It’s okay to be anxious.
I usually don’t speak to pop culture issues, but there is something I just can’t stay quiet about with this whole Lana Del Rey thing. (And as soon as I type that I’m hearing the voice of “Joe” from Reservoir Dogs saying “Never mind what you normally wouldn’t do. Just cough up your goddam buck like everyone else.”)
When I hear about “nervousness” or “performance anxiety,” my ears prick up. In an interview, Lana says “I really wish I could go back to normal. I’m really a quiet person. I always have been. It’s hard when you see a lot of things written about you. It’s not what I had in mind.”
There is something very vicious, very raw about being in the spotlight. In a way, it’s sort of like high school – that last bastion of open cruelty and segregation. Why do we do this? It’s a historical phenomenon – we place someone on a pedestal and alternately tear at them. Everything becomes heightened and compounded. This is fame.
It’s my belief that thoughtful, creative people are inherently averse to this sort of megawatt attention. I am not surprised that Lana gets anxious before a performance, and that she’s not entirely comfortable in her skin. Perhaps there are certain types of people who have the kind of narcissism and ego-protection for being in the spotlight. Some experts say that politicians are of this ilk, and of course there are those actors and performers who seem not only at home in the spotlight, but relish it and can’t get enough. (In a documentary on Conan O’Brien, the towering redhead talks about how he just doesn’t feel right unless he’s out there on stage, facing an audience. I happen to shudder at the thought.)
For years, I’ve been working on fiction novels. It’s an eye-rolling cliché to be an aspiring writer in today’s world of e-books and self-publishing, but, alas, it’s true. I was a writer before I did anything else creatively. Of course, I got the film bug and went to film school and worked on indie sets and commercials, and there was a particularly dark and drinky period of my life when I painted, but writing was where I returned when my son was born and I needed a major outlet. After six novel-length manuscripts and some dubious success with self-publishing, I’m still chipping away at it.
Thing is, in the back of my mind, something gnaws at me. It’s this idea that the picture of myself as a successful author will never be complete until I embrace the idea that selling books does not happen without the public dimension. It means possibly reading to a crowd, it means doing signings, perhaps touring. An author, especially today, has to work to sell his wares. This is an uncomfortable prospect for me.
I have been sober for three years now. What culminated in a period when I drank in the shower in the morning and carried a flask of liquor around with me during the day and wound up drunk every night finally came to an end one Christmas season when I hit rock bottom. Since then, my life has only gotten better, with blessing after blessing bestowed. Yet, at the same time, the cessation of drinking revealed a hulking presence in its absence – hello monster of Anxiety.
Anxiety, along with its pals Paranoia and Over-stimulation, was a big part of what drove me to drink in the first place. Something called “allostatic load” began happening to me from a young age. I had participated in acting and filmmaking as early as high school, and even won some award for drama, but social situations like parties and sports and even family events seemed too much to bear. Once I discovered drinking, however, my brain said, “Ah, this is the way to deal with all of this.”
And so it goes.
I’ve been working diligently with all of that for these past three years, but I don’t think or expect it to ever really go away, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to medicate it in the socially acceptable way (read as: Xanax). I accept that not feeling entirely comfortable at big gatherings or thrust into some spotlight or another is okay. Not only is it okay, but it’s part of who I am. I am a quiet person. I like one-on-one interaction, or small groups. When I write a book, I don’t have the world in mind. I have a few people, friends and family, and I write to them, and hope they like it.
There is a danger in believing that all of anxiety is somehow wrong or a problem which needs to be fixed. If Lana Del Rey doesn’t feel comfortable up there in front of everyone, if part of her yearns for the quiet life – she’s not alone, and I don’t think she needs to “fix” anything. What’s important is the creative world she wants to create. Having a vision, having that creative urge to realize something that is bubbling up from within, that’s what matters. Trying to unearth that, to get that out as intact as possible, to honor it, this is what creative types are meant to do. All of this farrago and scrutiny is not what it ought to be about; popularity is not the fruit of the artist’s labor – how the artist feels about the work and whether or not the vision has been achieved is the measure of fructification.
Part of this, yes, has to do with the feedback from the public. But, how much public does one need? Deriving income from creative work is highly possible without global success. How much money do you need to get from your work? If you are able to pay your light bill, if you are able to buy groceries from monies earned for intellectual property, then you are a success. And as far as critical feedback, there is a saying – if three people tell you that you have a tail, you ought to turn around and look to see if you have a tail. In other words, if three people tell you that your songs are amazing, then that’s all you should really need.
Lana, your songs are really outstanding. And while the videos you created may not be the ultimate expression of your vision, I really like them, too. I think you’re creating something that’s unique, and powerful, and I hope you continue to go with it. The work you do has value, and stirs my own creative energy, and is inspiring. Hopefully you can pay your light bill with it, and find yourself – introverted, quiet, thoughtful, creative – whole and intact after all is said and done.