Today at Motherlogue, I am thrilled to host my dear friend and fellow writer, Jennifer Crain. When I “did the math” I realized that I’ve known Jenni for twenty of my forty years. It is a joy and a privilege to share the writing journey with Jenni. Thank you, friend, for sharing your words with us here! (You can read more of Jenni’s words at her blog, Write The Journey.)
At age thirteen I was a die-hard All My Children fan. People in my suburban hometown knew that Laurence Lau, the actor who played Greg Nelson (remember Greg and Jenny?), had a brother who worked the butcher’s counter at the corner grocery in my neighborhood.
Word got around that Lau would be making an appearance at his brother’s workplace, signing autographs and generally looking hunky.
I mentioned this to my mom. “Um, so Greg-from-All-My-Children-is-I-guess-going-to-be-at-the-grocery-or-something. Tomorrow.”
We didn’t talk about it too much. But the next day I brushed my sandy blond bob and put on mascara and lip gloss. She pulled the Honda into a parking slot near the grocery’s double glass doors. Pushing one door open, I saw him standing just beyond the cash register in the middle of a small group of women with goony smiles.
So this is what fans do.
We walked around a few displays and got in a short line so I could have my picture taken with the star. Mom tried to chat with me but I was distracted, searching, as I was, for a way to escape.
My eyes settled on a bag of Cheetos. I walked nonchalantly to the end of an aisle and grabbed a bag, pretending they were the real reason we dropped in. “Let’s just get these and go,” I said to her under my breath. “Are you sure, honey?” she said. “You’re next.” I shifted in place, watching and not watching the actor, who was talking with a petite brunette.
Suddenly, he slung his arm around her and they both turned and looked at me. He made eye contact (crystal eyes!), then made a motion with his hand. “Do you mind moving over a bit?” he said. I’d ended up between Lau and a Nikon on a tripod.
The small group of fans stopped and looked at me. Now, I wasn’t a boy-crazy froth who giggled and wrote it all down in her diary to read to her friends later. I was the tall girl who slouched. I shuffled to the side. Apologetic. Mortified. But also done feeling like I was doing something silly.
Aware, on some level, of the absurdity of standing in line for a photo op with a soap star in a mini-mart with my mother, I moved over more than a bit. I made a beeline for the checkout. In the car, I tore open the bag. My fingertips were stained orange by the time I got home.
When I look back on stories from my past, like this one, I see the woman I’ve become bottled up in that lanky, uncomfortable kid. I can see thick slices of my temperament lodged in the expression that went blank and wide-eyed in the face of intimidation.
I’m turning 40 next year. I’m not only counting down the months (nine) until I hit my fourth decade, I’m taking a life assessment, of the mid-life crisis variety, and counting up my flaws and coping mechanisms. Because they’re still there. Like the girl with the Cheetos, I still get intimidated by “successful” people. Intimidation, generous as it is, shares its wide bench with visitors such as Small Dreams and Wallowing Regret.
Don’t worry. I’ll stop myself so you don’t have to.
Ten years ago, or even two, I would have tried to find ways to whip these intruders into shape or shoo them out. I would have made resolutions. I would have tried to change.
It’s never worked.
I read something along these lines in Sage Cohen’s book, The Productive Writer. One of the best things about Sage’s writing is her dogged avoidance of clichés and pat answers. Forget butt-in-chair writing if it doesn’t work for you. Instead of trying to force the writing process, she says, pay attention to your natural rhythms and build them into your practice. Don’t slap your wrist because you didn’t get up at 5 a.m. to write – again. How about admitting you’re not worth two pixels before 7:15 and a deep swig of black tea? Embrace it – embrace you – and plan accordingly.
I started to get a handle on this concept when I was trying to deal with stage fright in grad school (I studied classical voice). While I was performing, I stopped thinking “I’m going to choke!” and just took note of what happened to me, physically, when I performed.
The fear pattern went something like this: First my throat would feel like the moisture had been swabbed away by a giant, thirsty Q-tip. Then shallow breathing would sabotage the support I needed to sustain low notes. My femurs, turned to sand, would slide through a funnel into my calves. But then – after the femur thing – the fear would lift. Three songs into a recital and I’d start to breath normally, pay attention to phrasing, enjoy a beautiful line in the piano accompaniment, make eye contact with people in the audience.
A gentler way of dealing with my character flaws would be to acknowledge them, too. No hammering the proverbial square peg. Learn to be afraid, ride it out and observe what happens.
What if, every time I met someone I didn’t think I could talk to, another Jenni, inside me, sat down in an armchair, shook up a lemon gimlet and patted the seat next to her? She could say, “Remember? This always happens. You feel intimidated at first. Then you botch something you’re trying to say, kick yourself and pray you’ll never run into this person again. Push through, honey. If this successful person is a bore you can always go home and have a cocktail, since this one I made for you is only in your head.”
I’m glad I’m counting down to forty. It’s good to see the path of wisdom, even if I don’t feel like I’m on it quite yet. And a lemon gimlet is a much better way shake off my fears than a bag of Cheetos.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tynigh/