I watched in horror. I remember with horror.
I’ve been incommunicado here due to Chocolate Paper Suites, Krista Detor‘s CD release party, and the prep associated with it. Lara Weaver and I were working with Krista on a dance routine for Middle of a Breakdown that was very hush-hush. Then the show came, leaving me with a sick feeling regarding my performance. Then the DVD arrived, and my worst fears were realized.
I’ve always been a dynamic performer. Even when the singing or acting itself wasn’t stellar, the packaging around it drew the audience in and made it compelling. I remained baffled all during last winter’s Sound of Music performance as to why I could summon neither the technical chops nor the performer glow that helps boost me in my communication with the audience.
I also noticed I was having more difficulty mimicking accents. I noticed my conducting in Kaia was often off. I felt disconnected from my performances. None of it came together for me until the Krista show, however.
For one thing, I couldn’t learn the dance routine. I’m not a dancer, but I can certainly pick up simple steps. This was a mostly straightforward routine. I practiced night and day, facing each direction, in every room in the house—all to simulate the feeling of being in an unknown environment. No matter what I did, I couldn’t nail the steps.
I really liked working with Krista, both on Breakdown and her signature piece, Clock of the World, which was a full Kaia and Janiece Jaffe collaboration. She was relaxed but businesslike through rehearsals, giving just a laid-back four-count in as we started another bit. Just enough chit-chat to break down the walls, with the rest of the time focused on the work. And very generous with her time. It was a big show. I can only imagine how much work went into it.
I wanted to blog about the creative process but, even though virtually no one reads this blog, I wanted to keep the secret about the dance routine. Clock of the World progressed well in Kaia rehearsals and in the one full-group session we had with Krista, so there wasn’t much to report there. But I wanted an outlet for my confusion over my clumsiness and dissociation with Breakdown.
The night of the show, I was nervous as I usually get when I’m on the meds—very little. Sound check was a little bumpy, since we only had one run-through on each piece and we had to stop for technical reasons mid-tune on both of them. So we never got a full run-through with either piece. I wasn’t worried about Clock but was very tense over Breakdown.
I watched the first part of the show, a performance by a former Cirque du Soleil artist. I made it through one suite of Krista’s before my nerves kicked in and I went backstage to run the dance another four thousand times. Lara came back and we ran it repeatedly, with me crying out that we hadn’t run one transition during sound check and how in the hell was I going to do it.
The performance itself went by in a flash, as so often happens. The band and Krista herself were both driving much harder than I’d expected. I tried to put in extra oomph. I knew I made a mistake on the dance but didn’t feel so bad because I thought Krista had, too.
Clock of the World was very well received by the audience but was a bit of a technical mess. The monitor situation was not good and I could hear how Angela’s gorgeous opening solo was not synched with Krista’s gorgeous piano. We eventually did synch up but then hit a major snafu when someone jumped an entrance. There was about a half-second delay while the sistahs all adjusted in their own fashion and we eventually pulled it all back together. This is the joy of doing live performance—you never know what’s going to happen so you have to be able to react very quickly and stay on your toes. No coasting.
A few weeks later I got the DVD from CATS. I watched myself in horror. On Breakdown, I looked like some kind of zombie. I felt disconnected just watching myself. I felt like someone else had taken over my body and turned it into this grotesque, jerky thing that was totally out of synch with Lara and Krista. I didn’t smile, didn’t emote, didn’t shine.
Clock of the World wasn’t much better. I actually tried on that song to communicate some emotion, but my body remained still and my face communicated nothing.
I know most performers hate to watch themselves on playback but I’m not one of them. I usually am pleased with what I see, even while being hyper-critical of my performance overall. But in this case, the only word that applies is “horrified.” I look like a zombie. I look like not-me. I look like someone totally disconnected from the experience. And—worst thought of all—I think I am.
Due to my buffet of mental health issues, I’m on an interesting cocktail of meds, the central one being Xanax. It’s to manage my sometimes crippling anxiety. It smooths things out so my highs (such as they were) aren’t so high and my lows aren’t so low. Everything remains in this grey zone.
I’m more stable mentally than I’ve been in over a decade. I’m able to function on a daily basis with regularity. But who knew the price I would pay?
I’m convinced that the meds have slowly but surely eroded my creative self. The loss of my creative abilities has been slow but steady, to the point now where I have a hard time just memorizing lyrics. I can’t seem to hold onto anything—it all just slips away in the grey.
My shrink won’t change the cocktail because it’s stabilized me so much and she doesn’t want to mess with it now. Her philosophy is to keep the patient stable for a year before looking at changing the meds again. I feel that this essential part of myself has been torn from me—no, it’s more that it’s floated away from me. Away into the greyness, with tendrils whispering back towards me like a grey ghost’s shroud.
Once I saw the video, I was convinced. But, as chance would have it, I then ran across a video from 2007 when I was performing in the Blizzard at the BPP. Sure enough, there I was. Bright, present, aware, dynamic. Hard evidence that something has drastically changed.
I decided to push myself and see if I could make some of the old magic come back. At two Kaia gigs I pushed energy outward from my torso into my extremities, trying to use my arms and legs to communicate the rhythm and meaning of the songs. I could keep it up for a little while, but then would lapse back into grey. It takes an inordinate amount of concentration to keep the energy up.
The whole thing has distressed me considerably, of course. Apart from the impact on my creative outlets, it also impacts my creative work in my job. That’s not something I want to go into here but it’s been a concern.
The meds have made me into a stable person. If I’d been born with stable chemistry, would I be creative at all? Am I now who I’m supposed to be? Because that person ain’t much fun. And she certainly ain’t having too much fun.
The whole role of the meds in my life makes me question my identity on a fundamental level. If we changed the chemical cocktail, would I become a different person? What if I were a different person for each recipe? If that’s the case, who am I really?
I don’t see any easy answers. I don’t see any answers at all, just suppositions in the grey. I wish I could get my self back but without the craziness. I know there’s a stereotype of the tortured artist, but I think it’s B.S. I don’t think it’s necessary to be mentally ill in order to create. On the contrary, mental illness can cripple creativity—permanently. Is there a way to be me, with full access to my creative gifts and skills, and be well? Perhaps that’s a question for my psychiatrist. I have no answers here in the valley of the grey.