I have this recurring nightmare.
I’m doing the stuff I do, writing, playing music, using my gifts and even impressing myself sometimes. Then the drape is torn off and I’m exposed as a gigantic fraud.
A humbug. A wannabe. Someone who has no business hanging around even the back row of the creative’s hiring hall. Get out of the penthouse, boy. Get your, uhh, self back in the servants’ quarters where you belong.
I tried explaining this to my shrink some years ago and couldn’t get her to understand my nightmare. Maybe I didn’t explain myself well. She chalked it up as a self-image issue (I plead guilty), but she wasn’t real experienced at working with those creative types who are wired bass-ackwards.
From hanging around other creatives, I’m coming to the conclusion this nightmare is an occupational hazard. We are, in our minds, walking a tightrope. We’re one typo, one dangled participle, one blown cue, one dissonant skronk away from exposure.
Stephen King tells about this nightmare in The Stand. His character, a singer named Larry Underwood, has That Dream where he goes on stage with his band for their biggest show ever, and the mics are welded to their stands, nine feet high. Nothing he could do to budge those microphones, to make the equipment usable. The audience (with some truly bizarre characters in the front row) boos Underwood off the stage before he could sing a note.
Now, that’s one weird dream. It’s enough to make a guy swear off spicy food. But if you’re creative and serious about it, you’ve probably had a variation of this dream.
Now, that’s subconscious stuff. But in our waking moments, we’re still our own worst critics. That Dream haunts us in our waking hours; truly the gift that keeps on giving.
Even in my finest moment in journalism (something about a major AP award), I wasn’t all that impressed. I remember thinking, not a half bad piece of reporting. Now if I had one more day to research and some more space to write, it might actually be pretty good.
When my old band recorded a demo CD, we all listened to it the first time and wondered if a shotgun blast to the guts would really be as painful as people say. All of us found fault with our own performances. Never mind what the other folks listening to it may think, we know better. And we’re frauds; the con is on.
I’m not even talking about those times when we feel stuck before the breakthrough, but this is an overall feeling we get pretty regularly. Even applause does nothing to dispell this feeling — do they not know?
Carole King spent years as one of the best songwriters around, and in the early 1970s she put together an album of her own, Tapestry. Probably one of the greatest albums ever recorded. But she spent the aftermath wondering what she was doing in the penthouse. Does the audience not know?
I wish I had answers to this. Whoever does is either full of it or he deserves the Nobel Prize.
I guess the best way to cope with this is for me to remind myself that it’s just a bunch of bad self-talk, a product of my own goofy imagination. As far as reality goes, the audience probably won’t notice the flaws, and if they do, so what? Still, I feel like I’m just baffling ’em with … well, you know.
In the meantime I keep at my work, even if it’s just for the practice. Finish it, ship it, take my chances. If I’m a fraud today, maybe I’ll be less of a fraud tomorrow.