy Reagan in the ’80s, I developed a mantra, “Just Say Yes.”
So even now, every once in a while, I’m faced with a situation that truly scares me witless. You’d think it would happen all the time, given this life I sometimes am shocked to find myself living: A career that brings me often enough into the limelight – a limelight I took great pains to avoid not that long ago. Of course, the surprise is that it’s entirely of my creation, which is how I found myself in Steve’s house that day. I did fine: We shot the video in one take, and I forgot only a few words in my script. “You’re a natural!” Steve said to me.
But in truth, that kind of fear is triggered only rarely by public interaction these days. I might still be chronically embarrassed, but I can talk myself out of it. Because really, what’s there to worry about? What’s there to be scared of? So what if people gawk? Or stare? Or make fun of me? So what if I humiliate myself? When I thought later about the video shoot at Steve’s house, I couldn’t fathom what made me so scared.
Because I’ve realized that the very thing that makes me want to hide – the painful self-awareness, the excruciating self-consciousness, the constant sense of exposure and vulnerability that reveals far more than a slip of shit for sit – more or less goes with the territory for any writer. Sometimes, recognition of who you are grows into acceptance. And if you’re lucky, you figure out how to leverage that weakness. I can’t really do anything about my tendency to be overly sensitive. But the truth is these days, I’m okay with that.
Photo credit: Steve Garfield