Do You Care If They're Tearing You Apart?

When I was a young singer I went to a lot of jam sessions. Jams are great for meeting other musicians, learning how to improvise, and how to communicate with other players. You get up onstage with other ‘jammers’ who you’ve never rehearsed with, you decide on a tune and a key, and then you give your chops a spin! 

I learned a lot this way, but there was one jam session in particular where I learned something unexpected. 

I got up onstage and sang an old blues song. I remember feeling relaxed and spontaneous with my interpretation, and the groove was in the pocket. It was fun. When I got offstage I took a seat at the bar, and some girl came up to me and asked, “How do you do that?” 

“How do I do what?” I responded, unaware of what she was referring to. 

“How do you get up onstage knowing everyone is judging you, criticizing what you’re wearing, analyzing every note – tearing you apart?” 

I was silent for a minute because I was still taking in what she’d said. I realized I was completely oblivious to the audience’s judgment of me. Maybe that was naive, but it had never occurred to me before. 

I wasn’t offended by her remark, nor did I assume she was criticizing me directly. (Who knows, maybe she was!) Rather, it made me realize that for some reason, I’d never learned to be fearful of getting up onstage. 

Maybe my ingrained confidence came from the early childhood experience of entertaining my neighbours and cousins on the backyard stage. I didn’t grow up with television – my imagination found an outlet in making up songs, scenes and stories, and broadcasting them live from under the cedar trees that lined the borders of our cottage property, deep in the woods of British Columbia. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to communicate this way. Some performances got more jubilant reactions than others, which may have bombed, but the varied responses all seemed to be part of the fun. 

As I got older, I learned that we all judge each other to some degree. But since I’ve always been naturally inclined toward seeing the good in others and noticing their strengths, I must’ve assumed that others did the same for me. 

I still don’t worry much about what others think. My career path and life have been so unconventional that I wouldn’t expect anyone to understand. What matters is that we all have the courage to get up there and do our thing: whatever it is that makes us feel alive. 

What makes you feel alive, in spite of what others might think?

Originally published in Life As A Human, May 11, 2017

6 comments

  • Malcolm Lewis

    Malcolm Lewis Wales UK

    Its not difficult to understand.I bet your mother loved you and so you felt safe to explore the world. Maslow had a theory that when we feel safe when very young we dont fear the world . While a rejecting mother would produce a child who was fearful. I have been very envious of your life becasue I grew up the opposite most men wouldnt admit weakness but i see that as a weakness in itself.To have left Canada to live in Spain the way you did was very brave by my standards.I think its the same with getting up to play if you dont fear rejection it comes easy. I have used zen thinking to overcome nerves while playing trumpet at jam sessions but it doesnt come as naturally to me as pros. Having a good memory helps.

    Its not difficult to understand.I bet your mother loved you and so you felt safe to explore the world. Maslow had a theory that
    when we feel safe when very young we dont fear the world . While a rejecting mother would produce a child who was fearful.
    I have been very envious of your life becasue I grew up the opposite most men wouldnt admit weakness but i see that as a weakness in itself.To have left Canada to live in Spain the way you did was very brave by my standards.I think its the same
    with getting up to play if you dont fear rejection it comes easy. I have used zen thinking to overcome nerves while playing trumpet at jam sessions but it doesnt come as naturally to me as pros. Having a good memory helps.

  • Nancy Ruth

    Nancy Ruth

    Hi Malcolm, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

    Hi Malcolm, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

  • Phil Rossner

    Phil Rossner Sooke, BC, Canada

    Thanks for this, Nancy! During the early days of my musical adventures on stage, I remember being very nervous. I can still remember it was at my high school. A friend lent me his electric guitar and I got up on stage and started playing the old blues song "Rock Me Baby" with the rhythm section. My fingers barely moved! I got off stage and immediately got very painful stomach cramps! Over the years, I got used to playing in a band situation and it didn't faze me that much. Then I tried doing some solo acoustic gigs and the old nerves and stomach cramps re-emerged. After all, the audience was looking at ME and judging every movel!! Or so I thought! After going through some very heavy health/life challenges (dark night of the soul) that lasted several years, everything shifted for me. I found that getting up on stage did not carry that anxious sting any more... it was so freeing! Indescribable. Mulling on this fact, I came to the realization that the heavy stuff I had been through was like being a piece of steel thrown into a forge - all the 'dross' gets burnt away and the fine, strong steel is the result. The 'dross' I speak about is, basically, the illusion about life that our ego is glad to perpetuate. As Malcolm mentioned in the other post, to shift into a Zen mindset really allows one to open up. This is where the creative juices can flow freely, unhindered by a nerve-wracking ego that is constantly trying to drag us down with the illusion of 'what are people thinking', yada, yada ad infinitum. Gotta love it!

    Thanks for this, Nancy! During the early days of my musical adventures on stage, I remember being very nervous. I can still remember it was at my high school. A friend lent me his electric guitar and I got up on stage and started playing the old blues song "Rock Me Baby" with the rhythm section. My fingers barely moved! I got off stage and immediately got very painful stomach cramps! Over the years, I got used to playing in a band situation and it didn't faze me that much. Then I tried doing some solo acoustic gigs and the old nerves and stomach cramps re-emerged. After all, the audience was looking at ME and judging every movel!! Or so I thought! After going through some very heavy health/life challenges (dark night of the soul) that lasted several years, everything shifted for me. I found that getting up on stage did not carry that anxious sting any more... it was so freeing! Indescribable. Mulling on this fact, I came to the realization that the heavy stuff I had been through was like being a piece of steel thrown into a forge - all the 'dross' gets burnt away and the fine, strong steel is the result. The 'dross' I speak about is, basically, the illusion about life that our ego is glad to perpetuate. As Malcolm mentioned in the other post, to shift into a Zen mindset really allows one to open up. This is where the creative juices can flow freely, unhindered by a nerve-wracking ego that is constantly trying to drag us down with the illusion of 'what are people thinking', yada, yada ad infinitum. Gotta love it!

  • Alan

    Alan Walters

    Your passion for music & life probably makes a lot of what you do instinctive so I totally get what you say about not worrying about every detail. I remember reading about when John Lennon agreed to play with Elton John after years of not performing & was physically sick all night before & told Yoko not to watch although she did secretly. So many people are affected who you would least expect. Personally I feel keeping grounded & realizing that fame can change you for the worse & being passionate are so important. You were born to sing & your musical performance is totally Amazing. Hopefully soon I will see for myself

    Your passion for music & life probably makes a lot of what you do instinctive so I totally get what you say about not worrying about every detail. I remember reading about when John Lennon agreed to play with Elton John after years of not performing & was physically sick all night before & told Yoko not to watch although she did secretly. So many people are affected who you would least expect. Personally I feel keeping grounded & realizing that fame can change you for the worse & being passionate are so important. You were born to sing & your musical performance is totally Amazing. Hopefully soon I will see for myself

  • Alan

    Alan Walters

    Your passion for music & life probably makes a lot of what you do instinctive so I totally get what you say about not worrying about every detail. I remember reading about when John Lennon agreed to play with Elton John after years of not performing & was physically sick all night before & told Yoko not to watch although she did secretly. So many people are affected who you would least expect. Personally I feel keeping grounded & realizing that fame can change you for the worse & being passionate are so important. You were born to sing & your musical performance is totally Amazing. Hopefully soon I will see for myself

    Your passion for music & life probably makes a lot of what you do instinctive so I totally get what you say about not worrying about every detail. I remember reading about when John Lennon agreed to play with Elton John after years of not performing & was physically sick all night before & told Yoko not to watch although she did secretly. So many people are affected who you would least expect. Personally I feel keeping grounded & realizing that fame can change you for the worse & being passionate are so important. You were born to sing & your musical performance is totally Amazing. Hopefully soon I will see for myself

  • David

    David UK

    Really encouraging post AND comments here. Beautiful music to go with it too.

    Really encouraging post AND comments here. Beautiful music to go with it too.

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