Sweat was creeping down my neck. Pacing backstage, I knew I was screwed. I was on in five minutes and I couldn’t remember any of the notes…any of them. I’d rehearsed and rehearsed—but this was real. Everyone I knew was sitting on the other side of that door and I didn’t even know if my guitar was in tune. Closing my eyes, I tried to remember my song.
“Nice guitar,” a vaguely familiar voice said, “Want me to tune it?”
Alex Skolnick!? What was he doing at the Lake Howell Talent Show? Did he know one of the fire eaters? Or maybe the guy who played Chopin with his toes?
I nodded and he kicked back with my ’71 Les Paul while I fought for air, feeling my heart eating itself with fear as the roar of the crowd sucked me closer to what was sure to be a most horrific death.
Why did I keep doing this? Signing up for these things knowing I couldn’t play? I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t. I’d fall on my face and everyone would know there was nothing to me. Just coffee, hair, and air.
“All done,” he said handing it back. I strapped it on while a girl I knew ran past me wearing a leotard and a flowered swim cap.
“I can’t do this,” I said out loud.
“Sure you can,” Alex said.
“No,” I said, hyperventilating,” I really can’t. I can’t play this thing. People think I can but I can’t. I used to play, but I was young then. I could do anything. I ate bread and didn’t floss and rode motorcycles. Now I’m old and everyone will laugh.”
Applause shook the stage door.
I knew I had to choose: Walk out there, not knowing a single note—or run. But then, suddenly, it came back to me! I saw the chords. Felt my hands making the shapes! God damnit, I wanted this. I’d wanted it my whole life and I was DOING IT. I took a deep breath, nodded to Alex, and reached for the door…
Where were my pants?
I’ve had that dream for 20 years. Alex Skolnick was a new twist (I’d just read his blog that day), but not surprising as there’s always an impressive guest list: Ace Frehley (usually drunk); Joe Perry (really nice); Max Cavalera (brought a sandwich); etc.
Of course it’s about fear. Fear of failure, embarrassment, change. Whatever’s on the daily docket, I can turn it into a REM-cycle rock opera rivaling Ann-Margret in beans.
But I don’t want to have that dream anymore.
I don’t want to be afraid of taking the stage.
When Carrie Fisher died—which I still can’t even type without stopping to get a grip before moving on to my next breath or motor skill—I realized how much I’d depended on her. Which wasn’t fair. We’d never met.
But since Postcards From The Edge (which I read in high school), I’d considered her a best friend. Not in a creepy Jennifer Jason Leigh/matching pixie cuts way, but in a Who’s the one person on the planet I know would understand if I said I couldn’t meet for lunch because my living room was eating me? way.
As a bonus, she railed against all the right things and made me laugh out loud in work meetings (which she probably would’ve loved) when I thought of lines like, “Someone is staring at you in ‘personal growth’” (When Harry Met Sally) or the classic Liz Taylor “consolation” quote (Google it).
Mostly, she was the first woman to ever…EVER give me the idea that, “Hey…maybe it would be helpful if I get this monumental, melon-sized cyst of insecurity out of my system through…I don’t know…writing? Instead of binge-drinking with Nachos Bell Grande?”
That alone might be how I survived my twenties.
But, even with a friend like Carrie Fisher by my side, the stage fright remained. Once, in another life where I wore babydoll dresses and thought Keanu Reeves was my soul mate (actually, to be honest, I still do), I was invited to audition for a band. Not just any band—THE local band. The coolest kids in town who I knew, haphazardly, through the record store. Word was around that I was “a rock chick who jammed,” and I loved the rep. As long as I never had to prove it.
Long story short, after weeks of excuses (“I have the flu; My dog ate a lamp; My grandmother dropped acid and freaked out and hijacked a school bus full of penguins”), the jig was up. I drove to their practice space, plugged in…flexed my knuckles…and sucked worse than any guitar player has ever sucked before or since.
Not because I couldn’t play. I wasn’t great, but I had rhythm. My problem was I couldn’t play outside my bedroom.
And thus the recurring dream began.
When I started submitting magazine articles, the first one struck gold and I saw my first by-line in a local rag dedicated to the Orlando Magic (I was a fan). That was soon followed by countless CD and concert reviews, band bios, and even a press kit I was told garnered a shout out from Johnny Z, who apparently said, “Who wrote this? This is great!” (Johnny Z founded Megaforce Records and launched the career of Metallica, among others).
Then I got dissed by Writer’s Digest. Writer’s Freaking Digest, which is like Martha Stewart Living for people who write Game of Thrones fan fiction. That was all it took. I stopped writing for years. I couldn’t handle another rejection letter because I believed they held more truth than anything I might tell myself.
Well, guess what? It’s 2017 and the world may or may not be coming to an end, and I’ve been on a diet since 1983, and my hair still doesn’t look like Doro Pesch’s (Google her), and I never wrote for Kerrang!, and my living room still threatens to swallow me from time to time when my anxiety grabs me by the proverbial not-going-there and puts me in a corner where the only voices I hear are everyone who’s ever snubbed me for my thighs or my mind, which scares them shitless because, much like my mentor, I’m saner with my “crazy” than any of the perfect people I see stuffing their pie holes with “faster” and “more” to avoid talking to themselves.
So I’ve decided this is the year I walk onto that stage, whether it’s submitting a book or moving to another state (or both). This isn’t a resolution (although I have given up Coke Life because I had three last night, and at 4am I could hear my cells dividing).
This is me, not giving into The Dark Side. And let me tell you, if there was an emoji for the last three years of my life, it would be Grand Moff Tarkin, sneering.
I need to tune my own guitar and find my legs so I can walk through that stage door, get lost David St. Hubbins-style, find the lights, pass the PA, and make it all the way to “x marks the spot.”
And what will I play when my pick hits the strings? Whatever the hell I want.
Let’s just hope I’m wearing pants.