the chorus

on being afraid

(This is a post I wrote in April, when ||8ve started out, and then never put online. I think now that the group feels more secure as an entity, it’s safe to share it. )

I recently (in April) edited an essay for a friend at Hopkins, on the subject of pilgrimage literature. One of the books he referred to was Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan; A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, which is a fictional narrative, disguised as an anthropological report, about experimentation with hallucinogenic substances. (I know, I know, but hear me out.) I did not try any of the substances (which would have been pretty difficult to obtain in the state of Maryland, anyway) — I only read the book. Out of curiosity.

It’s a flawed book, and reading it made me feel like I was watching a form of spiritual pornography. You don’t want to look, but you don’t want to not have seen it if everyone else has. (It’s funny how being in a writing program makes me feel that I have to have officially condemned the text.)

But one thing that was resonant to me in it was the idea that someone seeking knowledge has to overcome fear before he or she can progress further. I do not think I have overcome fear — in fact, I think I have to deal with it on a daily basis. But apparently the way to overcome fear is to do just that, to go on acting despite it. Eventually this will either neutralize the fear or, if not that, lead you to a state where the fear is no longer a problem.

This relates to all sorts of endeavors, artistic and personal (no difference, really…) where you, that is to say I, that is to say the endeavorer, do[es] not and cannot have control over the endeavor. Writing is a pleasant exception to this — no one has control over writing but the writer.

So what are you to do about that? About not having control? Keep going, or else lock yourself in a room. And try to fear less.

As many times as I have now seen living, breathing choruses on stage, whether put there by me or by other people, I am still afraid, each time I enter into a chorus exercise, that this time it somehow won’t work — that our work will not suffice. That, somehow, this time, the chorus which I have seen come from individual voices so many times will not emerge.

Fear is a feature of risky endeavors, just like some of us have better eyes than others. We all go on trying to see with whatever lenses we possess. I don’t know how to not be afraid. There was a time in my life when I did not work with actors and musicians. There have been times in my life, some of them long, in between productions or projects, when I feared that I would never have the opportunity again. I do not know how to not think of those things.

I think this is one reason why many directors I know go straight from one project to another.

And as for that state of mind where fear is no longer a problem, I am nowhere near it. The most I can do is say to myself, “I acknowledge that I am afraid.” And then move forward.

I write about this, though, because having this chorus working group is something I have wanted for a long time, and have known was the next logical step in the work I do. And yet I have avoided it, reasoning, I think, against reason, that if I didn’t do it, I couldn’t be disappointed by it. Well, I am doing it. I am not disappointed. It is incredible. It — I — yes. Many things. Many, many, many things. But first things first. We have some recordings and we’re going to make more.

I hope that whatever fears you have do not keep you from your work.