When I was a little girl, we lived in a little brick house with a green cement porch. And just past the green cement porch was a large cow pasture. And on the other side of the large cow pasture was a busy two-lane road, and across that busy two-lane road was a small-town gas station, useful more for gossip than for actual gas.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I knew it was green and I knew it was just a porch, but it was three steps off the ground and that turned it into the most wonderful stage a 6-year old girl had ever seen. And I knew they were cows and I knew they didn’t seem particularly interested, but their “moo’s” were the loudest cheers I’d ever heard.
photo credit: juliecampbell, creative commons.
And so I performed my best material for them. Songs sung at the top of little-girl lungs and spins in dresses made for twirling. I’d get lost for hours in made-up stories, speaking every part out loud. No one told me to sit still or be quiet or act normal. My feet never stopped moving and my imagination never ran out.
Somehow I forgot about parents listening through screen doors and I had no idea I could be seen through rolled down windows in hundreds of passing cars. I was the star of the show and the cows were my only audience. They were an easy crowd.
They could see me.
And then one day I walked into the gas station, the one through the cow pasture and across the two-lane road. The one where the clerk always gave me a quarter and I really believed I was rich. While I wandered the store, overwhelmed with options on which to spend my wealth, I heard the cashier lean in close to my mother and explain,
“Everyday I look forward to the moment she comes out onto the porch. I watch as she spins stories and dresses, and sometimes when the traffic dies down, I can just make out the words. I’m afraid if she knows I’m watching she’ll stop, but I figure she deserves these quarters for her performance.”
She didn’t know I was listening.
But the next day when I walked out onto my stage, something was different. I could hear the breathing from behind screen doors, and cars seemed to drive by every few seconds. The gas station seemed to have moved closer overnight, and over and over again I stole glances across the street to see if she was watching. Sometimes I sang a little louder, hoping she could hear me; other times I whispered, afraid that she might.
Maybe an audience makes you want to hide behind curtains, or maybe you add in the extra spins and twirls (and accents!). But either way, your performance shouldn’t be determined by the size of the crowd.
Have you lost the freedom of expression before you knew anyone was watching? Or do you need to reign it back in, remember what you actually love?
Sometimes you might need to revisit the cows.