Dealing With Stage Fright: Fighting my Brain

I seem to have developed a strange case of stage fright. It wasn't always so, and it seems to be very specific. When I was a child, aside from wanting to write and illustrate children's books, I also wanted to be an actress and a singer-songwriter. I started playing guitar when I was eight and I kept going. I made a demo tape when I was thirteen, and I took a songwriters class at ASCAP in New York City when I was fifteen. (I was the youngest person in the class, by the way.) This is a photo of me performing at my high school talent show in 1978. I was singing Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game," and they had a quasi-Beatle-mania slide show of current news going on behind me on the stage.

For years I wanted to be "the next Joni Mitchell," which rang true because she was also an artist and painter. But as I got closer to college my brain took over the reins and kicked my heart out of the stage coach. My brain said, "being a singer-songwriter is not a safe career. You don't belong on a stage. You don't look good enough. You don't sing well enough, and you don't play well enough." My brain basically scared the shit out of me. My brain said, "be an illustrator and a writer. That is safe. You can do that, and put the work out there, not "you" personally." I said, "okay brain, you win."

But over the years, my quiet heart kept beating and hoping. I still picked up my guitars and wrote songs. I still sang to myself. I watched friends do well and not-so-well in musical careers, but either way, they had great stage presence. They were comfortable on that stage performing.

I am comfortable on a stage speaking about my books and about the craft of writing and illustrating. I've done keynotes to up to 1,200 people at the annual SCBWI conference in Los Angeles in the past. I give workshops and teach in a relaxed way. But there seems to be two things I'm having trouble doing on a stage, albeit a small one: and that is singing and playing a song I wrote and telling the true story behind the adult novel I wrote that is currently out for submissions.

I'm going to be doing just that this coming Tuesday in my Ballard neighborhood, and it scares me to death. My brain keeps telling me, "you suck," and I'm trying really hard to shut it up. It's making me feel like I'm a fumbling idiot playing the instrument I can play beautifully when I'm not nervous... and it's making me mess up my own words. Words I know.

Somehow I have to put my brain in a straitjacket by next week so I can give my heart the confidence to say what it needs to say so I can tell the story that I need to tell; one that is so painful that maybe my brain is trying to stop me from sharing it. Yet in my heart there is a small voice that says, "you need to do this, and you need to get past this fear."

If you live in Seattle and you want to bear witness, the particulars are on the poster I added above. There are also five other confident folks plus an amazing MC who will entertain you with their prowess on that small platform with a microphone and a spotlight. We all have to deal with our challenges and as we do, we only grow from the experience. 

With Love, 


A Random Act of Kindness- A Good Tsunami

Yesterday was my friend Christine's birthday. We've been friends since junior high, but we haven't seen each other since we graduated from high school in 1979. Christine now lives in New Orleans and I live in Seattle and Lummi Island, Washington, but thanks to the internet and the oft-dissed evil empire of Facebook, we are in touch. 

I don't want to say too much about Christine, but I will say that she is smart, funny, snarky, very cool- and she is a Pirate Wench. She is one of those people who love life despite difficulties. She tells great stories and can make people smile. She isn't financially well-off, but she is rich in spirit and spunk. 

For her birthday Christine asked not for presents, but for "random acts of kindness." It was a selfless request, and an inspiring one. I thought about the "paying it forward" concept. One time, a few years back I paid the ferry fares for an entire ferry full of cars and drivers. The county had decided that our ferry punchcards were expiring because they were raising the rates and they wouldn't accept the old ones after a certain date. So instead of turning my barely used card in for credit, I decided to have Richie, the ferry guy, take my card and punch it for each car and person on the boat. It felt good... but it was just one trip across the passage.

This time I decided I would do something that had more impact. 

It seemed to be the easiest and most appropriate thing to do. I took copies of almost all of my books. (Two were out of print and I was out of one other in my personal stock...) I made a sign for Christine's birthday. Then I went online to decide where I was going to donate them. Originally I wanted to donate to a local women and children's shelter, but I found it impossible to find locations. They are kept secret for obvious reasons. But then it came to me- almost every day that I am in my city neighborhood, Ballard, I walk past this place:
The Ballard Boys and Girls Club. I called their main number and after two strange cell disconnections I talked with Mark. I asked him if the club accepted donations of books. At first he hedged a bit. "We have a good supply of books," he said, probably thinking I wanted to dump old encyclopedias or dog-earred and masticated ancient titles. Then I told him that I was a children's book author and illustrator who lived in the neighborhood and his voice went up an octave. "Oh, sure, you are more than welcome, of course, we'd love to connect with a local famous author/illustrator..." 

So then I signed all of the books- in honor of Christine's birthday. I'll share a few:
I put the books, the sign, and my camera in a bag and walked over in the spring blossom-filled sunshine. Mark was on the phone when I arrived at the Boys and Girls club. It was early afternoon and the building was quiet because most of the K-8 kids were in regular school... but there was a Pre-K class there and after he hung up I asked if I could make the presentation of the books in the class.

The teacher, Sarah, and the kids were quite excited. They didn't care that I had interrupted their snack time. They all dutifully lined up and washed their hands and then came over to the front of the room where Mark helped distribute the books and Sarah helped line up the kids. Mark held up Christine's birthday sign and we all wished her a Happy Birthday as I took the photo at the top of this post.

As soon as we were done, a boy in the front row said, "can we read these now?" Sarah, the teacher, told me she was verklempt. (a wonderful Yiddish expression meaning "choked up with emotion" if you aren't familiar.) I felt a bit sheepish, but very happy and proud. 

Then Mark told me that in the summertime the Boys and Girls Club has around 250 kids each weekday and in the mornings they do "stop, drop and read." He said, "you should come by one day and read to the kids." 

Yes I will. This will be the Random Act of Kindness that keeps paying forward. For Christine, and for the amazing feelings that it brings- to me- and to so many others. All said and done, it was maybe an hour of my time... but it will make waves- like a good tsunami- for a long time to come.

I hope you can find some time to start your own tidal wave of goodness. 
Our world needs more of this. I'm just so glad I can share the gift of books.

With Love,