Here is an old writing piece; something I was forced to put together for a college writing class. After several drafts that the teacher rejected, I finally sat down and just wrote what was going through my head. She loved it. Go figure. Anyway, here it is. (Oh, the boyfriend mentioned is Anthony, in case you are wondering.)
Stage Fright 6-30-05
I think to myself when I walk. I've been told I think strangely, too, because I don't think about events in my life or people; I think about conversations. They're not even real conversations most of the time—I imagine sensitive topics that might come up or what I would say to defend myself in various situations. I make up scenarios and then try to imagine how someone—I usually have someone specific in mind—would act or what they would say. Of course, this is ridiculous because I can't know exactly what someone else thinks or how they will respond. In truth, I'm really just talking with myself, but I tell myself it's a sort of preparation. I want to know in advance what I'm going to say and do—as if there's a script I can write for every situation. Sometimes, I even go back and revise "scripts" I've created previously, so my responses can be just perfect. I'm not really sure why I do this. Perhaps this need for scripted dialogue comes from experience with acting.
I started theater when I was in middle school. I think I only got involved because my friends were, and I wanted to be "cool" like them. The first time I auditioned, I had simply tagged along with them after school. I thought the drama teacher was beautiful, and I idolized her. She sat in front of the stage, scribbling in her notebook as she assessed the auditioning performers. As I waited in line, I watched her eyes occasionally glaze over before she would sigh and add something more to her notes; I hoped I would not evoke that response. Then someone handed me a script and told me to get up on stage. My legs trembled, but as I started reading, I found it really wasn't much different than reading from a book, except that I was adding visual movement to the words. It was easy! They said I was a natural and gave me the lead role.
There is something liberating about acting. Something absolutely wonderful about pretending to be someone I am not. If only for an instant, I become someone who knows where they're going—or at least I know where they're going because I've seen the end of the script. I get to pretend I am someone whose life is interesting: people pay money to see what happens to the character of a play. For a while, I don't have to worry about saying the wrong thing because it's all been written out for me. I already know what everyone else is going to say and how I will respond. There are no surprises. I love having that certain knowledge of where life is going, even if it isn't really my life at all. If the audience is truly involved in the scene, they may forget entirely that I am only an actor pretending to be what they see. In a way, when I become a character other than myself, I disappear. The person I am, the real me, ceases to exist.
When I moved up into the new and seemingly limitless world of high school, I continued in my theater hobbies. I took a few theater classes, played improvisation games and hung out with the thespians. I even tried out for the major high school production, but, being and underclassman, I was assigned a very minor role. How dare they? Didn't they know how talented I was? They had the next big star to work with, and they wanted me to play a character than said only one or two lines! I was insulted, to put it mildly. I sulked around practice for a few nights, developed some bitter attitudes about the upperclassmen and official thespians, and eventually dropped out. I didn't just drop out of the play, I dropped out of the dramatic world altogether.
From that point on, I became more and more reserved. No more "gorilla theater." No more going to the grocery store with a friend and acting out some absurd scenario about refusing to buy mayonnaise because of "what you did with the last jar," and watching the reactions of eavesdropping shoppers. No, I told myself I was growing up, and that meant growing out of theater. Thespians are much too extreme, or so I was convinced, and as "mature" as I was becoming, I certainly didn't need to mingle with those weird people.
In truth, I missed the theater. I guess I still do. I miss the attention I had on stage. Most of all, I miss spending time as someone else. I still draw upon my dramatic tendencies at times, but in smaller ways than theater. I often pretend I am someone else in situations that make me uncomfortable or nervous. Interviewing for a job, giving a speech, going on a date—these are things that require a person with more confidence, more poise, or more social tact than what I think I have myself. When I anticipate something I know will make me uneasy, I take a deep breath and try to slip into a character larger than me. I let the real me—the little girl who feels insecure and unsure, painfully aware of her embarrassing flaws—disappear.
I've never really identified the character that I become; I've never given her a name or a face other than my own. Maybe this make-believe me is really just who I want to be. And yet, I think that as much as I try to become that person, she will always elude me and be just beyond my reach, just beyond my potential to become. Or perhaps this little mental exercise of mine lets me pretend that things aren't really happening to me. Maybe I'm just too insecure with myself and prefer someone else to take over while I watch from a safe hiding place. What is it about me that I'm so afraid will be discovered? Maybe I'm more afraid of someone discovering what I am not.
It's not like I'm unhappy with who I am. In fact, I'm usually pretty confident; at least I think I am. Maybe I just try to come across that way. In high school, we were asked to describe ourselves for an assignment. I can never think of ways to describe myself. To me, I'm a pretty boring person. There is nothing extraordinary about me, and nothing exciting ever happens to me. When asked to tell about myself to a group of people, all I can usually come up with is, "Well, I'm short… I have blue eyes…" and other such terribly unimpressive characteristics. So when I got this assignment, I decided to ask my friends for help. They each wrote a few sentences about what they thought of me. One friend wrote, "She holds the world in the palm of her hand and laughs about it." But I don't always feel that way. Sometimes my confidence is just an outer display while inside I feel very insecure—especially when I'm trying to make a good impression.
If ever I wanted to make a good impression, it was the weekend that I met my boyfriend's family. His mom and sister were staying in Salt Lake for General Conference; they invited us to watch the first session from their hotel. I was terribly nervous about meeting them because I rather liked this guy, and if his family didn't like me, he might just rethink how he felt about me himself. Putting up my hair on Saturday morning, trying for what must have been the seventh time to make it look just right, I heard my roommate chuckling at me. "Meeting the future in-laws today?" I laughed, not because she was necessarily funny, but because she had voiced what I didn't want to admit: not even to myself.
When we arrived at their hotel, I was so nervous that I clung to my boyfriend's hand and hid as best I could behind his shoulder as the door opened. I must have resembled a toddler clinging to my mommy's leg, burying my face in the folds of her skirt and reasoning that if I couldn't see those intimidating strangers, they must have gone away. His mom gave him a warm hug and ushered us inside where I waved a clumsy hello. I must have rehearsed a hundred ways to greet her, but nothing came out of my mouth. The room was littered with his sister's college roommates, sprawled out on the couches and floor, limbs draped over each other. Their apparent comfort made me feel even more out of place. I tiptoed around the girls and tried to look small as I took a corner of one couch. My boyfriend seemed much more at ease as he made room for himself next to me. His mom sat in a chair behind us, and for the next two hours I couldn't help wondering if her eyes were on me or the TV. After the session, we stayed to talk. Well, my boyfriend talked—I just sat and smiled a lot. It was like I had a bad case of stage fright. I kept wishing someone could feed me my lines from off-stage. There had to be something more interesting I could talk about than the weather or my Latin class. Why couldn't I remember something—anything—that I had rehearsed? Why couldn't I become the clever, amazing girl that everyone would fall in love with? I was not making the impression I had planned. I kept waiting for relief to come, but it never did. My boyfriend told me later that his family like me, but I couldn't understand why. I left the hotel feeling like I couldn't have given a more pathetic performance.
Yet, as much as I try to hide that shy little girl in me, maybe she's what keeps me real. She reminds me that I'm not perfect and my insecurities place me on the same playing field as everyone else. Perhaps it is good to be aware of my flaws because it allows me to keep my confidence in perspective and relate to others. The hardest part may be realizing that others have insecurities of their own. I might not be the only person who feels nervous introducing myself to a group. Maybe my date feels just as awkward as I do. I'm probably not the only one who wishes someone could feed me the right lines. The character other people put up in uncomfortable situations may be more charming, witty, or outgoing than mine—but it may still just be a character.
Perhaps everyone else around me is pretending to be something they're not as well. Although, when we pretend for very long, these characters might really become a part of us. That may be what is so fascinating about getting to know someone—to really know them—getting past the best side that they put forward and understanding or even loving those things that make them insecure. Sometimes it may be good to be surprised by situations and be forced to give responses that are genuine, rather than some rehearsed dialogue or scripted conversation. I think my best friends are the ones with whom I don't feel the need to hide my insecurities, those for whom I don't need to write scripts as I walk, and those that feel comfortable showing their real selves to me.