A few years ago, I was the opening act for the lead singer of a former rock n’ roll band. His band had been a pretty big deal, with lots of number one hits. The lead singer had since started a well-publicized solo career. I was the opener for two sold-out shows in one of those clubs that simply depresses me. I love playing music, but I can’t stand some of the places that present it. (Which is why I opt not to perform in them anymore!) And this club — a legendary place to play, the hippest of the hip — is one of my least favorites. Some clubs — the Birchmere comes to mind — bend over backwards when the performers walk in the back door. They escort you to your dressing room. They offer you water. They tell you when sound check is. This other club is the kind where you walk in and everyone looks up with an expression that can only be described as “What the hell do you want?”
My dressing room was directly above the exhaust system of the grill in the restaurant below. The air in the room was filled with a thick sharp smoke the color of Vaseline. By the time I walked out on the stage for the first show, I was dizzy, my eyes were watering, and I smelled like a burnt pork chop.
Some nights I love being an opening act, and I do it well. It’s a blast. I do five or six songs. Sometimes I get an encore. Sometimes I sell loads of CDs. This was not one of those nights. In fact, it was the worst night I’d had in years. The shiny stuff I wrote about in Shine Anyway didn’t really do it. The ego I had worked so hard to leave behind in the dressing room in this post was on a rampage. (In fact, it was in my head yelling, “RUN! GET OFF THE STAGE! THEY HATE YOU!”) But I did my thing, and at both shows I played my songs and told a few stories to a rock audience who (from my perspective on stage) hated me. No one threw anything. (When Meredith Brooks opened for the Rolling Stones, people threw bottles at her.) No one yelled anything. All that happened was my ego got clobbered by the whole experience.
The thing is a handful of the people in the crowd were my fans. They had come from all over the place since I don’t perform in this region often. (One person had flown in from her volunteer job in Costa Rica for the weekend and gotten tickets to come see me.) I didn’t want to go out and face anyone when each show was over. I wanted to hide in my dressing room. (Well, I didn’t really want to be there either on account of it was single-handedly causing global warming.)
However, I went out. I signed CD’s. I talked to the people who wanted to meet me. I ignored my bruised ego. My stomach hurt. And I fully expected someone to say, “Yea, not so much for you this evening, huh?” But no one did.
So, fast forward two years. I was facilitating one of my women’s retreats here in the mountains of western North Carolina. There were 27 women at this one. It was the first afternoon and people were talking about why they came to this retreat. One woman said, “Well, I saw you at that show opening for…” (She was at the show. The burnt pork chop show!) “..and my husband and I loved you so much that we bought tickets for the second show that night so we could see you again. I bought all your CD’s and I wanted to be here because”
My jaw dropped. I felt like a complete idiot. I’d been such a drama queen after that show. I was so convinced I sucked. (I could hear Yoda saying, “So convinced were you!”) I didn’t even want to go out and talk to anyone. And here was someone paying several hundred dollars to come to a retreat with me after seeing me that night.
This brings me to my point …
I have a few favorite blogs that I read regularly. Last week, one of those bloggers, Copyblogger posted a blog called Don’t be Cameron Diaz. In it, he gives advice to bloggers to make sure they recognize their readers (or fans) by answering comments and being present as a blogger. (Apparently Cameron Diaz doesn’t sign autographs. Ergo the title.) He mentions how George Clooney always signs autographs and “knows who butters his bread.”
Since I don’t pay much attention to Hollywood (and don’t want Cameron Diaz’s autograph anyway) I’ll take his word for it on all this stuff. Sometimes, though, I think people don’t show up because their ego is acting in reverse. They’re being Eeyore. Not Cameron Diaz. But on the outside, it might look like the same thing.
What I see more often than not in blogland (and in teacher land, and in librarian land, and in artist land, etc) is more about playing small than playing snooty.
In any arena you have the option to see yourself as one who matters or one who is insignificant. There’s always going to be someone doing better than you, someone more important than you, someone who seems to have a lot more going on. You won’t reach everyone, but you will reach some people. Those are the ones for whom you show up.
So, of course, don’t be snooty. Don’t be Cameron Diaz. But don’t be Eeyore either.