You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living
When I was a kid my favourite means of artistic expression was colouring in, or “colour inning”, as I then called it. I couldn’t draw at all – I still can’t – but if you gave me a white page with black lines on it I could happily spend hours colouring within them. I even won second prize in a BP Smurfs colouring-in competition. (First prize went to a girl called Monique from my little sister’s class at school. How embarrassing.)
When I started having piano lessons I studiously learned the meaning of the squiggles on the page and started to dutifully follow them. The word improvisation struck fear into my soul when I first heard it way back when and it still has the power to do so today. After my third-grade exam I abandoned the instrument for 25 years or so. I’ve taken it up again now and I love it, but I never attempt to play anything without getting my hands on the sheet music first.
Are you seeing a pattern emerging here? I bet you can imagine what sort of cook I am. Do you think I throw ingredients together with reckless abandon, secure in the knowledge that my improvised creations will be better than anything I could make by slavishly following the steps prescribed by Nigel Slater? Not a chance. I use exactly the ingredients specified in the recipe. I weigh, I check, I read the instructions 1,000 times.
My working life is no more creative. I don’t do a lot of paid work these days but occasionally I get a call from old contacts in the UK asking me to dust off my old subtitling software. So I do. I sit in a darkened room with headphones on, typing words that have been written by one person then spoken by another.
When I look at people who are too inhibited, self-conscious and embarrassed to let themselves go, I feel sorry for them. I think it’s a bit tragic. In fact I know how tragic it is because I myself am inhibited, self-conscious and embarrassed.
All this explains why The Vagina Monologues suited me perfectly as a stage debut. I don’t have a problem speaking in front of people, as long as I’m colouring within prescribed lines, saying someone else’s words, following someone else’s recipe. Frankly I’m more nervous at book club every fortnight when it’s my turn to say what my name is and where I come from. No-one there has pre-prepared me with me my lines.
But now that my stage debut is behind me, I need something else to help me take another step towards throwing off the shackles of self-consciousness. And I think another experience might be more practical than any sort of chemical mood alteration.
Next week M and I are going hiking in the Swiss Alps. And M’s determined for us also to try paragliding and white-water rafting. My idea was to throw off the shackles of self-conscious but apparently he’s keener to try and throw off this mortal coil. I’m sure he’s thinking of me really.
Does anyone have any less life-threatening suggestions for overcoming inhibitions? All alternatives will be gratefully received.