By daniel on Apr 04, 2006
As you may already know if you've been reading this blog, I have been reading recently the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. And the first thing you'll be learning about the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy if you read the book is that it has DON'T PANIC! written in big letters on its front cover. This is in fact quite a good advice when you jump from stars to stars onboard spaceships operated by strange creatures from whom you don't know what to expect. More to the point, it might not be such a bad advice in real life, which, when you think of it, is not that far from jumping from stars to stars onboard spaceships operated by strange creatures from whom you don't know what to expect. But let's not diverge: that's not the point of the story.
The point is - one of my favorite activities when I'm not working is to play the guitar and the harmonica (Blues style or Dylan style) and sing folk songs - but it's something about me you might have guessed already. I have discovered the guitar a few years back (something like 5 years ago) - and I must say, it has changed my life. If you ever pass in front of a music shop which sells a guitar for a 100$ - don't hesitate one second: buy it. That's what I did! It's not going to be a good guitar, it's maybe not even going to be a playable guitar, but it will be enough to discover if playing the guitar is what you ever dreamed to do. But let's not diverge, that's not the point of the story either.
This year, my guitar teacher organized a public performance in a pub near Grenoble, and asked some of his pupils to prepare two or three songs to play in front of the audience. So I prepared three songs for that evening - to play in solo with guitar/harmonica/voice.
Well, it was not the fist time I'd play in public - I had played in front of my colleagues at Sun for each Fête de la Musique - a national french music event that occurs every year for the 21st of June - but it was the first time that I was going to play in a real pub, open to anyone who would come in, with a real sound system, and without knowing whether I'd be able to read my texts because of the lights... So there was a lot of pressure on me - all the more since I didn't want to let my guitar teacher down.
Four days before the show (should I call it the show?) we had a rehearsal on location. And then something very strange happened: as I was on stage - I felt like I couldn't breathe normally anymore. I was so tense that I couldn't let the air out of my lungs. That's actually very annoying when you need to suck air from a diatonic harp. I felt out of breath the whole time I was singing. No need to say that it showed both in my voice and my harp sound. I was quite disappointed with my performance at the rehearsal: it was a lot worse than what I knew I could do, and what I expected I'd be able to do. Of course I knew about the effects of stress, and had already experienced it before, but not as much, especially for a rehearsal!
I came back home that night with a little more stress than I had when leaving, which was not good, especially since the rehearsal was supposed to have the opposite effect. Damned!
But then, I remembered the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with its DON'T PANIC! moto written on its front cover - and it gave me an idea. I knew that if I was able to control my breathing everything would go well. So I launched StarOffice on my home PC and created a nice slide with DON'T PANIC! written in BIG letters in the middle. The day of the performance I took it on stage and made sure to keep it in my eyesight. I even made a joke of it and showed it to the audience. Well, it helped. I felt just cool. The pressure was gone. I even enjoyed being on stage.
I don't know what you're going to do this spring, but if you're going to speak at JavaOne, or in front of some Java User Group, or wherever, and if like me you don't feel very comfortable in front of a crowd, well, just don't forget the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its DON'T PANIC! front cover.
This is the kind of things that might just save your life one day ;-)
Hope you liked my story!
Grenoble - one night, 2am...