Sunday, September 22, 2013

Public Speaking, Private Writing, and Lazy Wardrobe Revamps

I’m all a-jitter because looming before me this week is the specter of public speaking. I’ll  be doing a presentation on volunteer management for The Healthcare Hospitality Network’s annual conference, and although I feel as prepared as I can be, I’m still twisted into knots at the prospect of all of those people looking at me.  Although I majored in theater and have acting skills, in my mind, acting and public speaking are entirely different things. When I was acting, I was thoroughly immersed in a character. I entered into the mind and being of another person. It was never me, so it never felt like personal judgment was at stake. But when called upon to read my poetry out loud at a public event or having to stand in front of a bunch of people and talk, the pre-fear is crushingly intense. I have a deep horror of being visible, and I don’t like talking in front of people. It’s not a confidence issue, or even a self-consciousness issue. Rather, it’s some deep-seated, primal terror that associates being seen with being unsafe. Deconstructing that one would take Vienna-level, oak-paneled, leather-couched years of deep analysis, so to cope, I mobilize my acting skills and simply pretend I’m the world’s biggest ham. And eventually, I loosen up and start enjoying myself. Then I’m inevitably sad that I wasted all of that time strangled with irrational fear. Maybe I should join Toastmaster’s.

Speaking of being people I’m not, a friend of mine pointed out recently that whenever I’m having a hard time in life, I write stories full of blustery, cocksure, ego-driven characters. It’s true. That’s because I need them. Since I’ve set poetry aside for a while to focus on fiction, I’ve come realize the sheer joy of writing as escapism. The story that I was working on over the summer was chock-full of  braggarts and blowhards, and the main character in my novel is a fearless loudmouth. Through writing in their voices, I like to think that some of their swagger rubs off on me. I used to meditate regularly, and I never felt like it did me much good. But I find entering the mind of another person with a radically different viewpoint to be very meditative. It takes me out of myself, so that when I re-surface into reality, I feel like I’ve been cleansed and recharged—a feeling I never got from formal meditation.

Yesterday, I did what I do periodically—got completely sick of my crappy wardrobe and took three huge bags full of clothes to Goodwill. Then I realized I didn’t have any clothes left. So I went to Big Cheesy Chain Store at the mall, armed with about a million coupons, and ended up getting a killer deal on some new duds. I am extremely lazy when it comes to putting clothes on my own back, so my trick is to buy mix-and-match pieces to make it seem like I have a huge wardrobe, when in fact, I just re-assemble the same six items in as many different permutations as possible. And it was mix-and-match heaven at Big Cheesy Chain Store! There’s nothing like a sale on cheaply-constructed tank tops. I will soon be known as Tank Top Girl, because from here out, my wardrobe will consist solely of tank tops, cardigans, and neutral-colored pants.  Who knows what shocking color combos any given day will yield…the blue cardigan with the black tank? Or the black tank with the blue cardigan? The possibilities are endless. Ha! I hacked fashion! 

--Kristen McHenry


John Socrates said...

Another wonderfully written post written by you, my dear. You keep this up, I'm going to sign up for your tutoring services!

As for speaking in front of lots of people, think of all of them collectively or singularly as just one person. It's one person you're speaking to. Each mind is there not to embarrass you or glare darts into you. But to learn from you and be entertained and enlightened by you. They are friends, not strangers or enemies! And when you speak, you are speaking to each of them as an individual. No harm can come to you. On the other hand, if this doesn't work then you might try what I used to do years ago when I sang professionally for a while. Before each performance I would drink two shots of Tequila Gold, slap myself twice in the face and go out amongst them with crazed bravado!

Kristen McHenry said...

Aww, thanks, Socrates! I do find that it helps to remember that the audience is on *my* side...and that I have never once gone to a performance or a presentation hoping the speaker will fail miserably, lol! I think I'll save the Tequila Gold for *after* the presentation...although I might still slap myself in the face and attempt crazed bravado!