Reading, Writing and 'Rithmetic
I’ve often said that many writers, including myself, would rather be writing than doing anything else, particularly when it has to do with public speaking. Public speaking is to most writers, like getting math; we just don’t do well at it.
However, many jobs, no matter the seemingly introvert nature, require at least some form of public speaking, from speaking to an auditorium, to a room of people or even to five “suits” from corporate. Writing is not excluded.
This past Saturday, I did my first reading of one of my works. This may seem surprising, given that I’ve been doing this freelance gig fulltime now for close to seven years, but I had somehow managed to get by without getting up in front of a room full of people to read.
Sure, I’ve been teaching for a while, but my classes are intentionally small and although I write the curriculum, much of what I teach are not my own thoughts about the writing process, but thoughts I’ve borrowed from other writers. I also make the classes interactive and so we also get the thoughts of my students.
The reading I did was for the launch of the third “Kansas City Voices,” magazine, a truly remarkable collection of fiction, essays, poetry and art from very talented regional creators. It is very humbling to be among the writers included in this edition and I was even more humbled to be asked to read my work. Still, I knew this day would come, the day I would have to get up in front of a group of people and read something I wrote, be it a stand alone essay or from my book. Besides, part of being a writer is having new life experiences, so I said “yes.”
Of course, my nerves began to tingle when I was asked to read my essay about the Kansas City Crossroads district, but I really didn’t let it affect me until this past week.
On Monday, I began the week, as a usually do, plotting my “to do” list and making careful notes of deadlines. One of the things at the top of my list was to pick up my essay and read it aloud at least once a day. I also planned to tape myself to pinpoint where I needed more inflection and to hear which words I was stumbling upon.
But, as they say, best laid plans. On Tuesday, my mother lost a very dear, longtime friend, my godmother, and my plans for the week went askew. When I remembered my commitment to read on Wednesday afternoon, I picked up the essay and read it aloud twice. I couldn’t locate my tape recorder, because another thing on my list was to clean my office, which was put off as well.
I noted the humorous aspect of the essay, made a note to take care during those parts with more inflection, marked a couple of words I kept stumbling on – plethora was one, a favorite of mine to write, but harder to say aloud. I practiced at least twice a day for three days, trying to imagine an audience in my otherwise empty office. My husband, Dale, even came in once asking why I was talking to myself.
Saturday morning came and I limited myself to one cup of coffee to help ease the butterflies, which amazingly didn’t start fluttering until I was introduced to read. I got up and walked to the front of the room, which held about 40 people. I had long ago found out that imagining the audience in their underwear did not help me in such situations and I am not good enough to be able to just imagine the room empty.
On that morning, though, I realized for the first time, an advantage to being near-sighted. Thanks to my eye doctor, who did not get my bifocal prescription right, I cannot read with my glasses on. When I stepped up to the podium, I immediately removed my glasses to read, looked up and all I could see were blurry dots. Besides a few chuckles at my humor and an “ahhhh,” at my ending, it was easy to imagine I was reading alone.
For this writer who has always shied from public speaking, I finally found the complex answer to making it through. Now that I’ve passed the writing and reading test, I can still hold out hope there is a trick to that ‘rithmetic.