I watched the moon grow from a skinny sliver in the sky to a full-blown marvel illuminating above. On the night of the full moon, I was going to do my first reading at an open mic. It was a season closer—a guaranteed packed house—and writers and performers have five minutes to dock from their 15 minutes of fame in trying to win over the crowd.
I contemplated this event many times as I gazed up at the sky, the lunar light a visual calendar for my upcoming night. In my day-dreams, I would have an epic performance. My words would flow effortlessly as I read aloud a five-page excerpt from my novel. Everyone would laugh at the funny points, especially the part when my protagonist meets her landlord’s stuffed Chihuahua, Vegas. When I finished, the crowd’s fervid laughter would light up the room and I would read the audience’s eyes like open books. They would be thinking, This girl’s got something. She is someone to look out for. My fantastical daydreams had soared madly all month, shooting up like an arrow that never falls down.
The morning of the performance I woke up with a pain in my chest, as if someone had taken a lead pipe and bashed the inside of my ribcage. I trembled in fetal position. What was wrong with me? Was I having a freakish asthma attack? Had I swallowed stones for breakfast? The pain only worsened as I opened my laptop to prepare. I tried reading my first paragraph aloud and keeled over in pain, tears oozing involuntarily out of my clenched shut eyes. If I weren’t only 31 and healthy as a horse, I’d have thought I was having a heart attack.
“Isn’t it obvious? You’re having anxiety about tonight,” my ruca counseled.
“Anxiety? Don’t be ridiculous,” I scoffed. “What’s so big about reading to a packed house full of nearly a hundred people for the very first…ugh,” I cringed. Just at the mention of it, a new surge of torment had shot through me.
The ruca shook her head. “You don’t have to do this tonight if you’re not emotionally ready.”
“But I have to go—I need to go!” I insisted stubbornly.
For the next hour and a half I attempted sitting up in bed to read my work only to fall back down, contorting miserably in pain like a bad double in an Exorcist scene. My mental will hashed out a long battle with my physical will, but in the end, it was my body that called the shots. I’m not going to make it, I decided. And as soon as I realized it, the pain began to magically and gradually alleviate from my chest, only proving my ruca’s point exactly: I wasn’t having a freakish asthma attack—I was having a terrible case of nerves about my very first performance.
After this realization, I took up a whole new battle and began to beat myself up ruthlessly for not making the show. I’m a failure, I’m a coward, I’m a royal and world-class wuss. I exhausted myself until I finally called a truce between my tender emotions and my ball-busting ego, who, when it comes to writing, is about as kind to me as Glee’s coach Sue. I’m hard on myself in every other aspect of my life…why couldn’t I let this one anxiety attack slide?
I spent the night in the comfort of my Frisco family’s house eating homemade strawberry shortcake and watching TV and movies, until my laughter no longer followed cue to the laugh-track and was indeed my own. The full moon burst out in the sky, growing brighter as the night grew darker. It wasn’t even a mocking reminder for not being at the show; instead its magnificent fullness seemed to grant me a strange sense of comfort. I supposed my own hopes were like the moon in many ways. Sometimes when I feel so depleted, a light in the sky fills itself back up, a glowing blaze that lights the way. There will be other open mics and other performances to go to. And for now, I'll have to be at peace with that much.