The feeling I get when I am on stage is what I imagine peering into a pool of rapacious piranhas would feel like. Fear alone keeps me standing upright. The lights are turned down low and the air is tinged with the subtle scent of the aging wood that frames the space. The small crowd is peppered with young people in their trendy dark-rimmed glasses, crocheted hats and chewed jeans. My right leg quivers along with my voice as I try to hold my notes.
Over several months, (we’ll call him) Balding Guitar Buddy, and I were accountable to our weekly guitar jams – far, far away from any semblance of an audience. Only one person to appraise the output of creativity, aside from my own biased misjudgment, was cathartic to me but the crippling fear of eating that critique sandwich in front of a hungry crowd has paralyzed me since I was 12. Balding Guitar Buddy has played in a band for ten years. He coaxes me as though it should be easy. The crushing self-doubt is too much to endure for an artful klutz like me.
Adulthood as a complete coward has taken its toll on my perception of the conquests suited to my potential. Balding Guitar Buddy plays the role of emotional pep squad. His perception of my abilities transported me into the temperature-controlled room (shrine) of the music store, where acoustic guitars hung in a coquettish line, begging to be caressed. “Money is just paper,” Balding Guitar Buddy said, “you’ll have this guitar for life.” She’s a Taylor 314 cutaway electric acoustic. I call her Nova.
I desperately want to believe that I can overcome my fear of being ostracized. The trepidation in my forward progression in music – in life – is becoming an obvious handicap. Thirty-eight years and I have only just begun to peel the fear away, one veneer at a time. The distance between the edge of the stage and the yawning void of flesh-eaters, is a tangle of rubber-coated cords. Below the entanglements are hints of glimmering life.
I play the first notes and feel the energy of the crowd feed the next notes and those after that. An all-encompassing stillness dissolves my uncertainty into the lilting of my song. The chaotic mane on my head begins to fall around my face, hiding eyes that surely look panicked.
“I’m doing this”, I say to myself as I peek through the tendrils at the crowd, determined to feed the piranhas. The decision to honour or to combat my fear is an ongoing crusade. Balding Guitar Buddy, Nova, and Fear help me stand, but only I call heads or tails on whether to cower or fight back.