I am always, always afraid before I get up to give a talk. Always.
For a while there, I thought that there was something wrong with me. I would be nervous and people say “Still?” or “Really?” or “But you do this all the time!” and I sure do…and I’ve never found a way over it. I am as terrorized today as the first day…perhaps more. As the time to stand up in front of all of those people (even if they are mostly on my side) comes, I start to panic. I organize. I pace. I get out my speech. I print multiple copies. I number the pages and sort of crumple them individually so that two pages can’t stick together while I am up there. I don’t eat. I drink coffee (this may not help) and I reflect deeply on the pain developing in my stomach and try to work out if I actually have appendicitis or if my body is just trying to convince me that I have appendicitis so that I will go to the hospital or die but definitely not get up on that stage. I knit and knit and knit, because it’s really pretty calming (it’s pretty hard to make a career or relationship ending move with a bit of knitting) oh…by the way… here’s the baby sweater from yesterday. Nothing like a little anxiety to light a fire under your knitting….
though this would move fast, even for a relaxed knitter. I’ve got a little bit of sleeve and applied i-cord around the neck left to go, and all the ends to weave in. (That’s why there are some big holes.)
I think maybe I wasn’t clear yesterday. To buy the yarn for this sweater individually would be $160, since you need eight colours and you can only buy whole skeins. I will not (I think, though there have been bigger surprises) pay $160 for a baby sweater that someone is going to barf on, even if there will be many leftovers and it is superwash wool. (Which it is, but that is not the point.) What I was trying to say yesterday, is that Megan (at Lettuce Knit) made up kits for it. She wound off little balls of all the colours that you need so that it doesn’t cost $160. It costs $40 – which is still a little dear for a baby thing, but I count yarn in my entertainment budget. I knit for fun, like some people golf, so if I get a baby gift out of it, that’s a bonus. Now that I’ve cleared that up….
So before I give these talks I’m pacing around and I’m imagining what can go wrong. I could throw up. That would be bad. I could faint, or lose all verbal control and say something terrible…I could have to go to the bathroom right in the middle of the speech or someone could stand up and say “You know, I just drove six hours because I hate you so much that it was worth it to me to burn the gas to tell you in person”. I could have my skirt tucked into my panties, I could sit in something gross right before I go out there. Nobody could come. Hundreds of people could come. On top of the thousands of ways I could screw it up, then I get anxious about the ways the bookstore can screw it up. (Although, when it’s a bookstore that has been laissez faire about the event because they don’t believe in knitters, I sort of enjoy watching them get screwed. Don’t tell anyone.) The whole thing breeds hysteria in me, and the way I see it, there’s no way to relax about it or get used to it, because frankly, the same risks are there every time. I’ve developed some coping strategies though. I have a couple of things that I say to myself before I go out there.
“This is not important. Not really. There are wars and diseases and big problems and this is not one of them. Try to keep perspective. No matter what goes wrong tonight, your screw up will NOT cost lives.”
“It is ok to screw up. You are only human, human beings screw up, and most other people find it really comforting to see someone else screw up because they screw up too. Pretending to be perfect is unfair to other people. ”
But the last thing I say? The big one? The thing that bucks me up enough that I stagger out to the podium at all is not going to work tonight. The one thing I always hold in the back of my mind as the jaunty mental liferaft of hope doesn’t work in your hometown as you sit surrounded by your nearest and dearest.
“Don’t forget, if you humiliate yourself….you don’t ever have to see these people again.”
I’m going to go have a little lie down now. Go wish Lee Ann a happy 40th birthday. See you (If I show up) at 7:00 and I can’t tell you how happy I am going to be when I’m hoisting a pint at the pub after. (PS. for all the Americans who wrote with some serious concerns about what sort of pub I had chosen for the afterparty… Spotted Dick is a dessert. It has currants. Get your mind out of the gutter.)