I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.-Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Last week, I did a phone interview for the Comic Book Page podcast. I've done plenty of interviews by email, but this was my first real-time interview. Things went... well, I should have known something was amiss when I woke up on the morning of the interview in a state of panic.
For the entire day leading up to the 5 p.m. interview, the anxiety got progressively worse. This was my first and only chance to make a good impression on the ears of the internet, and there would be no do-overs. What if I messed up? What if the right words didn't come out? What if, God forbid, I came up completely empty? Then my mind switched to preemptive self-accusation. You're a 35-year-old man! How could something this inconsequential put you so off-balance? You're going to sabotage yourself!
As total freak-out terror began to set in, I listened to several earlier podcasts to get a sense of the kinds of questions I'd be asked. Every guest was confident, poised and intelligent. Never an "um" or an "I don't know" -- just well-reasoned opinions and easy congeniality. My fear was total.
By the time my phone rang that evening, I was in pretty bad shape. Bob Bretall, the interviewer, turned out to be a calm and sympathetic host, but during the pre-interview chat my mouth was so dry that I could barely croak the words "yes" and "no." And then he said, "okay, if you're ready, let's begin." A pause as he started recording, and then a shift in tone as he assumed an announcer voice and introduced me. Then came the serve, high and slow over the net: "Nate, welcome to the Comic Book Page podcast."
"Thanks," I squeaked. "It's nice to... see you."
There was a brief, tense pause before Bob resumed, but the seconds felt like eons. Every voice in my mental peanut gallery began shouting. You blew the greeting! This is going to be a total disaster!
Next, I was asked to give a synopsis for Nonplayer. My mental bandwidth, consumed as it was with recrimination, had fallen to sub-dial-up speeds. I'd written a few notes beforehand, but they didn't seem to match the question exactly. I went off-script and started babbling. Finally, about half-way through my meandering explanation, I drew a complete blank. This was it. No safety net, no second chances -- there was a yawning chasm of dead air, and I could find no words with which to bridge it.
I gasped, made sort of a weird squeal. "I'm so nervous right now, can we just..."
"You're doing fine, let's keep going." On to the next question, which attempted to make some sense out of the mess I'd presented so far. Perhaps satisfied with my opening face-plant, my inner critic had finally gone quiet. Things certainly couldn't go worse than they already had. The rest of the interview went quickly, if awkwardly. When it finally came to an end, I apologized to Bob for blowing the intro. He said he thought it went fine, but I knew I'd turned in the worst-ever performance in the history of the Comic Book Page podcast -- perhaps in the history of all podcasting.
The rest of the day was a blur of self-loathing. Here was confirmation of all my worst fears -- that I wasn't cut out to be a professional artist, that the comics industry would destroy me. That I was an incomplete human.
That inner critic said one thing very clearly: "You'll never be any good at public speaking. In the clutch, at that do-or-die moment, you'll always choke. You just don't have the knack for it."
As soon as she got home, my wife asked how the interview went. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip, but she could tell I was wounded.
She didn't miss a beat: it was time for some intensive media training. She never once bought into my "I'm no good at this" theory.
I'm sure most wives would respond similarly, but I wonder if there wasn't a certain culturally-ingrained vehemence to her reaction. My wife is Korean, and she clearly subscribes to the Korean belief that humans can improve themselves through practice and hard work. This contrasts especially with our American fixation on giftedness and genius. Where we are happy to sort our children into "winner" and "loser" piles from kindergarten onward, Korean teachers expect under-performing students to keep up with their peers, regardless of their supposed deficiencies. There isn't a Korean word for "loser."
I would not be allowed to hide behind the "no knack" defense on this one. After a night of beating myself up, I wrote back to Bob and asked if I could have another shot. He very generously assented. Turns out there was a safety net, after all!
Queue intensive training montage. I went to the library the next morning and wrote a detailed plot synopsis, refining it until it was brief and clear. I practiced saying it aloud, making sure to take my time, to pause between sentences. I meditated. I listened to Carl Sagan talk about our role in the universe. I made a new cheat-sheet, this time more organized and legible. At its top were two sentences:
"Thanks for having me."
When the call came that evening, my heart went back to jackhammer mode. Bob handled me with kid gloves this time, pointing out that if something went awry, I could just say "do over" and we'd edit that part out. And then came the dreaded pause and shift in tone as Bob began the podcast. He welcomed me to the show.
"Thanks for having me," I said, triumphantly.
And the whole thing went fine. Afterwards, Bob and I talked about his amazing collection of comics and memorabilia. What a cool guy! With my fear-blinders removed, I could enjoy Bob for what he was -- the most passionate fan of comics I'd ever met. I like Bob.
I went home exultant. It was like I'd gotten hold of a time machine and rewritten my own history. All thanks to my wife, who refused to let me run back to the safety of my burrow. Could it be coincidence that after thirty years of spinning my wheels, I'm only able to finish something with her around?
No, it couldn't!
Okay, on to other business. The first Nonplayer interview is up over at Good Comic Books. Joe's questions were great -- I especially enjoyed talking about the differences between comic-making and game design. Thanks, Joe!
Also, I'll be at Emerald City Comic Con from March 4-6. This will be my first-ever convention appearance, so if you want to witness the in-person equivalent of my interview crisis, you'll be able to find me either in the fetal position somewhere near the Image booth, or loitering just within earshot of Geof Darrow. I have printed up 100 Nonplayer posters to sell, so come and get them while they're hot. They're 11" x 17", and they look like this:
No speech bubbles! I'll happily sign yours, if that's how you like your posters. My comic won't be out for another month, but I'm hoping a couple of early adopters will swing by to say hi.