January 28, 2010

Stage Fright

I love reading other people’s work. I’m one of those people who tend to give lots of comments, to the extent that I’m always afraid I will offend someone, that they’ll look at the blue-spattered page and say, “Are you kidding?” I think I’ve only read one short story where I commented, “This is so unified and coherent, I really have nothing to say other than great job!”

But my friends also know I’m unreliable. I’ll say I’ll read something of theirs, and then I won’t. Or it’ll take months. I really do best if given a deadline, something like “I’m sending this to a contest, which has the deadline next Friday. Could you possibly get it read by then.” This allows me to jump right in without thinking about it.

Because thinking about it, anticipating it, is deadly. I get it via email, and I’m excited. My friend so-and-so sent this, and I’ve read their stuff before. It’s really really kick-ass. I so much admire their work. I see the title. That’s a good title. Sounds interesting. Then I glance at it one more time before returning to work or taking care of the twins or whatever. A day goes by. I think, I’ve got to get to that. Two more days go by, and I start to feel guilty. I’ve got to get to that. This weekend I’ll do it, I swear. Then we’ll have visitors or I’ll have a deadline or one of the twins will be sick. Monday, I’ll glance at my email and think, shit, I didn’t get that done.

Then, it’ll build and rise in my mind like a genie out of a bottle. It’ll loom large, and every time I think about it, I’ll feel guilty. Very guilty. So I won’t think about it. I’ll do other things. Every once in a while I’ll see it there at the bottom of my inbox, and I’ll twinge. You are a pile of shit, I’ll say to myself. But, if the friend comes back and nudges me: “Say, you know that thing I sent you? Did you get to it? I’d like to send it out with an application to Bread Loaf.” I’ll jump right on it.

This tendency of mine makes anticipating conferences horrible. I know I’ve got to comment on 11 other people’s work, and boy do I dread it. Usually what happens is I read and comment on as many as possible on the plane ride there, but then I have to type them up, and inevitably I spend at least part of the conference feeling awful that I haven’t gotten it done yet. But I do get them done by the end of the conference. But, the thing is, I love reading the work.

It’s similar to writer’s block. I used to get writer’s block a lot, just the same way. The emotion was too much. The dread. The guilt. I’ve largely overcome that. I used to be the same way about answering emails. It was so emotional, so fraught ~ I’d have an inbox full of very nice, very friendly emails that drove me crazy. After a month or two, I’d force myself to do it.

So, this is the one huge remaining creative anxiety I continue to work on. I will master it!

What I’m Reading Today: Not much. I had book club last night, which was fabulous as always. Hey, Vixens!

PS My friend Kim Shannon, who’s an amazing artist, has had her oil painting Out of Context Series selected for the 35th Annual Juried University of Wyoming Student Exhibition. The open house and reception is tomorrow, January 29, at 6 p.m. at the UW Art Museum. Those in Laramie, check it out!

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