Stage Fright Is A Troll (And Other Observations)

pack of cards

Well, it’s been quite a week. My last post, “Disarmed: Dropping the Protective Armour of Stage Fright,” went kind of viral. I’d been writing this blog for five years for a small audience, and then suddenly my readership was in the tens of thousands.

To my delight, I made a bunch of new friends. Some were people I’d admired for years. Several readers were kind enough to write to me to share their own moving stories of how they overcame, or didn’t overcome, stage fright. Many shared my essay on their own websites, Twitter, and Facebook pages. Norman Lebrecht generously brought me a huge amount of traffic by linking to me on Slipped Disc. For this, I am hugely grateful. It means so much to me that something I wrote might have helped others through this most universal of human experiences.

The shadow side to all this attention was that I got some trolls.

(I love it that troll is the word we use for such people, don’t you? The idea of a hideous monster skulking about in a cave—or in its parents’ basement— is a perfect metaphor for the sort of person who has the time and inclination to look up the email address of a stranger and write to her telling her she’s an idiot.)

This could have hurt my feelings a great deal, but it didn’t. Because the more I thought about them, the more the trolls’ voices sounded oddly familiar.

Those trolls sounded exactly like the nasty little chattering monologue of self-criticism that pops into your head when you have stage fright. (“You’re stupid. You’re nobody. You’re doing it wrong. Everyone thinks you’re terrible. Who do you think you are?”)

I had to smile at this.

Wouldn’t it be funny if we performers learned to picture our Meanypants Interior Monologues™ as shouty internet trolls?

The conversation might sound something like this:

MIM (sneaking into the green room, trampling all over the carpet with dirty boots): “You’re so dumb and untalented, you shouldn’t be allowed to perform music in public.”

You: “Whatever. I love music and some people showed up to hear me making some. I’m going to focus on them, not on you. I don’t have to listen to you.”

MIM: “You do! I have a right to freedom of speech!”

You: “The First Amendment only protects your right to speak without government censorship. It doesn’t mean you’re entitled to be listened to. I choose not to listen to you.”

MIM (jumping up and down with rage): “You just can’t stand to have anyone disagree with you, because you’re stupid. Don’t you know that you’re useless and incompetent at your instrument? Don’t you know that you’re just embarrassing yourself by imagining that anyone will enjoy your playing? What makes you think you have anything important to express? You shouldn’t even be allowed to make music in public! Nobody likes you! Nobody wants to listen to you! You should listen to me as I bully, patronize, and bore you!”

You: “I shall now hit my real-life Delete Spam button.”

(Cue a decisive clicking noise as you do just that, while MIM stamps around shouting furiously–and now, inaudibly.)

Ah well. They’re nothing but a pack of cards. In the words of the immortal philosopher Taylor Swift, haters gonna hate. Thank you, old friends and new, for the outpouring of support and enthusiasm. I look forward to hearing more of your inspiring stories.

Image: Sir John Tenniel, illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Credit: http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/tenniel/alice/12.3.html

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