On Performance Anxiety, or Back In The Saddle Again

Well, look at that. I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet after all.

I haven’t posted anything in a while in part because I have been very busy with projects and improv, but also because I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence. While this has made wonderful fodder for a long string of comic scripts that may, one day, actually get drawn, it has done very little for my sanity.

In May, I will have been in Austin for one year. The past year has been overloaded with new experiences, new people, new places. I’ve been trying out new projects with varying levels of success. I’ve been auditioning for both improv and scripted shows to disastrous effect.

Long story short: I have been doing a lot of new things, and with a less than 50% success rate overall, I’m feeling a tad emotionally bruised.

Short story long:

Somewhere during college I was beset with a really awful case of performance anxiety. I’m talking sweaty-palms, dry-mouth, stomach-in-knots, every-muscle-goes-limp-and-my-brain-just-shuts-down stage fright. My voice goes all wibbly, my vision blurs, and I’m pretty sure I turn a bright shade of pink.

I know I haven’t always been this way, because I have distinct memories of getting really amped up and blowing performances out of the water in middle school. In eighth grade, I walked into a region band audition with so much confidence I made other people in the room nervous, and I took first chair without breaking a sweat.

Frankly, I think I was just young and dumb enough to not recognize how freaked out I was, so I could fake my way past it.

In the latter half of high school and into college I gradually lost that confidence, and became practiced at being anxious in front of an audience. Now anything that even remotely looks like a performance – improv shows, auditions, work presentations, conversations with more than two people – triggers an automatic nervous response.

(Seriously, folks. I’m getting Pavlovian jitters just visualizing a stage as I write this.)

This isn’t just a fear-of-strangers thing. A few weeks ago I was told by a very nice doctor who I’d only met minutes before that the weird spot on my nose that I’d been ignoring for two years was actually a mild form of skin cancer.

I faced that conversation with infinitely more grace and dignity than a musical audition the same week.

It should have been a slam dunk. I walk into a room with four people I already know, read some scenes from a show I love so much I’ve effectively memorized it, and sing a song I’ve known since I was ten.

I can say with some confidence that that was the single most embarrassing thing I’ve done in the last year.

A couple of weeks later, I thought I had a chance to redeem myself. One of my favorite improv friends invited me to perform a very silly set with him, three people I’ve been dying to play with, and a former classmate that I terribly missed playing with. I spent the vast majority of our 25 minutes becoming intimately acquainted with a corner in the wings where I could completely hide from the audience and most of the stage.

I even jumped back into a couple of short improv classes that, if anything, have left me feeling even more inadequate as a performer. This is not by any fault of the teachers, of course (though taking the elective where the teacher is intentionally mean to the students was probably not my best idea ever) – this is just me at my most paranoid and self-conscious.

This crisis of confidence is even bleeding over into my crafting. I haven’t been posting lately because the new things I’ve tried have not all come out perfectly on the first try, and I’m feeling that performance pressure as I write up the posts.

Which is ridiculous, I know.

So for my own sanity, I’m trying a different approach to my creative efforts for the near future:

I’m only doing things that I’m good at.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, because one thing I am exceptionally bad at is sticking to plans once I’ve shared them with others. I’ve already tried a few new things since I first decided I wouldn’t be doing new things (yes, I’ll be posting about them – promise!), so clearly I’m full of crap. But my ego needs some TLC, and my craft cabinet is taking over my home, so for the near future, my goals are very simple:

I’m only doing things I’m good at, and I’m finishing projects.

Sometime later, when I’m feeling cocky again, I will charge back into the unknown. But right now, I have loads of things I want to get done that I know I can do.


On Creativity and History

I generally intentionally avoid current events or anything remotely political on this blog, because that’s not its purpose, but news of the passing of the last American World War I vet this week just kind of inspired me.  I’d like to share some of those thoughts.

First off, just take a moment to read through Frank Buckles’ story.  This 16-year-old kid sees the world go to war, and wants so badly to be in the fight that he keeps going to military recruiters until he can convince someone that he’s old enough to enlist.  After surviving WWI, he finds himself in a Japanese POW camp for three years during WWII, and then lives to be one hundred and ten years old.  Not only did he outlive the second-to-last American WWI vet by three years, but right up until the end he fought for a national war memorial in Washington.  This man is not only the very embodiment of patriotism, but he is history.  Just imagine what he witnessed in those 110 years.  His passing marks the profound end of an era.

This then reminded me of my mother talking about her own memories of similar stories about the last Civil War veterans.  It’s a very strange thought, to think that someone could fight in a war that now seems so far away, but live to see automobiles and airplanes.

Then I remembered my father’s story about watching Apollo 8.  He and my mom, a year before they were married, were visiting his grandmother for Christmas.  There was a television broadcast as man first orbited the moon, but it was relatively late at night.  My parents, being the bright young science graduate students they were, would of course stay up to watch.  My grandmother opted to sleep instead.  My great-grandmother announced that she remembered when the Wright brothers made their first flight, and of course she would be staying up to watch Apollo 8.

As I shared these thoughts with Dear Roommie, I couldn’t help but wonder…

What will we witness as old ladies?

Think of the difference between the Civil War and the 1950s.  Think of how we took a glorified kite in 1903 to the moon in 1968.

The sheer magnitude of the progress that Frank Buckles experienced from 1901 to 2011 is enough to make me jealous.  It also creates a very strong desire to see the same levels of innovation and development in my own lifetime, and a drive to make it happen.

Generally, I create just because I can’t sit still; I feel a need for forward motion on a very small, local level.  But occasionally it hits me at a wider scale, and I want to share that forward motion with the rest of the planet.  I want a medical advance to rival Penicillin.  I want a Gen-Y Apollo moment.  I want a flying car.  I want progress that makes me say, “OOOH!”

What will we witness as old ladies, Karen?

I don’t know, but whatever it’s going to be, we’d better get cracking.

Would you like a little tea with your lemon?

The weekend was a smashing success.  I got up to Austin early enough for a lottery improv show where the boy’s name was drawn from the hat to go be foolish on stage.  Class went well on Saturday and we had our student showcase on Sunday.

It’s been a very long time since I did any sort of performing in front of people, and longer still since I performed without an instrument to hide behind.  Somewhere around high school graduation I developed a truly unhealthy stage fright habit (this after 10-plus years of music and theater performing with nerves of steel – what gives?), and that definitely returned on Sunday, but somewhere within the first thirty seconds on stage it just totally disappeared and we had a grand old time.  Between the comfortable chemistry the class has built up over the last few months, and the instructor blatantly screwing with us as he directed the show, I guess I just forgot to be nervous.

My immune system was kind enough to wait until all of that was done before it mutinied.  Tonight, I am doing battle with seasonal allergies with a piping hot pot of chicken soup, a piping hotter pot of tea (with a bit more lemon juice than I intended to add), and…

a healthy dose of charcoal dust thanks to my sudden urge to make messy doodles:

Well, I tried to help myself, anyway.  There are only so many creative endeavors one can pursue in near-dark while avoiding the glaring light of a computer screen and -err- lights.

As a side note, working through the early Beatles albums will do surprisingly strange things to the brain while grasping for doodle ideas.

On Brown Thumbs

I have met very few household projects that I couldn’t tackle after some amount of self-education.  However, I must confess that I have a grotesquely bad record with house plants.

My mother had a sizable collection in and around the house I grew up in, and managed to keep the vast majority of them not only alive, but relatively happy.  I, on the other hand, nearly managed to kill off the aloe vera she sent off to school with me.

Were it not for the valiant efforts of one of my best friends and suite-mates, the poor thing would surely have shriveled and died on the windowsill over my bed.

That said, when my parents moved out of the aforementioned house, I had to beg and plead with my mother just to get her to take the indoor plants (she has an impressive collection of African violets – mostly gifts from her over-eager children), and so I was left with the daunting task of rescuing as many of the outdoor plants as I could.  I brought with me four small kalanchoes (leaving another half-dozen that were too big to transport), that poor old aloe, a particularly stunning begonia given to us as a gift from a friend I was particularly sad to leave behind, a cactus-like spiny thing that hurt like hell to handle but looked really cool, and the remnants of two Christmas cacti we’d been killing off for a year anyway.

When I got them here in October, all were doing tolerably well.  I pulled them in for the couple of freezes we had during the winter, and they thrived in the nice long, mild spring.  Then summer hit.  The strong-ish wind and blazing heat prompted me to pull the plants in to the slightly shielded end of my porch.  When the plants started looking wilty, I made a point of watering more.  Then they all started dying on me.

The Christmas cactus was, bafflingly, not the first to go.  One of the kalanchoes just shriveled up and died before the cactus lost the last of its pale, pitiful color.  Once I finally admitted that there was nothing more I could do for these dried shells, I decided to take advantage of the now-unused pots.  One of the other kalanchoes was looking pretty pitiful and I realized the pot it was in was no longer draining, so it was transplanted to the pot its dearly departed sibling had last occupied.  The cactus-y thing took the larger pot recently vacated by the actual cactus.

It was during this transplant that I made a particularly startling discovery.  You see, I’d assumed it had long outgrown its pot, but I hadn’t realized just how much:

Turned out the damned thing was filling the whole pot and still growing like crazy.  As I put it into a pot at least double the size of the one it had previously occupied, I realized that I was likely going to wind up with a whole lot more of this unpleasantly poky plant.

It’s been about two weeks since the replanting effort.  The poke-master is looking a little unsure of itself around the bottom, but otherwise seems just as defiantly perky as ever.  The kalanchoe, however, is rapidly deteriorating.  I loosened the soil tonight before watering.

Then I had a brainstorm.

I looked up the care of kalanchoes online.

I’ve been doing everything wrong.

They want lots of sun and very little water.  Basically, they like to be ignored.

Then I wondered what I should be doing with the aloe.  Same deal – more sun, less water.

I’m failing at plants.  Hard.

Maybe I’m doing right by the Sir Pokes-a-Lot.  After about fifteen minutes browsing pictures of first cacti, then aloe relatives (it has a cute little long-stemmed flower like aloe vera), I finally land on Gasteria, of the family Asphodelaceae.  As best I can tell, my little monster is a Gasteria bicolor.

…which also likes lots of light and very little water.

I am a miserable failure at caring for plants.

In a last-ditch effort, I look up my big, beautiful begonia, which has been varying from perky to very wilty, apparently at random.

It is a Superba Cane-Stemmed Begonia!  Begonias like attention!  They like to be fed!  They like to be pruned!  They… still don’t like to be watered much.

I will not be defeated.

I now have a new project:

I will be leaving the plants out in the sun and wind tomorrow, in the hopes that they will dry out quickly.  Then I will very carefully monitor their progress as I don’t water them.

I will stop failing at cultivating plants.

The way I see it, this is not a matter of innate talent. This should be a learned skill.

If I can figure out how to bake gluten-free, care for a tiny monster of a puppy, use a soldering iron without burning a finger off, and do basic accounting, I can learn to grow a few healthy house plants.

…I’ll let you know how it goes.

On Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

You may be wondering, “What in God’s name were you doing in Atlanta?”

Well, you see, I am generally in great need of a vacation of one sort or another by this time of year.  In 2008, a certain hurricane was nice enough to pay my hometown a visit, try to wipe it off the map, and in the process get me a month off of work.  Barring further hurricanes, I’ve opted for taking a long weekend in the Smoky Mountains at my parents’ house.

In early August, the tiny town of Burnsville, NC, puts on a craft fair, where its adorably traditional town square is transformed into a veritable Mecca for people who appreciate hand-crafted goods.  The streets were lined with hand-blown glass, pottery of every possible shape and size, jewelry, and pretty much anything else that can be made in those hills.  The wood work was especially breathtaking this year.  I met a guy who was a master joiner, recently retired from ship building, who was selling stunningly elegant boxes.

Between the scenery and the craft work, I was in heaven.

My aunt came up for the weekend, just so she could watch me shop.

I take these vacations very seriously.

Unfortunately, the cheapest airfare between here and Asheville required a stop through Atlanta.  Then the airline decided that my hour-and-a-half layover just wasn’t long enough, and bumped that up to four hours.  On the plus side, I had no need to hurry to my gate at the far end of the terminal, and had plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular view of at least two of the airport’s five runways.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Dance of the Giant Flying Machines that plays out at major airports.  When I was little, I wanted to be the guy with the brightly-colored wands that directs the plane into the gate.  Now I just satisfy myself by sipping on a Frappuccino and pondering the technical components of continuously shuffling over-sized tin cans off the ground and safely back down again.

Hartsfield-Jackson, known alternately as the World’s Busiest Airport, or the Traveler’s Scourge, provides ample entertainment.

On Deviled Eggs at Midnight

So sometimes I get weird cravings.

I mean, yeah, there’s the generic cravings: salty, sweet, chocolate, other things that I probably shouldn’t eat.  But at some point during my summer abroad in Barcelona, I suddenly found myself craving chicken-fried steak.  (Mind you, at that particular point in my life, I’d consumed the fried monstrosity maybe three times, because I was a very bad southerner as a child and assumed the stuff would taste as bad as it looked until I actually tried it somewhere about the time I went to college.)

Now, obviously there was nothing that could be done in Spain for a chicken-fried steak craving.  Don’t be ridiculous!

Then the class went to this little cafe for lunch, and the meal they’d prepared for us was this veal thing that… well, see for yourself:

Yeah, it was technically veal-del-whatever and papas-something, but it walked like a duck and quacked like a duck and – more importantly – tasted like chicken-fried steak and french fries.  And my craving was satiated.

Anyway, sometimes I get weird cravings, and sometimes I forget to eat.  These don’t generally happen together, as the former would more than likely negate the latter, but last night, after I’d forgotten to eat anything worth mentioning since lunch, I found myself craving – of all things – deviled eggs.  Yeah.  At about 11:00pm.

Now, I have a pretty strict policy of not eating anything after 9:00, in a desperate attempt to maintain healthy sleep hygiene so I have a sporting chance at a decent night’s sleep and subsequent morning that doesn’t begin with murderous thoughts toward the inventor of the alarm clock.  The deviled egg craving at 11:00pm should have been absolutely out of the question.

But you see, I’d forgotten to eat, which meant that I was hungry.

Thus, at an hour frightfully close to midnight, for the very first time ever, I made deviled eggs!

(And they were tasty!)

*Special thanks once again to the Kitchen Primer and Better Homes cookbook that are both at least twice as old as I am, even though I continue to be very bad at following directions.

On Color

I wear red glasses to prove that I am not afraid of color.  It is all part of the rehabilitation program started by my best and worst roommate (so called because while she was the best friend I roomed with, we very nearly killed each other while sharing the same space for a year).  She informed me during one of our recent retail outings that my taste in clothing was very dull because I was afraid of color.  Granted, my wardrobe heavily favored black and other dark tones during the time that we lived together in college because I was your typical angst-ridden teen, but I had come to develop a philosophy in the subsequent years that more reasonably justified my heavily monochromatic collection of clothing.  I figured that if everything was close to the same color, then everything would match, thereby creating a maximum number of possible variations with a minimum of actual articles of clothing.

Clearly, she disagreed.  I bought a bright red sweater to placate her at the time.  I wear it with any of my five pairs of black dress pants, coupled with one of my four pairs of black dress shoes.  I vary jewelry based on mood and occasion.

I arrived at the optometrist’s office that fateful day wearing a pair of almost-rimless glasses that matched my hair.  My previous two pairs before that were rimless with silver temples, and heavy black plastic (you know the type – everyone was doing it at the time).  I foolishly wandered about the office before the optician arrived, looking for more invisible frames.  Then the woman swooped into the room, and with a courteous smile and a flurry of activity had me seated at her desk while she rifled through her entire collection, flinging frames onto the surface in front of me and informing me that I should like this or that, never once pausing to ask what I had in mind.  The first frame to land in front of me was red.  I mean, red.  Sure, the temples were black, but the metal holding the lenses in place looked like it came straight from a Crayola box.  I was having vivid flashbacks to that red-orange crayon I had scribbled down to a nub in kindergarten.  I tried to push them away but she insisted I give them a little thought as she continued to toss more frames in my lap.  Shiny purple!  Teal!  Well, if you really want to, here are a few black and brown frames like your old ones.

All the while, I kept hearing a little voice telling me to go back to the red ones, and now that I think about it, that voice sounded an awful lot like hers.

…and the optician was really persuasive.

Either way, I left the encounter with a shiny new pair of red glasses, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made based peer pressure.  The cheeky red glasses make me feel smarter, sexier, and all-around superior.  Just like my dear old roomie so desperately wants me to be.

More importantly though, the daily splash of color reminds me not to be so timid with my projects.  Yes, those green beads would go with more if I paired them with simple silver or wood, but look at that vein of purple running through them!  Go big or go home!  Add some more color!  Since procuring my red glasses, I have learned to match clothing to accessories, rather than the other way around.  It forces me to exercise creativity daily and I’m much happier for it.

On… blogging?

New year, new city, new home, new projects… time for a new blog.  That’s not to say that I didn’t intend to start this thing a long time ago, but the newness of everything else has inspired me to really and truly get to work on my next Big Plan.  All of this is at least two years overdue.  My parents would probably say longer than that.  At least they were patient enough not to kick me out before I finagled my transfer out here (thank you, Chase, for setting this in motion – I owe you a beer).

That said, I’m not here to talk about me.  I’m here to talk crafting.  It is not just a hobby, but an addiction.  I eat, I sleep, I breathe, and I craft.  About half the boxes I moved into this apartment a month ago were filled with craft supplies.  More than half if you count the cooking gear – and I do.  More on that later.

So why do I craft?  I’m sure it has to do with a general inability on my part to sit still and focus on any one thing at a time, but there is also a deeply spiritual element to creating.  Some people golf.  Some people collect cats.  Some people collect kids.  I make stuff.  I collect the pieces.  I put them together.  Sometimes I am dissatisfied and take them apart again, but generally speaking, I find that I am happier with what I make than what is available in standard retail at the prices I am willing to pay, which I suppose brings me to my next reasons for crafting: I am cheap, and I am picky.  You know the old addage – “If you want something done right…” yadda ya.

I suppose it would be disingenuous of me to leave out my final drive for crafting.  I am pretty unreasonably tightly wound.  My job is not the most pleasant experience of my life, and I tend to get overly stressed in general.  I could just get very angry and yell and hit things, but I have learned over the years that yelling causes people to dislike you, and hitting things causes you as much pain as what/whoever you hit.  So I get it all out of my system via knitting needles, or crochet hooks, or exceptionally messy drawing implements, or sewing machine, or clay, or…  More often than not, my gifts were hand-crafted not with love, but with anger and strife.  (Sorry to recipients of my work – I promise I wasn’t mad at you at the time.) In other words, I craft so I do not kill people.

So for the next year, I hope to share my crafting adventures with anyone who cares to read them.  If I’m very good, there may soon be more to see here than my ramblings, but I have a very strict policy of keeping future plans to a minimum, and letting things happen naturally.  So stay posted!