So there's this dream I used to have: I'm at this concert, some band I'm totally into – Hüsker Dü, or Mekons, or Oysterband, whatever – and for some reason one of the band members singles me out, and hauls me up on stage. And they hand me a guitar – a nice one, a vintage Strat or an ES 295 – & invite me to play along. And I play along, really well: I seem to know the songs, & after a number or two they invite me to take a solo, & it's really hot – you know, Bill Frisell hot, or Marc Ribot hot. Somehow I can hear the music in my head & translate it to my fingers. You know, like a real musician.
Then there's this other dream: Same as the first, up thru the "And I play along" bit. But I don't play well – I play badly; I'm always a half-beat behind, I forget what key we're in, I'm lost on the bridges, I can't even – for god's sake – remember how to play an E-minor chord. You know, pretty much the way I play every day, but now in front of a whole bunch of people, & under the withering glare of musicians I idolize. I'm humiliated.
It's that latter dream I'm worried about playing out at the Shakespeare conference I'm off to next month. Right now I'm finishing up a paper on pomo British adaptations of The Tempest – Peter Greenaway, Michael Nyman – & pretty much soiling my pants worrying about how the real Shakespeare scholars are going to receive me.
Don't get me wrong: I know my Shakespeare pretty damned well, & I know The Tempest about as well as any of his plays. I've read it maybe 20-25 times, I've taught it a few times, I've read stacks of the criticism. But I've never written about it, much less presented in front of people who've made a vocation out of early modern drama. The range of imaginable and unimaginable gaffes I may be setting myself up to perpetrate is broader than I want to consider at the moment.
It's all very well for the B-school types and self-help gurus to talk about stepping outside of your "comfort zone" and so forth; all that's at stake there is money, or a date, or the chance of a raise. Here there's the potential for serious professional humiliation.
On the other hand, my apprehension here is probably just a subset of my larger professional self-image apprehension, as I find myself shifting from a focus on modernist/contemporary poetry to a large side-interest in Victorian literature & culture. This's happened before, I have to keep telling myself: When I wrote the LZ biography, & worried myself to death about how the real biographers were going to receive it. And that turned out okay – maybe this will as well.