February 2nd, 2012

no tea

Fear

I got a good start on the revisions yesterday, though it was on the part that doesn't need so much revising. It starts getting more challenging today. Since most of what I'm revising right now is to make the narrator seem younger, I'm thinking I might start hand-writing "diary entries" for the critical scenes, then pull impressions from those to put into the interior monologue. It will be an experiment. Once I do that for a while, it may start coming more naturally.

I got more than my usual quota of hugs last night from the preschoolers. They were unusually clingy, and even the usual non-clingy ones were being very clingy, but it wasn't in a sad, weepy way. It was more of a need for contact, it seemed. I couldn't sit down without instantly having at least two trying to crawl into my lap, and when I was standing I usually had one clinging to one side and one holding my other hand, unless we were dancing, which we did a fair amount of, in which case I usually had one hanging on each hand. We're learning a new song by osmosis, so we just play the CD and dance around, and it seeps into their brains. And usually my brain, but I then had regular choir practice and we're doing a lot of old spirituals, and those really embed themselves in the brain. We get a lot of variety, doing spirituals this month and doing Verdi for Easter. I had nightmares last night about the song we're doing Sunday. Not that it's awful, but it's very syncopated, so it's hard to count, and that makes doing the solo a little more complicated and nervewracking. Oddly, I wasn't having nightmares about singing the solo. The song just followed me through my dreams in a nightmarish way.

I've been reading some psychology books about anxiety and fear in an effort to deal with the singing stage fright. I know that psychological self-help isn't necessarily a great idea, but as I can't afford real therapy at the moment and I'm working on a relatively minor and very specific issue, I figure that if I do it wrong it's not like I'm going to end up in a tower with a high-powered weapon, so I'm pretty safe. I've tried digging into my history to figure out why I have this strange thing about people hearing me sing, and I can't think of any particular event that scarred me for life. I've always felt self-conscious about singing in front of people. It's a vulnerability thing. Maybe it's because it was something important to me that I thought (or hoped) I did well, and therefore it mattered too much to risk letting other people judge it. Then not singing in front of people ever made it scarier to do so. I think a lot of my issue is physiological. I seem to have an overly sensitive sympathetic nervous system. Very tiny things can send me into major fight-or-flight mode. Just thinking about an embarrassing situation can make me turn bright red, my hands shake and my pulse race. It takes nothing at all to work myself up into a state, and that's kind of what happens with the stage fright. My body just goes nuts, shaking, sweating, fast pulse, shallow breathing, etc., which makes it difficult to control my voice, which means I don't perform as well as I'd like, which makes me even more nervous about the next time.

As for what to do about it, most books I've read seem to come down to exposure. By doing the scary thing repeatedly, you eventually teach the unconscious part of the brain that controls those responses that this situation is not actually life-or-death, so it can chill. You get used to doing the thing you're afraid of, and it becomes more predictable. The trick is that it takes a lot of cooperation from others to get the kind of exposure that leads to reducing stage fright. It helped when I was taking that voice class, but even there we only sang in front of the class five times a semester. To some extent, the preschoolers help, because I'm getting used to singing in front of them every week, and while they sometimes make fun of the fact that they think I sing opera, they also tell me they like how I sing. I just need to find more venues that are bigger and more adult than the preschool class but not quite as big and scary as the 800-seat sanctuary in a church service where I can get used to performing and create a comfort zone, and I need to do it more often than a couple of times a year. But I can't get assigned that many solos without being a total diva. I need to find a fear of singing support group, where we meet once a week or so and everyone sings a little something in front of the others. Maybe I'll talk to our choir director about that since I know there are others with the same problem, and he's a voice teacher and performer, so maybe he'll have some ideas.

Interesting factoid from the latest book I read on the subject of fear: The Blitz during WWII was meant by the Germans to be a psychological attack. The idea was to be so relentless in the bombing that the civilian populace would beg their leaders to surrender to make it stop. But there was a fundamental flaw in the plan. What the Germans saw as relentless the British saw as predictable, and that made the attacks less frightening. They bombed just about every night at the same time, and instead of the civilians going crazy with knowing that another attack would come, they got used to it, so they got to a point where it became a part of life and the attitude was, "Oh, the Jerries are half an hour early tonight. More tea?" To achieve psychological terror, the bombings should have been a lot more random and sporadic and less relentless.