“So, what has this got to do with your current situation?”
“Oh, I was getting there. I used to do all this stage stuff and got quite good at it. What freaked me out about it was the post-performance dissection from other people.”
“You didn’t like criticism?” she asked.
“Hmm… it’s not actually the criticism. People have opinions, they’re not always the same as mine, that’s fine. If people hated a performance of mine, finding out why was a valuable learning experience. I’m not sure I was ever so up my own arse that I thought I shat gold bars.”
“Colourful,” she grimaced.
“I think it was more the element of adulation I found weird.”
“Why, so?” she asked, “Isn’t that why people do theatre?”
“Most do, I suppose, but I only ever saw what I did as ‘a job’. I don’t think it was any more, or less, important than, say, an electrician or a plumber or something. It’s just what I did.”
“That’s an unusual position,” she said.
“Maybe, but it’s how I see things,” I said, “I really don’t understand adulation for actors…singers… artists. It’s a job. You don’t get websites or Facebook fan pages dedicated to ‘Brian Palfreyman – Plumber.’ I’m in awe of people that can do things like that!”
“You were never inspired to be… to take a more practical job, then?”
“Oh, I just don’t have the brain for it,” I said, rolling my eyes, “Me and any sort of engineering, or logic, or having to do something in a specific order honestly makes my head spin. This is why people who can do these things have my absolute respect.”
“So, what happened next?”
“Well, I fell out of love with the theatre and didn’t really want to work with the band I was in anymore.”
“And that’s when you…”
“No, no… it was slower than that,” I said, the latter part of the sentence fading out as I stared into middle distance.
She encouraged me to go on.
“Well, I started working for the local radio station.”
“Oh, I contributed to a couple of magazine programs. I mostly focused on arts: local bands, cinema, theatre. I did reviews and interviews mostly. Wrote sketches, that sort of thing. Eventually had my own show.”
“Interesting,” she said.
“You were still involved with creative arts, but the emphasis was taken off you. That must have been…”
“It worked for me, yes. I was much more comfortable – not being seen, you see.”
“Yes. So why did you stop doing that?”
“Well after ten years, the program was axed,” I shrugged, “but to be honest, I was no longer happy with it.”
“A whole heap of reasons but it was never the same after…”
“I was enjoying a drink, out with friends and…”
“Someone recognised your voice, right?”
“Couldn’t you have said they were mistaken?”
“Well, I would have done but my friends…” I pursed my lips then said, “they were more pleased that I had been recognized than I was. The rest of the night was uncomfortable, partly because of that, partly because I was asked for an autograph which was an absolute anathema.”
“I can’t explain it.”
“I don’t like being seen. Or at least, by that time, I didn’t like being seen. Autographing something was like leaving a piece of yourself permanently on display. Like giving a piece of yourself away. I didn’t like that aspect of sharing myself, being – ultimately – a private person.”
“Well, it isn’t but…”
“I know, but that’s how it felt.”
“Okay, well talk about that later,” she said, recognising my stress, “but what happened after the radio program was axed?”
I smiled, “Believe it or not, I went back to the theatre.”
“Really? That is a surprise!”
“It is and it isn’t,” I said, “It was a puppet theatre. I worked as a puppeteer. I was performing, but not on stage at all. Either above it, below it or hidden behind something. The voices were pre-recorded, and not by me… I was able to be creative and be totally anonymous. Bliss. For a while, anyway.”
“Let me guess. Arts jobs are not that secure?”
“Well, most jobs in the arts are limited contracts, true, but worse, the theatre shut down.”
“After that, work became harder to find; puppetry fell out of fashion and movies started using CGI rather than practical effects, which cut off another possible avenue. Then, I got ill and lost a few months to bed rest. After that…things just got… harder.”
“How do you mean?”
“Just… harder. Everything seemed more complicated. Everything was more difficult to achieve. Simple tasks, like walking into town became… too much stress.”
“In what way?”
“What I used to do without thinking suddenly became a series questions: which road to walk down, which side of the road to use; was it okay to use the same side of the road walking in and out of the city centre, or did I have to switch sides? Which crossing did I use? Did I use a pelican crossing or was it okay to walk further down and use the traffic island; was the road likely to be clean? Were the potholes navigable? Could I walk around them? What if it rained? What if one of the roads on my route was blocked? Without research, I couldn’t be certain the alternative was safe to use? What if I meet someone and they want to walk a different way? I became swamped with if’s and buts. Before I stopped going out altogether, my route into town was fixed. I went the same way, as far as possible took the same number of steps – I counted – my head was down and I saw nothing but the pavement.”
“That must have been difficult.”
“Hmm… It’s odd that I didn’t recognise it as a problem until I couldn’t leave the house, though.”
“Well, as you said, it crept up on you very slowly.”
“Yeah. The thing is, I know these are the sort of decisions everyone makes every day, every time they walk somewhere. Suddenly, instinct seemed to be replaced by constant questioning and rationalising choices out of existence.”
She thought for a moment and then made some notes.
“Tell me about that,” she said.