“My brother thinks he’s a chicken.”
“Why don’t you get him some therapy?”
“I would, but we need the eggs.”
Like most good jokes, it’s not just funny in and of itself, but stands for something much bigger: it’s a metaphor for all the craziness we cling to because we think it’s beneficial. It’s something you hear comedy writers talk about: “What if I go into therapy to fix my depression and anxiety and it turns out they’re exactly the traits that make me funny?” Or artists: “Would Van Gogh have been a great painter if he hadn’t been delusional?” Or even academics: “My OCD allows me to do insanely meticulous research.”
I’ve been thinking about this because I recently had my first piece of theatre publicly performed. And I was in agony during the performance. I wanted to just sit back and bask in the joy of hearing my words spoken by a very talented actress–but I couldn’t relax. I spent the entire time trying to gauge the audience’s reactions. Were they laughing at the funny stuff? Were they moved by the sad parts? Were they listening or fidgeting? Did they like the other pieces more than mine? Did they like mine at all?
When the applause came, I decided it was weaker than it had been the rest of the night. I went to the after-party in tears. I was a failure.
The anxiety and depression stuck with me for the next day or two. I couldn’t shake the feeling I had failed everyone involved in the project. And then the reviews came out. A couple didn’t mention me, which was fine. At least no one was saying I was the weakest link. But the third one I read singled my piece out. As being one of the best.
The relief was overwhelming. But it was relief. Not joy, not pleasure, not a feeling of confidence. Just relief that I hadn’t messed up completely. A friend said, “Now you can relax.”
But here’s the thing: can I?
Well, no, I can’t or I wouldn’t be me.
The more interesting question is: should I? Should I stop worrying about whether I’m a successful writer or not and just enjoy getting to write at all? Should I stop fretting about bad reviews or low sales? Should I stop envying other people’s success and wishing I could do better? All these things would make me happier. But deep down, I feel like maybe all the anxiety and terror and insecurity push me to keep working harder and even maybe to work better. I don’t know that they do. I just feel like there’s a connection there. And at my age, I’m too used to letting those negative emotions keep me focused. I don’t know what I’d do without them. Maybe I’d drift into happy indolence and good-natured sloth.
In other words: maybe I need the eggs.
Pass the Cholula.