Ear­li­er this week, Daniel Smith, whose newest book, Mon­key Mind: A Mem­oir of Anx­i­ety, is now avail­able, wrote about hear­ing voic­es. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

In my last post, I described the tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties that occurred when I appeared on Talk of the Nation ear­li­er this month. Instead of the reg­u­lar broad­cast­ing con­fig­u­ra­tion — a sin­gle inter­vie­wee respond­ing to the ques­tions of a sin­gle inter­view­er — I was forced to con­tend with a wel­ter of voic­es and nois­es cre­at­ed by wonky tech­nol­o­gy, all while try­ing to sound poised, nor­mal, and more or less intel­li­gent.

When the prob­lem first occurred, I expe­ri­enced a very famil­iar and unpleas­ant sen­sa­tion: anx­i­ety. My mus­cles tight­ened, my heart sped up, my brow start­ed to sweat, and I felt a grow­ing con­stric­tion in my chest mus­cles. Worse, because it threat­ened the pro­ceed­ings, my thoughts began to race, first and briefly with ques­tions about my san­i­ty (“Where is all this noise com­ing from!?”) and then with ques­tions about my abil­i­ties to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion (“I’m going to lose on air! I’m nev­er going to get through this”).

But then anoth­er feel­ing took over, also famil­iar but this time much more com­fort­ing: focus. Once the host start­ed to ask his ques­tions — he was unaware that I could scarce­ly hear him through the din — all my wor­ries burned off in the heat of what need­ed to be done. I was here. I was speak­ing live on nation­al radio. I had no choice but to go for­ward.

I have a job to do, dammit!

This is a reac­tion for which I have become, through­out the years, very, very grate­ful. Not all anx­i­ety suf­fer­ers do well under pres­sure. Does that sound like an odd for­mu­la­tion, giv­en that anx­i­ety is gen­er­al­ly thought to be all about being bad under pres­sure? Well, it isn’t. Anx­i­ety is more often about being bad with the con­sid­er­a­tion of pres­sure. Anx­i­ety feeds off of uncer­tain­ty, con­tin­gency, and doubt. But high-pres­sured sit­u­a­tions don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tain these ele­ments. As often as not, high-pres­sured sit­u­a­tions wipe uncer­tain­ty, con­tin­gency, and doubt right off the table. And what is left in place of these things is … neces­si­ty. Pur­pose. The need for action. In short, the present moment and noth­ing but the present moment.

It is for these rea­sons that in my adult life I have often yearned for a more pub­licly per­for­ma­tive job than writ­ing. Writ­ing is not only soli­tary, it is a defer­ment of per­for­mance. At the writ­ing desk, one can always look back at what was already writ­ten and for­ward to what has not yet been writ­ten. This is a sure for­mu­la for anx­i­ety. Per­form­ers, peo­ple who work on stage in front of live audi­ences, don’t have the lux­u­ry of this look­ing around. They are forced by con­di­tions of imme­di­a­cy to deal only with what is in front of them: this line, this reac­tion, this emo­tion, this idea.

Oh, to have that pres­sure more fre­quent­ly! I’m in Los Ange­les at the moment, talk­ing about my book and see­ing some friends. Maybe it’s time to go on a few auditions.

Vis­it Daniel Smith’s offi­cial web­site here.