I Have Shaky Hands
One of my biggest anxieties is that a stranger will ask me to take a photo of them. I wasn’t always afraid of this, that my hands would shake so much that I’d be unable to take a photograph and an entire family of German tourists would watch, puzzled as I shook their phone at them like it was an etch-a-sketch. I bet you didn’t know this, but it is a performance, taking a picture. You are asked to perform, while the person who will judge your performance stands back and watches you, hoping the stranger they picked won’t fuck up their vacation memories. Their smiles and poses all become subtle comments on your ineptitude. Well that’s the best I can do at painting this innocuous situation as terrifying. Really, I’m just afraid they’ll notice I’m nervous, and so I get increasingly nervous. That’s the thing about anxiety – it feeds itself so perfectly.
This photo anxiety is new, traced back to the time my boyfriend’s family asked me to take a picture of the whole 40 person clan, and my hands shook so prominently that they all noticed. I was standing there in front of the whole family as they watched me be nervous, which as I write this doesn’t seem that bad. It seems endearing. But oh did it feel horrible. The idea of sharing this private struggle online also doesn’t seem particularly fun. I’ll worry that it will change the way people will see me, that they’ll be watching to see if my hands shake. Apparently, I think my hands are incredibly important and interesting.
My shaky hands feature prominently in my lore. I first started to have shaky hands at a horrendous piano recital when I was about 11. If only my mother hadn’t made me learn piano then I wouldn’t be in my current shaky hand predicament, right? My hands shook so terribly that I was unable to play, and I had to be escorted off the stage by my teacher. I spent a week in bed and never wanted to play the piano again. I don’t think I ever did in a big recital, but to my credit, I suffered through several more small ones. I guess this means I’m brave – that even though I’m terrified I keep going. This is how I acted consistently for a decade. I do not understand how someone who has a hard time taking a picture in front of another person also loves to perform. I stopped acting for a while, realizing that I didn’t have the psychological fortitude to be a professional actor, which I think is the sanest realization I’ve ever had. But I missed acting, so last month I took an acting class to work through my stage fright and get a taste. She assigned me the fake orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally, and I fullllly committed to that performance in front of a room of strangers. What I mean to say is I’ll overcome my fears to do something I really love. I don’t love taking pictures of strangers.
The other day I was in Amoeba Records and an older man, dressed in the kind of black jeans that indicate he would kill me if I described him as older, asked me to take a picture of him with a record. I was caught off guard. At tourist spots and restaurants I know to expect this kind of thing, but record store patrons do not usually emote with the kind of effusiveness that leads to the taking of pictures. Perhaps because I was startled by his odd request, I chose to warn him and declared, “I have shaky hands.” I told him I would do my best, but that I was so sorry, but he picked the one girl with shaky hands. I said this like I was admitting a deep moral and physical imperfection for which I begged him to forgive me.
This is a new technique I’m trying. I will just tell people I have shaky hands, which a lot of people will accept as part of a mysterious illness, the side effect of a vital medication or a life-threatening disease. Apparently I would prefer to be thought of as ill instead of nervous. When I told him I had shaky hands, he said, “Oh, you’ve got a tremor,” as if to say, “Right on, I get you. I’m cool with disabled people.” Oddly, his frankness was comforting, and I now felt like I had permission to shake away. My hands still shook, but I managed to get one good photo in. He looked at the photos and seemed happy with them, encouraging me. Then he put on his glasses. “Oh yeah,” he said, and he seemed disappointed. He could see the effects of the “tremor.” “But I got one I could use.” He did not say this in a reassuring way. Instead he sounded like he had really needed multiple options, and I’d let him down. What was the deal with that record? Why was it so important to document? At the time, my complete self-absorption prevented me from asking questions. Instead, I felt slightly violated. For his one picture, I had turned myself inside out. This wasn’t his fault. A person should be able to take a picture for another person, so I’ll do my best with this new and most unsettling of my neuroses. However, I did have a shaky hand incident recently while trying out archery, and I’m going to let that one slide. Until the apocalypse comes and I’m forced to actually hunt for food, I can be someone who is too fragile to archer.