This week in Highgate Woods, my three-year-old was standing on a platform at the top of a climbing frame, staring through a telescope. Casting around for something to focus on, he called to me below,
“Mummy, do you want to be looked at?”
I thought that was an interesting question. DO I want to be looked at?
As an archetypal introvert, I will never, ever put myself in the spotlight without prior warning. I have never, for example, put my hand up from the auditorium in response to the sentence, “I need a volunteer”. I don’t get how anyone is prepared to rise from their comfortable, anonymous seat and go up on stage – especially given that, in most cases, they have absolutely no idea what they’re going to be required to do.
During my work as a children’s book editor, I’ve had to face lots of daunting tasks. I’ve negotiated tricky contracts, conducted delicate editorial discussions with recalcitrant authors, and represented my company in a variety of countries.
But the single most terrifying experience of my career was when I escorted one of my authors to perform at a literary festival. As I sat in the audience watching his session, he announced that he was going to sing a song about a crow. “During the song,” he continued, “I’m going to keep pointing at different people. If I point at you, you have to caw.”
So I’m sitting there thinking, “He’s going to choose me. He’s bound to. He knows me. In a minute, I’m going to have to caw. Like a crow. But I can’t caw. I can NOT caw. I don’t know how. I can’t even caw in the privacy of my own home with no one listening. I think I might actually be about to die.”
As the song progressed my heart beat faster and faster. The author pointed at one person after another and each one cawed with greater or lesser authenticity. Meanwhile, I grew ever more certain that my time was coming…
He never did point at me – but I still haven’t got over the terror of the occasion. Whenever I see or hear or read about a crow, I break into a cold sweat.
We went recently to see a live revival of the 1990s improvisation show Whose Line is it Anyway?.
During the show, a female volunteer came up on stage with her handbag. She had to be prepared, she was warned, for it to be emptied by the actors.
I tried to imagine myself in the same position. We’re in the Adelphi theatre, among an audience of 1,500 people…
Actor: Please would you come up on stage and stand there while I empty your handbag item by item?
Me: No I won’t, fuck off, are you insane?
Then, at the end of the first act, the audience were told they had a job to do in the interval. In the foyer were slips of paper. We had to write on them random lines of dialogue, and these would be used during act two.
Immediately I lit up. This I could do! This I LOVE to do!
I dashed down to the foyer, fuelled by adrenalin, elbowing people out of the way, and spent the entire interval scribbling down dialogue. Every now and then I’d bark at my poor husband Anthony to go and fetch me some more paper, and when the communal supply started running low, I tore each piece in half to make it last longer.
And did they pick any of my sentences? They did not, the bastards. Clearly they have no discernment. None.
So returning to my three-year-old’s question: Do I want to be looked at?… Obviously, the answer is no.
But do I want to be read?
Oh, yes. Yes, I really do.
Have you ever found yourself unexpectedly on stage? And what happened? Do let me know in the comments.
If you enjoyed this post and want more of the same kind of nonsense, there are several things you can do about it:
Follow me on Twitter: @susanreuben
‘Like’ my Facebook page – When Am I Supposed to Start Feeling Like a Grown-Up?
Follow me via email (you’ll get an email once a week). The link to sign up is in the right-hand margin if you’re on a computer, or below the blog posts if you’re on a smartphone.