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“EVERYBODY, LISTEN TO ME”: The Embarrassment of Podcasting

I love Art Horse. It’s been a great way for me (Fiona) to work through creative blocks, try new things, and get deep and silly with my long-distance best friend. Before we ever started, I expected the most nerve-wracking part of the whole experiment to be posting my amateur-hour art next to Jess’s professional illustrations. Instead, the podcast-as-creative-project itself has been the main source of discomfort for me. I stress about its form (1.5 hours of indulgent chatter?), its reputation (straight up onanism!?), and its content (endless navel-gazing?!?). I love Art Horse, but every week it straight up scares the shit out of me.

Even as a nervous kid, I loved acting, singing, and being on stage. I was in all the theater productions that would have me, from elementary through to grade 12, even making my way to a few coveted lead roles. On stage, I felt comfortable. Capable. Correct. So my English teacher was puzzled when I had a hard time (read: almost vomited) reciting my own essays in front of our tiny grade 12 class. “You’re on stage in front of these same kids all the time, why are you losing your lunch now?” I didn’t have to think about my answer — it blurted itself out of me. “On stage, I’m not me. Those are someone else’s ideas and words. It’s not me, so it’s not personal.” Mr. Sukunda, uncharacteristically, didn’t have a witty comeback.

I remember being struck with the idea for a podcast while I was lazing about on my bed in a patch of sunlight, feeling lonely and bored (thanks, Coronavirus). I shared the idea with Jess immediately. It didn’t occur to me at that point that I’d essentially be signing myself up to do weekly that which caused me to lose my lunch in grade 12 English — share my own thoughts and speak from my own mind to an audience. But that’s essentially what Art Horse is — it’s Jess’s and my personal, intimate experiences with creativity, our own opinions, our own thoughts, our own jokes. It’s us.

Somewhere along the line I’ve internalized the rule that I am not allowed to expect people to care about what I have to say. I am not allowed to command an audience as myself. To say “everybody, listen to ME”. How presumptuous!

I have Big Fear: are people rolling their eyes at my presumption? My audacity? We put so much work into making the podcast public — hell, we pay 18 real American dollars every month and a lot more than that in man-hours so that people can hear us. What makes us think our conversations are so special? That we are so special?

Asking, loudly, to be seen or heard is incredibly vulnerable. When you put your art up online or in a gallery, that’s saying “Please! Look!” When we post an episode, we’re saying “Trust us, we’re interesting enough! Please listen!” It’s asking someone passing by to turn their heads, to give a moment of their precious time, to pay attention. The fear is that they react with derision, annoyance — or worse, indifference. The fear is that all this means that we’re not interesting enough. We’re not worth the attention.

This is all way harsh. But this is the bullshit that sits at the back of my mind every week right before we click “Publish” on a new episode.

30 weeks in, I realize I expend a lot of energy worrying about the risks of this vulnerability, to the point of almost ignoring the real good that can also come from sharing yourself. Among the stream of people glancing and moving on (the indifference!), there are people who are inspired to peer in for a closer look. There’s bound to be some –- the world is big and people are varied. We’ve been #blessed to have this experience so far — people pick up what we’re laying down, and lob it back at us with their own interpretations and anecdotes. The reward for our vulnerability is this connection, this fun little glimmer of internet-togetherness that makes 2020 a tiny bit easier to bear. It means that Art Horse isn’t just me and Jess. It’s anyone who listens, reacts, or even jumps in to creative practice with us.

The other reward is that it’s forced me to regularly sit in the discomfort of vulnerability. This ship is on a tight schedule — every Tuesday morning like clockwork we publish intimate stuff (I’ve CRIED, twice, for god’s sake), and thereby ask people to care. I’m regularly steeped in the embarrassment of this ask. And, I’m happy to report that, 30 episodes later, the shame is waning somewhat. In an early episode, I asked Jess, “why can’t I make anything that people will see?” But then I did just that, and continue to do that, every week for more than half a year so far. What I’m trying to say is — do, and do repeatedly. The discomfort and fear will abate. What was once vomit-inducing will become boring. Then, you’ll be ready to conquer your next fear.

Don’t get me wrong, publishing an episode every week still feels like an embarrassing, presumptuous ask, but I’m doing it anyway. That’s become our whole “thing” on this podcast — it may be uncomfortable and scary, but those thoughts and feelings shouldn’t prevent anyone from writing a song, sharing a painting, taking on a big new project. As Jess would say, “take action towards your values.” As I would say, “just doooo.”

So, to recap: Vulnerability scary! But rewards vast. Just do!