Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Musings on public speaking, flying, and fear

Last weekend I flew to Dallas for a library visit. As my friends know, I do not like flying. I especially do not like takeoffs. And I especially do not like turbulent takeoffs, which is what I experienced flying home from ALA last year, and at which point my dislike of flying turned into a full-on phobia.

On the way to Dallas I had a terrifically reassuring seatmate. I began to relax. On the way back, the pounding panic came back during takeoff, especially since I had to fly American and they don't have satellite radio, but it was a very smooth takeoff, and once we hit 10,000 feet, I relaxed quickly and stayed astoundingly relaxed. Sure, I still got a tension headache by the time I got off, but at one point the plane was rattling a bit, I could see a lightning storm up ahead, and yet I realized I was just enjoying the show. With the Buzzcocks blasting through my headphones, my mood was a mixture of "this is pretty!", "F*#@ you, fear" and "Bring it ON."

(Luckily, nothing much ever was brought, or I might have changed my tune.)

Meanwhile, between these two flights was my library visit. It was not my most successful visit ever because the audience didn't really know each other, they were mostly in that most-nervous-age-of-your-life, and they didn't laugh at many of my jokes or ask many questions. "How can you DO that?" or "I could never do that" were reactions I got from several people about the idea of library/school visits in general and shy audiences in particular.

And I don't really KNOW how I can do it. I can look at an empty room of chairs and think, "I can see how this would be intimidating" and then I can see those chairs half-filled with staring faces waiting for me to entertain them with chatter for the next hour and think, "Yes, this would be a problem for some people, I understand completely", and yet, I'm just not afraid. I've even gotten better at just forging ahead when I ask if there are any questions and no one says a word. Okay, nevermind! I'll give you random writing advice. Or read an excerpt from Between the Sea and Sky. Do you like it, audience? Can I tell? You are so quiet!! Eh, too bad, you're getting it anyway.

I still envy people who are particularly stellar public speakers, who are consistently hilarious and/or thought-provoking. I think I am humorous and informational but I wouldn't go as far as hilarious and thought-provoking. Sometimes I lose my train of thought. Sometimes I stammer. But my heart doesn't pound, not like takeoff on an airplane. I recover quickly.

When I was a wee kidlet I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. (Before I realized one would have to write one's own routine and not just repeat one of Steve Martin's.) I try to think of writer talks the same way. Good comedians are willing to humiliate themselves, and when things go rough, I just think of that.

But if I ever pee my pants on a turbulent plane, I'm not sure that'll work.


  1. I bet the audience LOVED your presentation. The teen age group is really hard to read, I think. Like you said, they're nervous-- they don't want to show a reaction in front of their peers, lest they be judged. But I bet they just wanted to squeal with glee, especially when you read an excerpt from Between the Sea and the Sky! That must have been so awesome for them.

  2. Yeah, you described it very aptly with this: " they don't want to show a reaction in front of their peers, lest they be judged." I'd never thought of it quite that way but you're right!

    I'm not sure if any of them had read Magic Under Glass either. But hopefully they are intrigued for the future.