Category Archives: Embracing Fear

Dante’s Inferno: The Musical

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(Photo Credit: Michael Dapper)

Having the opportunity to participate in musical theater this year felt a bit like the Make a Wish Foundation granted me an all expense paid vacation…with just one small, itsy-bitsy, little caveat. Along the cruise, there would be an exciting off-boat excursion! Through all nine layers of Dante’s Inferno. No bigs. Just my own personal hell.

Let me first say, I have always wanted to be in musical theater. I LOVE every bit of it. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t work out though: my high school was too small for productions, my family had lingering concerns it would lead to some compromising situations, and most importantly I had have a crippling fear of failure with a dose of perfectionism.

By the time I could try out for my first musical in college, I had no experience and auditioned horribly. I immediately decided my only option was to give up. I would often think of that moment and wish I would have just taken a class or at least not acquiesced so easily. Sixteen years later, I got the chance to try again, which brings me to my recent journey through the underworld. “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”

Layer 1. Auditions – Excited Terror

50 Shades of Bombing

Layer 2. Callbacks – Contradictory Emotions

“Notice me. NO. Wait! Don’t notice me! I’m just going to hide behind this person here so you don’t force me to sing in front of everyone. Yes, I’m fully aware that is the whole point of musical theater. What!? We have to sing alone! I can’t read music. Oh sweet Jesus, let the rapture happen right now. NO. Wait! Notice me!”

Layer 3. Casting – Brief Confident Interlude

Excitedly accept a role! “Hooray! This is going to be great. Even better, I, Melissa Lund, am going to be great!”

Layer 4. Only 20 Minutes Later – Reality Check – Blind Panic

“Holy Sh**! I can’t do this. I have no experience! I can’t sing, act, or dance! Certainly not all at the same time. I am in serious, serious trouble.” Weep publicly with a friend in a restaurant. Try to hide underneath the booth. Contemplate running away. Maybe a bus could run you over?

Layer 5. Accept Role Anyway – Anxious Desperation

Watch every TED talk on finding some level of confidence. Smile. Put your hands on your hips. Be vulnerable. Dare greatly. Blame all of these lovely, brilliant, EVIL academics for putting you through this sick torment. Start referring to Brené Brown as the devil.

Layer 6. Rehearsals – Neurosis Ensue

Start talking to yourself while you walk off stage. Twitch occasionally. Co-dependently drape yourself onto everyone. Mid-conversation, wander off in sort of a malaria-induced fever minus the mosquitoes. Forget everything. Lose several IQ points.

Layer 7. Tech Week – Move to Australia

Mentally compose letters to all three directors about your unfortunate need to step down from each respective role. In the letters, apologize profusely. Feign amnesia. Describe your malaria symptoms! Again, running away is an excellent option. I hear Sydney is lovely. Instead, decide to have a glass of wine. Ok, two.

Layer 8. Performances – Perfectionist’s Spinning Wheel of Death

Obsess over every mistake. Spiral into negativity. Have a mental seizure on stage and stutter while singing during an actual performance. Control. Alt. Delete.

Layer 9. Hours After Show – Despair

Sob. Until your eyes are so swollen you look as if you had an allergic reaction. Take a Benadryl for good measure.

And then, miraculously, the inferno is over. That’s the beauty. The inferno does end, if you’re willing to keep travelling through it. In each successive production, I descended.* After stumbling through the first weekend of performances, I finally had this obvious realization: I cannot acquire 5 or 20 years of experience overnight.** No matter how much I want to be the best and hit every note perfectly, say every line authentically, and for the love of god-remember the choreography, I am still going to be at a performance level that matches my experience and skills. Yes, I can work hard. Yes, I can practice. But I am still going to do amateur things because I am an amateur. And that’s ok. I don’t need to pay penance for being where I am.

The epiphany stuck. For the second weekend of shows, everything changed. I decided I could either exit every scene kicking myself, ready to write yet another tearful apology letter to the audience, or I could do my best and actually have fun. I don’t know that it improved my performances necessarily, but I wasn’t having mental breakdowns backstage anymore. I started enjoying the process. What’s even better is that my mind slowed down enough to actually connect with an amazing community of  people.

Traversing Dante’s Glee-filled Inferno hasn’t cured me of perfectionism or my fear of failure. At this exact moment, the thought of stepping out of my comfort zone again doesn’t sound entirely appealing, but I will. If there is anything I learned from experiencing theater this year, it’s that. Be present. Make mistakes. Be mindful. Then, move on. In the end, sometimes our wretched inferno is actually the personal hell we created for ourselves.

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(Photo Credit: Shelly Lehner)

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* “IN. TO. THE. PIT.” (Teehee, Gift Tree Cast!)

** “It could happen.” (Standing O, Mike!)

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Something New: Oh, To Be a Three Year Old

Remind me again who said, “It is never too late”? Oh that’s right, Nancy did. And Anthony Hopkins. And my great aunt who decided to start painting at 50. And my mom who started learning to play an instrument in her 60s. The people I find inspiring have all decided to pursue something new at an age when people often settle comfortably into their routines. I love these brave souls. I want to BE them–from a distance. In principle, “It is never too late” is beautiful. In practice, it is self-imposed torture.

And age is so relative! I’m in agony, and I’m 34. I can’t imagine being 74 and putting myself out there. Please, at 18, I thought it was already too late. Regardless, with each new pursuit, I feel like I’m in a dance class for toddlers. Except I’m not a toddler, so while the skill level is absolutely appropriate, I stand out a bit amongst all the little tykes. When I wear my pink tutu inside out, forget the choreography, and bump into the 2 and 3 year-olds beside me, it’s not precious and adorable. It’s awkward and maybe a little painful-especially for those poor kiddoes.

And yet, this is what I desperately wanted for this year: to stop living out of my fear and instead live period, which ultimately means stepping out of my comfort zone and making mistakes along the way. I never could have predicted last March just how many lessons that goal would afford me:

  • Rejecting perfectionism
  • Embracing play
  • Enjoying the journey (I heard some of you gag, but you know it’s true.)
  • Giving up people pleasing
  • Re-framing “failure”

I haven’t figured these out by any means, but at least my eyes are finally open to them. And more importantly-this time-I’m not fleeing. Regardless of the outcome, I’m letting “everything happen to me: beauty and terror.” (My thanks to Rilke.)

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50 Shades of Bombing

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If there is one thing I have learned to do well, it’s bomb. There have been so many examples, I have decided to only give you the highlight reel.

Coming in at third place is the time I had to play a piano solo for a small school assembly in middle school. I use the term “play” loosely. During the walk of shame back to my classroom, I overheard the upperclassmen ask my brother what was seriously wrong with his sister.

In second place, I once sang for a small church. I had to start the entire song over again becuse it went so badly. Not only that but a man with a cognitive disability in the front row started an epic slow clap for me. You know the kind of applause that builds to a crescendo, typically reserved for sentimental sports movies? Ya, that. It was all for me. After the service when I had finally stopped crying, another man in the audience told me if I had been doing it for Jesus, I wouldn’t have messed up in the first place.

And now we come to the winner: my community theater audition this evening. You may remember earlier this year I decided to wrecklessly “Embrace My Fears.” First of all, who does that? And what does that even mean? Utter and complete foolishness. I think my exact Pollyanna-esque words were, “I am going to embrace my fears head on.”

Says the person who gets run over. By a train. In Germany.

Is it obvious things did not go well? I thought that conquering fears would be all about winning–battling the demons of my limitations and coming out victorious. I have watched enough TED talks to know that this was supposed to end well. Aren’t those that risk supposed to succeed!?! I had been certain that TED himself would ask me to speak at the next conference because of my illustrious success in sheer living.

Needless to say, the audition did not go as I had hoped. It started out…adequately. I didn’t turn into Barbara Streisand like I hoped but at least it reflected my actual nascent abilities.

Then the monologue portion arrived. Ok. I need to sit down. Everyone, take a deep cleansing breath. Do you need a another glass of wine? Ya, me too.

I know some of you right now are not believing my histrionics. You may be having similar reactions as some of the friends I told earlier:

“It couldn’t have been that bad.”
“I’m sure you did better than you think.”
“It couldn’t be any worse, right?”

Wrong.
Wrong.
And really!? Are you trying to jinx me even more?

The people who auditioned before me were…nervous. Ohhh, how I felt for them, in some patronizing unattractive tone. I, on the other hand, had prepared. You see what’s coming, don’t you? Karma was headed straight for me-precision aim.

Yes, I prepared alright. I thought I had come up with some clever little story that still authentically portrayed my life and simultaneously answered the audition prompt. Two lines in, I went blank. Then, instead of thinking of how to recover, I could only think in oxygen-deprived blind panic, “Oh no, this…isn’t…happening.” Note, dear reader, I am NOT the person you should call in an emergency.

It would be bad enough if I told you I stared at my hands for the rest of the monologue…which I did. But no, that’s not the worst part. I literally said the following two lines in the middle of my struggling for any word-ANY word at all in the entire English language:

1. Wow. I’m doing really great up here. Followed by,
2. (Slightly nervous giggling) I’m a really, REALLY great actor.

Do you hear the sarcasm? Yes, that was me DURING the monologue.

The amazing thing about of all of this, and something I almost don’t want to admit, is that I laughed harder tonight than I have in a long time. I called some friends and they laughed and groaned in all of the right places. Maybe tonight was a two-fer. Consider my failure and performance fears “embraced.” Check and check. No, they aren’t conquered but at the very least I looked at them head on. And more importantly, I survived.

Earlier tonight, I considered changing my name and contact info. It was just that mortifying. I blundered in front people I will eventually have to see again…like 10 years from now if I can help it. Still, instead of going down the usual road of self-loathing, I spent the entire evening giggling (the appropriate kind).

Maybe there is something to this looking for change in the fearful corners of my heart. I may never completely overcome these fears and I may never become the next great undiscovered talent, but at the end of it all, I can share a gut-splitting guffaw with friends.

To the kind souls who talked to me in the hallway after the audition trying to console me, to those friends who understand my deep need for self-deprecation, thank you. Tonight was a surprisingly uplifting night. Perhaps bombing has some sparks I rather enjoy.

Well…let’s not get carried away.

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Embracing My Fears

I have been terrified of everything. For forever. As a hypochondriac of the mental health persuasion, I’ve attributed these fears from everything to either amnesia (of some unknown childhood trauma) or to basically the entire current volume of the DSM. When I was little, I would listen to audiotapes before I would go to sleep to avoid any potential nightmares. I would memorize Bible verses that had anything to do with feeling afraid. And at the time, these techniques really helped.

Let me add here, that there are obviously normal healthy fears, the kind that prevent us from doing foolish things or help us avoid potentially dangerous situations. I have discovered though that my unhealthy fears have at times precluded me from being an active participant in my own life. The first time I realized this was in high school. My cousin was in town and we were going to an amusement park, where I was decidedly NOT amused. I rode ZERO rides and then become the designated purse/jacket holder. It was at this moment in my life that my fear of missing out on anything fun actually trumped my fear of roller coasters. So, I did it: I rode all of the rides at Worlds of Fun that day. I was petrified before and during, but the adrenaline rush after the fact was worth it.

I had hoped that moment would make a lasting impact, but after doing some recent self-reflection I’ve realized that even though I’ve made some good strides, I’m still being controlled by my fears. So, here’s the deal. I’m going to start tackling these bastards one at a time. Any phobia that I deem worthy of being overcome, I will post here to conquer at some point in the future. This will give me both flexible deadlines (helpful for my fear of failure) and leeway to not include serial killers, satan (real or not), doggy-nappers, and scary movies. There are just some fears that I am not willing to lose.

Here’s the current list, which is subject to new additions. I’m aware that some won’t make sense to you until I elaborate in the future. Just know they are very real. Thinking about any of them makes my arms go numb. And not just me, I told Nancy that we were going to go skydiving this summer, and she panicked right along with me.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, I present to you, my fears:

  • Roller coasters (I thought I should at least get one shoo-in.)
  • Spiders & bugs
  • Running fast
  • Haunted houses
  • Performing/singing in public (Turning your co-worker’s random comments into a song doesn’t count and is completely normal.) 10/23/1212/20/12
  • Karaoke (completely different than the above)
  • Playing Rock Band
  • Cooking
  • Failure 10/23/1212/20/12
  • Blogging
  • Learning 12/14/1212/20/12
  • Returning emails
  • Bungee Jumping
  • Skydiving
  • Auditions 10/23/12
  • Shaming my Family
  • Theater Interpreting
  • My Basement

Not too long ago, Nancy shared a poem with me by Joy Harjo, which is much more profound than bugs and karaoke, but it applies perfectly to any kind of fear that threatens to govern your life.

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