One of the things I was never talented in was theater/acting. The thought of going up in front of people was more than terrifying. First, I could never fundamentally “put myself in a character’s shoes”; I imagine now I could if I could immerse myself totally, but in high school, you can’t do that. So jumping into “someone else” just to act because your teacher wants you to… near impossible. Excruciating. Second, I had an extremely hard time expressing emotions that I didn’t feel. If the character was angry, and I wasn’t, it was a disaster. I simply said the lines, when they wanted more. One episode of “forced acting in English class” drove me to tears.
Maybe this is earliest that I remember feeling anxious — 9th grade. I was in the Honors cohort with a bunch of other kids that were in “Gift Classes” in elementary school and we all took similar Honors or AP classes throughout high school. That meant, in Honors English, getting up in front of the class to act, recite monologues, explain what we read, or create a discussion. The only thing I could do well was recite a monologue. Memorizing Shakespeare’s Friends, Romans, Countrymen was hard enough by itself, and I still needed cues.
I remember having to get up in front of class to describe a book. I understood the book I read — The Hunt for Red October — but for the life of me could not explain the book from beginning to end. There were so many details, so many characters, my memory was so poor, and it all came out in a jumbled mess. It seems like every time I describe a book or movie or scene, my explanations comes in a mess and no one gets it.If I have to get up in front of class to explain, I might as well have been a two-year-old practicing her first words.
Another talent I don’t have is music. Once I played classical music on the piano, but it was all about playing what the composer wrote, exactly like they wanted it. What I really wanted to do was to create music out of thin air, the way a couple of my friends could do. They were musically gifted– they could sit at a piano and just play something new, good-sounding, and emotional. They could make it up on the spot. I was so jealous. And they weren’t able to tell me how they did it. They just did. No matter how much I learned classical, I could not figure out how to make up music on the spot. My brain, hands, and knowledge never melded together for me to just jam; they clashed, stopped, banged in discord. It was just memorizing and practicing until I was playing perfectly, like a trained monkey. Now I think that my classical teacher just wanted to teach me famous classical pieces to make my mom happy. I was never taught theory. I was frustrated I couldn’t musically create. I thought it was because it was the same as theater — no talent.
In 9th grade, I truly learned the discomfort and awkwardness of any front-of-crowd activity. I dreaded them with an obsession; they sharply focused my anxiety to new heights. Unfortunately, speaking in front of audiences continued to be a part of taking classes all the way into college. I couldn’t escape.
Perhaps the problem just lies in being in front of a crowd. I remember being forced to take an art class in college, and one of the subjects was “Performance Art”. I could do sculpture, cartoons, posters, what have you — but performance, yet again, was downright awkward. I dreaded it like one would dread a root canal. It seemed like others in my class were alright with it, if they weren’t excited about it. For me, it felt like Fight or Flight.
When I think about it this way, maybe the forms of expression I most have trouble with are connected to being in front of a crowd. If I don’t have to talk to a crowd, like in my writing or photography, I’m fine. If I have to act, play, perform, talk, discuss — the world ends. I’m in the spotlight, and nothing I have read or prepared is there for me. I’m standing there alone, awkward, with no idea how to say what I have in my mind.