Sunday, September 27, 2009

Optimal anxiety

Yesterday the day seemed swallowed up by football, even as my family does not participate much. I was sad that the underdog team lost. It was a close game, in the wet and cold rain. Only ten degrees and the ball had been slippery. People here in Melbourne get worked up about their football. I’m glad I do not participate. If I did I know I’d be like all those others – frantic for my team to win.

This loyalty to a team is seductive stuff. Wanting our team to win, desperately above all else, identifying with the heroes, the strong ones, the achievers is heady stuff. I find it hard watching my own children when they are in competitions, most often of the public speaking variety. Occasionally I watch my daughters play basketball and the adrenalin pumps through my veins at such a rate, I would rather not be there.

I find life anxiety inducing enough. Why do we create more of it voluntarily? To me watching competitive sport induces too much of it. Playing sport I imagine is different. At least there is something you can do with your anxiety. As one of my daughters who acts tells me, although she feels the butterflies in her stomach before the event, once she is on stage she goes into a sort of trance and loses herself in the experience. All her energy goes into her role.

Perhaps I am writing about this topic here now because in three days time I will present my paper ‘Straddling Two Worlds: the writer and the psychoanalytic psychotherapist’ and I am nervous. Appropriately nervous I would say.

I learned in psychology many moons ago about the importance of an optimal level of anxiety. It energises you. An excessive amount of anxiety can destroy you - stage fright and the like, and no anxiety whatsoever will most likely render your presentation flat and boring.

I am also a tad nervous about flying, but I am getting more used to that. There was a time when I hardly ever caught a plane, but these days I seem to travel through the sky at least two or three times a year and at least one of these trips tends to be as far as Europe. I am becoming a seasoned traveler, and less like my beloved Australian writer and correspondent, Gerald Murnane, who never travels in planes and refuses to move far beyond his home in Macleod.

He travels in his mind, he says, and in his writing. I like to do this too, but real travel in real time also has its merits, if only to shake us out of the daily grind and a sort of sedentary complacency. Besides things seem to take longer when we move out of our routine.

I shall report on my shake up on my return.
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