Take that energy to my next gig, I think: Hammer and Tongue, Hackney, February. Good poems. Good audience. Good welcome. Then, devoid of opponent, my inner critic pipes up and joins me on stage like a sign language interpreter, except that he's translating all my well-crafted lines to stuff like, 'That joke didn't go down very well', 'And I mean joke in the loosest sense', 'You're not really connecting with the audience, are you?', 'I don't think they like it. Why would they like it? You're telling them about you. Who would be interested in you?'
This is not so much an inner critic as an internalised gang of bullies that have stalked me off the playground of my childhood and I've projected onto unsuspecting audiences, friends, lovers and family for years. Sorry.
Two days later I am hosting my own Hammer and Tongue Brighton, putting on a damn fine show and turning my social phobia into a gift for the audience, an energetic clumsiness that nicely balances Rosy's slick wit.
For a while I wonder whether it's a home and away thing: I'm Manchester United at home, Wolverhampton Wanderers away. I need some of that sports psychology that trains the players to feel like it's a home game in an arena of opposing supporters. (Hmm. Opposing supporters. I like that.)
So, try again: Hammer and Tongue, Camden, February. Good poems. Good audience. Good welcome. Good attitude to performing: aware of the antics of my inner critic I ask him politely to sit down and wait until I get off stage when I will be quite prepared to discuss the good and the bad of the show. Fair enough. He nods and sits with the rest of the audience enjoying my poems, enjoying my performance, laughing at my jokes and coming with me on my adventures. Not so different, it seems from video footage, to my Oxford and Hackney shows, but a whole load different inside, and maybe that subtle difference in the vibe.
So I tried, and tried again, or maybe, finally, I didn't try, I just did.
I put on a show that people enjoyed. As well as my more boombastic stuff, I performed a poem that places on stage a sad and scared little boy being bullied in the playground and I let him let out his feelings. I started a peace process between armoured ego and vicious superego, performer and critic, me and a world that, sometimes, scares me.
The other day I read this on my 'daily wisdom' calendar:
There's no such thing as failure, only learning opportunities.
By the same token, I suppose there's no such thing as success, only learning opportunities that happen to go much as one would hope. Seeking success, I've had a million learning opportunities. Here's what has changed since I did festivals at the turn of the millennium: back then my yardstick of success was getting a (metaphorical) kick, a laugh and, if I was lucky, a snog. Now, a big grown up boy with a family and a range of responsibilities, my success criteria have become more complex, my notion of worth mixing up reputation, money and the social function of my art. Oh, and this notion of Mastery that turns the whole world of performance into the training ground of jedi knights and freedom fighters. Perhaps the warrior king and the muppet spaceman shared this perspective:
Let go of attachment to success.
Doing is easier said than done, but I am more relaxed at the last gig of my winter tour, 451 in Southampton, a truly inspirationally inclusive performance poetry night welcoming young and old, learned and learning, silly, serious, sublime and ridiculous, my parents and both my swaggering ego and scared little boy. It went down well:
High-fived by my folks, I sit down to learn from the Masters of opposite realms, yin and yang of Taylors, Stewart and Joelle. Yoda and Robert the Bruce both smile at their Initiate and get me a pint. Cheers.