On Fear, and Why We Do it Anyway

by Esther Emery

I cried all the way down Adams Avenue tonight, because I knew I wouldn’t make it home from work in time to see my son before his bedtime. When I got home, Nick told me that Milo is recognizing words. He has been making baby signs with Missy, and he claps when you say ‘clap.’ I didn’t know whether to smile at the unbearable cuteness of baby clapping as communication, or feel wounded that I wasn’t there to see it. It’s somehow out of body, to hear about your child like that, like a strange, unexpected threat against my identity as flesh of my flesh.

While Milo was associating Missy’s ceiling fan with the consonant-vowel-consonant series that describes it, I was feeling stuck in the rehearsal room in the way I feel stuck when my performance anxiety speaks louder than my creativity. Maybe I just scheduled too many pages in a day, or maybe I allowed collective standards of acceptability to obscure the path to something dangerous and beautiful. I’m craving something sharp enough to reach the heart, and instead I’m making powder puffs. You know, you’ve all been there.  That day in rehearsal when you talk too much. You listen too much. You’re careful. And everybody’s bored.

And then I burned my dinner, just as Nick was telling me that he’s feeling stressed by all the housekeeping tasks that he’s trying to take care of that I’m not helping with, and I sat down to a burnt grilled cheese sandwich and talked Nick through the sources of his stress. (Don’t let anyone tell me you have to have two X chromosomes to be a frustrated housekeeper.)  Now finally, just before midnight, I’ve settled down to my computer, holding at an arms length the panic that is associated with a three week rehearsal period and simultaneously feeling the need to live a little closer to my terror.

We are all born in terror.

I’m thinking of a post I almost wrote about Jo Anne during tech week for The Listener. She told me she was working on being present in her fear, and I was stunned by that. I thought of it every time the lights came up on her in stillness on that stool and I thought of it again as I watched her call out on behalf of humanity on that bizarrely unreal manufactured prop radio.  Her faith in fiction took my breath away.

We all live in fear.

Elaine just posted about her fear of losing her children. How do you live with that? The fear of death? Do we hide it? Hold it dear? Transform it into hatred? Package it in guns and alarm systems and plastic child-safety kits and sell it on the free market in exchange for a little piece of someone’s soul?

I don’t know.

I only know that once per evening, an actress leaves her own skin behind to take on an imaginary life, a life controlled first by playwright, then by director, and finally only by other characters who are captive, as she is, to this ritual in which their everyday identity is out of reach. The actress emerges from herself, lets go, and rides the play down like a helicopter, hoping against hope for a smooth descent.

I owe my actors nothing less.

So I’m manufacturing my own Thursday Inspiration, my middle-of-the-rehearsal-week inspiration, according to my own specific needs. I will go to rehearsal tomorrow and make the choice that most scares the hell out of me. Nothing less.

Please consider this an open thread on fear and why we do it anyway. Come on, I could use the inspiration!