In my most arrogant moments, I have compared the stage business to spending time in the army. I’ve done both so I know to an extent what I’m talking about, but it’s also why I never voice the idea out loud- I feel like it would be extremely disrespectful to the people in uniform.
The reason why I’ve thought this is because both situations come down to a combination of individual effort and teamwork to finish a job safely. Each individual has a great responsibility, and at the same time we watch each other’s backs constantly. When we’re going up, about half of our communication consists of redundant warnings “just to be safe”. The slightest mistake, a slip of the mind, can have huge consequences.
Another facet both jobs share is a special relationship with fear. At least, on my end- I don’t think many of my colleagues are bothered by it.
You see, I am afraid of heights. It gets better by the end of the summer usually, after lots of shock therapy, but every year I have to start the process again, where I feel the paralysis in my arms setting in a tiny bit higher than the day before.
Not this summer, though: I’ve done about 2 minor climbing jobs this season, at one of which I bluntly said, “I’m not doing this,” and let my colleague finish. My shoes were muddy and slippery, I wasn’t feeling my usual self, and I wasn’t wearing any climbing gear. At that time, with someone else willing, I saw no point in continuing.
So you might understand that I hesitated about the job that I accepted months before, to build an entire festival with 4 people, 3 of which had any experience climbing.
I know all the motions. I know how to climb up a standard and make both hands free to attach a ledger hanging free on the far side. It’s just that, 12 meters up, with the scaffolding jiggling and my boots wet, I am absolutely mortified while doing it. Scared to death.
I learned to trust myself, the people, and gear I am working with. I know that when I stand a certain way and hold this that way, I am safe. The only thing blocking me, is that I am deathly afraid.
So I learned to cope. I’ve frozen up dozens of times to the point that it showed and sometimes others have taken over, other times I just had to… get over it.
After almost 8 years, I’ve learned to recognize the thought patterns that bring me to that point. Little “What if” scenarios that creep their way into your mind while you’re waiting for the next pipe, and before you know it, you’re clutching on to the nearest solid thing thinking, “I don’t want to die!”
So I avoid them. Concentrate on something else, like how cool the view is. How intricate the scratches on the pipe in front of me. Or I start a round of dirty jokes with the colleagues.
This gives me the breathing space to concentrate fully on the next connection when a particularly difficult section comes up. It’s not that I’m not afraid then- Hell, just writing about it makes my palms sweat, but I learned to calm down and tell myself that if I do this correctly, I can pull it off.
That particular job is finished now and I not only survived, but did rather well. Do this enough times and you learn that as long as you don’t panic, you can do this. If you concentrate on getting the job done, you can pull it off.
You can see where the analogy with my time in the army comes from. I remember walking back from the targets at a 250m shooting range and looking directly into the barrel of the next person. Their rifle wasn’t loaded so nothing could have happened, accidently or otherwise, but still the fear instantly paralyzed my legs and it took me a good ten seconds to compose myself. It was my first meeting with fear and hoping it would be my last, I never knew we would grow to be acquaintances.