Friday, July 3, 2015

Sara Solovitch's "Playing Scared"

Sara Solovitch is a journalist, a mother, a gardener, a voracious reader, a hiker, and a really good cook. She's also a classical pianist, which is what led her to write Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright. The memoir chronicles her yearlong journey to understand and overcome a lifetime of performance anxiety, beginning with a childhood full of disastrous performances and ending with an hour-long concert the day before her 60th birthday.

 Solovitch applied the “Page 99 Test” to Playing Scared and reported the following:
When I first took the Page 99 test, I have to admit that I nearly winced. Perhaps that’s because my page 99 is given over to a full-blown exploration of a specific form of performance anxiety called paruresis. In other words, the inability to urinate in the presence of others.

But though it’s not my particular problem – I’m a pianist who shrinks from performing in front of others – it shares a lot of things in common with stage fright.
Like most social phobias, shy bladder syndrome, as it is also called, derives from a fear of negative evaluation of others. But here the results can be unusually extreme. People who suffer from this syndrome will often go to great lengths to avoid urinating, even traveling across the world without visiting a bathroom. `The record appears to be three to five days, which seems way out there on the spectrum,’ said Steven Soifer, an expert on paruresis. He is the founder of three nonprofits (the Shy Bladder Institute, the International Paruresis Association, and the American Restroom Association), author of two self-help books, and a tireless advocate for cleaner, more private public restrooms.

Soifer works each year with hundreds of men and women. He asks them to drink copious amounts of water and then to travel from toilet to toilet. Their first field trip is usually to a hotel room, where they are assigned the job of urinating with the door closed while a buddy waits outside. Next, they work their way to a bathroom with the door open just a crack. The goal or `feared item’ of choice is a large public bathroom, preferably in a casino or shopping mall.
During my quest to overcome stage fright, I regularly practiced performing on a piano at San Jose International Airport. It became my self-prescribed version of exposure therapy, a therapy that’s all about doing the thing you hate most, over and over again. It wasn’t that different from seeking out public bathrooms for people with paruresis, and I found it liberating. Few people listened, nobody cared if I made a mistake. The loudspeaker announcements were a constant interruption and most travelers barely noticed me as I played my heart out. Playing piano at the airport became my version of exposure training, a therapy that’s all about doing the thing you hate most, over and over again.
Visit Sara Solovitch's website.

My Book, The Movie: Playing Scared.

Writers Read: Sara Solovitch.

--Marshal Zeringue