Tag Archives: performance anxiety

Where?

“Where is love?

Does it fall from skies, above?

Is it underneath the willow tree

That I’ve been dreaming of?

Where is he?

Who I close my eyes, to see?

Will I ever know

The sweet “hello”

That’s meant for only me?”

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About three weeks ago, I submitted my mind and body to the art of meditation. This was a form foreign to both my personal history with the practice, and distinct from one which had been introduced to me by someone else last summer.

As a child, I was brought into a scenario of contemplative silence every Sunday morning. The room was small, the gathering equally so. Unadorned by icon or precise ritual, this practice was simple: sit, quietly, and think about Jesus on the Cross, dying for the sins of the world.

Naturally, as a very young person, I could only submit to that which I understood. I looked around at everything and everybody, developing keen powers of observation; I listened to every sound, however fleeting or faint; I munched on pretzel sticks, Cheerios and Lucky Charms; and I squirmed, peeling the bare skin of my thighs away from the sticky, plywood seat beneath.

Many years hence, one attempt at a yoga class re-visited the art. But, my body, twisted by scoliosis, resisted cooperating with the shapes it was required to take during the sessions, and I walked away.

A year ago, almost to the day, an old boyfriend briefly re-entered my world. He’d been immersed in the daily ritual, a fervent follower of its most earnest gurus from across the globe. He descended with a pronounced pounce, declaring my shortcomings and every solution to be found in: breathing correctly; sitting correctly; posing correctly; and, most importantly, following correctly his every instruction. I soon tired of his dogma of serenity, jumped back on my feet, and resumed the frenetic, mind-driven personality to which I had become accustomed for a lifetime.

But, last month was different.

First of all, I was highly motivated. This seminar promised to transform our lives. We were assured that any chronic anxieties would dissipate. Any roadblocks to performance success would finally be dismantled. I anticipated this liberation with very great hopefulness.

Sitting still was the clincher. Twenty minutes being my learned limit, not only did we sit so still, we did so for almost two hours at a time. Ever the agitating agitator, I became acutely aware of just how frequently my body adjusted itself in the seat. Every nerve ending was primed to attention. I was teeming with energy, having no apparent place to put it.

We were prompted with a single, verbalized thought: “I am anxious.” No kidding. No shit, Sherlock. But, next, the prompt: “There is a place of anxiety in me.” That was odd. Apparently, the anxiety did not have to own us; rather, we could own a position detached from it. But, first, we had to identify its location, and then its features, and then just recognize it. In silence. Sitting still.

Over the next several days, my mind began the slow process of adjustment. I sat up straight, letting my spine sink into the chair and my feet into the floor. My emotion of the moment was named. I found its place. I felt its energy. And, I sat with it.

The outcome of the seminar met its every claim, fulfilling every promise. I was truly transformed. The demons were expunged. I was healed.

That was last month.

Today, I sit with this emotion. I feel bereft. The one who said he loved me, and I him, is not with me. I have identified the place of forlorn emptiness. I feel its shape, its every aspect. This one is large. It fills most of me, my entire torso, leaving only my appendages to dangle uselessly. Like grief, it fights mightily for every ounce of energy. I struggle to detach from its power. How can love, and the need for it, overtake a person so completely? Where did all this come from, anyway? Didn’t I just write about the whole thing last week?

I speculate. It’s my nature. Perhaps mindfulness practices are only beneficial when the other parts of the human need matrix are already well put together. Perhaps basic needs should be addressed separately. Somebody said awhile ago that music and art are important, but they don’t feed the hungry. Perhaps that is a point well taken.

Oliver sang those lyrics quoted above, in the musical of the same name. He stood, an orphan, looking out at the stars, asking the universe for the most fundamental force in all of life to come into his heart and feed him. Today, I feel like an orphan in the war of love. Even meditation doesn’t succour me. Somebody else is getting the one I need, and accepting that I must endure the reality yet again after two thirds of an average lifetime is just about more than any quiet contemplation can resolve.

So, again today, I will love myself. You’ll pardon my absence. The task is rather enormous. There is a lot of self to love in this room today. Many have said there is too much. Perhaps this is a molting phase so profound that the outcome eludes me. I think I hope so. Right now, the light is faint.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

8/25/15

All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

No Excuse.

Author’s Note: The night before I wrote this I sat up well past midnight, scrolling through every interview with every woman who had, in those recent days, come out publicly bearing a personal account of sexual abuse by Bill Cosby. My heart rate increased; my chest ached. Then, I felt the energy churning. I was emboldened.

At that point, I posted this account – here, on my blog; a few days later, feeling nervous about repercussions, I pulled it.

But, now, the time is right.

Herewith, another woman’s story. [PG-13].

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I think it was the winter of 1999. I was, essentially, at work. Having become increasingly overwrought by the personnel actions toward me of a professional colleague (whom I’d also thought a friend), I was found to be disclosing my frustrations following one of our evening group sessions together.

A certain coworker listened, and quietly suggested I come over to his in-town apartment to discuss it. He said he had a fine musical instrument he wanted me to check out, as well, an instrument which I played professionally. Having professionally collaborated with this coworker in the past, I’d been to that in-town apartment before – both during the day, and in the evening. In fact, the building being one of our town’s historical treasures, I’d even been there to take several photographs of its interior. So, I was well-acquainted with its owner, and accepted the invitation without any hesitation.

When I arrived, I entered the kitchen of the apartment, located at the back of the building, fully familiar with my surroundings. As I sat at the small table in the corner with my back to the wall, he removed a bottle of wine from a cupboard on the other side of the kitchen and began to pour me a glass. He said it was a Merlot, given to him by a mutual acquaintance, a close friend of his. Although we’d shared pierogis once before at that table, we’d never had wine.

I began the long saga of my alleged friendship with the colleague in question. Tears ran down my face as I expressed feelings of fear, suspicion of professional manipulation, and an encroaching anxiety. I also sipped the wine at frequent intervals, probably due to both thirst and its tempting quality. Historically, I drank rarely and, on that particular evening – my stomach being empty – I would later realize the wine had gone straight to my head.

Reaching full-on sobs, I was nevertheless able to note that he kept refilling my glass. Then, at a certain point, and without any warning he half-stood, leaned across the table, and kissed my mouth. It was the kind of kiss that pressed against my face. I remember thinking in my fog that I did not want to kiss him, so I did not respond/did not kiss him back. We had never before had any form of a physical relationship, and I had zero interest in starting one. I began to stand up; it was, in my mind, time to leave.

As my body reached a fully standing position, I noted that I was very dizzy. Though returning home was a straight shot south, it was dark outside and I could not seem to control the dizziness. Since this was a weekend evening and I was an employee of the public school system, my mind at that moment prioritized avoiding a DUI and I determined that I needed to wait a bit, to let the most immediate alcohol effect wear off.

My choices, however, were limited. Since he was quiet by nature, and not behaving overtly aggressively, I felt momentarily safe enough to walk through the next room into the much larger room where the instrument was located. My initial acceptance of the invitation having included the option of checking out the instrument, I concluded in my stupor that following through on that part of the invitation would further legitimize my presence there, and give me the extra time to wear down the alcohol effect before returning home. I also knew that being seen at the instrument through any front-facing window would, at the very least, appear honorable. I was also, strangely, aware of being seen by God.

I sat at the instrument and began to play it, as he spoke about practicing scales, and such. He’d followed me into the room. Then, from behind, he began to kiss the nape of my neck. He did so, repeatedly. I recall feeling completely submissive to this, unable to resist the arousal. I recall reaching back behind me, and momentarily placing my hands between his legs. Then, he said something, and walked away from me into the adjoining room through which I had passed to reach the instrument.

That room was a bedroom. He lay on his back on the bed; I stood in the doorway of the room. I remember a child’s tricycle to the near left of me, close to the exit leading into the kitchen. I stood facing him, across the room from the bed, and told him that I was leaving. I remember reminding him that he was married, that his wife had just had a baby, and that what was happening in this place was wrong.

He asked me whether or not there were times when I might just want to have sex. I said “No.” And, then, I turned, and walked out of the room, through the kitchen, and outside to my car.

Driving south toward home, trying to process what had just happened, I felt very, very tired. It wasn’t until the next day that, awakening, I fully realized what had taken place the night before. I remember being struck by how quietly the whole thing had transpired.

And, I kept all of this equally quietly to myself, a reaction uncommon to my transparent, disclosing nature. My mother had died four years prior, and my husband had left soon after her death. Some might have argued that I was in an extended, emotionally vulnerable state, perhaps residual grief. ( I would contend that, while emotionally expressive by nature, I am a woman of tremendous inner resolve. What I determine to do, once I have determined to do it, I do with my might; conversely, what I determine I will not do will quite literally never happen.) Such was the case that evening. I knew when I entered that place that I was neither expecting nor hoping for a sexual encounter; as such, I left that place before any such thing occurred. No amount of wine, or other un-inhibiting substance, would have altered that outcome, as far as I was concerned.

But, the effect of that encounter stayed with me. What became clear (to me) as nefarious intent would prove out over time. It would lead to its own not-so-quiet horror, carrying the potential for bringing down not only me and my professional life in the community, but my entire family name. I would live out actions and reactions that would follow both a predictable and completely shocking path of emotional assault. I would witness and endure my own actions of that evening being turned on me, reconstituted, and transformed into accusation, accusation coming to me in the form of a letter drafted by an attorney and signed by important members of the community. How so? The coworker in question, who’d listened that evening to my entire backstory, would take the information I had provided that night and use it against me, after securing the very position later vacated by my alleged friend and then hiring others in my place. I would ultimately need to consult my father, my brother (who, as a toxicologist with a PhD, had already served many times in court as expert witness), and an attorney, to determine whether I had a legal case – only to be told I did not, lest I be willing to take on the entire organization alone. In the end, I would be legally advised by the other side to drop any and all allegations against said coworker, in exchange for continuing hire by the organization.

In short, I had been turned into an accuser – perhaps, even been unfairly characterized as some kind of perpetrator.

This I will never know with certainty, unless I seek out those who were consulted against me. Nobody associated with the organization for which both of us had worked, he by contract and myself by hire, ever either suggested or asked that I meet with them face to face. All communications regarding the entire sordid episode took place via email, with my initial inquiry the catalyst; I had approached the employee committee in place to address all concerns with questions about my hire, and referenced the encounter as a possible corollary. This, apparently, was all it took for the case to be made a major point of repeated discussion by the committee –  all taking place outside of my presence  – discussions, fatefully, which reached the eyes and ears of the coworker I’d cited, when one member of the committee gave him copies of my correspondence. Once these reached his eyes, he’d consulted with the management of the organization, members of which were, apparently, quite willing to meet with him, whereupon they jointly drafted, signed, and sent me the letter.

I remember finding out about that letter before it reached me; the phone rang on Hallowe’en night, while I was passing out candy to the children at the door. A colleague, from the committee, was calling to warn me that both myself and the organization were about to be sued. I fell to the floor, completely hysterical.

The anxiety which followed that near-disaster would stick to me like a fly to the paper for years thereafter. The most damaging fall-out of the episode, in my case, was the development of performance anxiety. As a publicly performing musician my entire life up until that point, I had always been able to approach any stage and my presence upon it with the utmost confidence, a gift borne in me by my spectacularly talented father and nurtured by my completely devoted, diligent mother. Now, I would get cold and clammy, and paranoid; how many in the audience knew who I was? Who knew what had happened? How many colleagues from any number of work sites knew?  I would consult therapists to overcome it. I would grapple ever after to regain my self. And, to this day, fifteen years hence, I still fight its residual effects to save my own emotional soul.

My late mother would have offered clarity. Never in a million years, she would have sternly intoned, should I have agreed to enter the dwelling of a married man alone after dark. What on earth was I thinking?!

And, she would have been right. There was simply no.excuse.

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I can’t know the mind of an ingenue, in the presence of a very powerful celebrity who is both beloved and strong. But, I would suggest that, in our time, every effort be made to protect young women from any situation which leaves them physically subject to the slightest possibility of being overpowered. Agents and other representatives should be sure that all encounters with alleged mentors take place in mixed company, or in public, and be monitored. How difficult is that to arrange? Being left alone, or choosing to be alone, with any one person – I now know – always carries its own warnings. Maybe it’s time to simply heed them. Fallout from even a brief, badly-timed encounter can be both dark, and lifelong.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 12/6/14 All rights completely, and utterly, reserved by the author. Please, respect this. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Experiment.

Tonight was a sharp reminder that the other thing I wanted to do with my life was: study the brain.

How many migraineurs out there? How many Imitrex-dependent headaches?

Any [of the aforementioned] classical musicians also take beta blockers?

Suppose you’ve ever mixed the two – not on purpose, of course, but of necessity. You know, you have the headache; you have to perform. You take care of the headache first so you can eat and then, then you take the beta blocker, an hour before curtain.

Now, we are not talking about the time you took an allegra and then a benadryl and THEN called the pharmacist to ask if it was okay. Nope. That was a dangerous mistake, and a stupefyingly enormous one at that. Even if the kids thought you were a laugh riot.

No; I’m talking about the “head game” the synergy of two powerful drugs plays with your pre-frontal cortex and your long term memory. That, even when the pharmacist puts you on hold and looks them up and says that they are safe when taken together.

You are strangely relaxed, in a really unfamiliar way. Then, you discover that your edge is missing, the part that drives your impetus. It takes noticeable effort to pull off the simplest maneuvers, the kind that is more unpleasant than the jitters you have to suppress without the panacea. This is because the serotonin levels in your brain are way too high, negating the customary angst, sturm, und drang that produces a work of art, and you have absolutely no blood pressure.

Somehow, you make it through all the tough passagework and the phrases in this rickety contraption that has become your body. Then, you hit the home stretch.

Fatal Mistake: you think you’re already there.

This is when your brain throws it.

Suddenly, no warning. Your auto pilot jams and tosses a garble that would rival Elmer Fudd, auctioneer. You hear it happen but, like an acute attack of PMS, you are powerless to grasp after any remedy. Your hand is a runaway spider on a greased monkey. And, the thing has no choice but to play itself out until, by some miracle, you reach the final cadence and the eternal mercy of the last note.

People describe your performance. They use words like “great!” and “Thank you for playing!” and “SO musical.” This is code for “You Screwed Up.”

But, you know it. And, this time, you know why. You just wish you could prove it. You wish you knew the mechanism that clogs the synapses and capillaries, that spits out some clunk version of a flawless rendition of the dramatic chromatic ascent that everybody recognizes as the pre-orgasmic hook in the Prelude by Bach. You only know it as the part you’ve played what seems like a hundred times, each one sexier than the time before.

And, all of this titillating sensation is lost on two lousy pills the size of one pinkie fingernail combined.

Those who know the piece make the mental note that you have about as much musical depth as that pinkie fingernail. Those who do not shift in their seats and wonder why they are feeling like they just don’t like this song all of a sudden. Either way, you’ve lost your chance. Your audience. Your moment to make the music.

All because of one lousy migraine, and the belief that you couldn’t do it alone.

Funny about beliefs. Some people stake their lives on them. I think it might be time to dispense with them altogether. There is entirely too much beauty and truth waiting in the wings not to be wasted.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

3/15/15   p.s. There’s a version of the piece in question on my blog. Keyword “Bach Prelude from Suite I.” It’s a tad plodding and indulged, but the hook will take you all the way. If you need to change your pants after, chalk it up to the least I could do and know that Bach did it for you. I was just along for the ride.