I spent thirty-five (+/-) years standing front of a roomful of students. Doing the head math, it probably means I pushed chalk and rambled on about all kinds of things (sometimes, I even talked about science) thousands of times. Of course, being shy and bashful by nature and carrying vast amounts of insecurities and inadequacies, it wasn’t easy. I just made it look that way. I had confidence.
But on August 13, as I was waiting my turn to read something from one of my books at the Old Forge Public Library, I felt my anxiety level rise. There were twenty of us scheduled to read. I looked around. Hey, I wrote four books, I’m as good as any of you. But, was I? Self-doubt crept into my heart. My inner critic began the usual taunting: “Who do you think you are? These people are real poets and writers, you’re just a retired old science teacher. And you SELF PUBLISH , not like a “real” writer.
“Please, for those who are going to read tonight, I ask that you keep your time to less than five minutes,” said the emcee, a poetry teacher, (who made sure all her students from a recent workshop went first).
I picked up my book. I brought “In All The Wrong Places” with me because some of the stories are set in the Adirondacks. I flipped through the one I had chosen. Five minutes? No, this one is too long. I flipped back and forth looking for a shorter piece. I found one. It fit. It was set in the locale.
Almost two hours have passed and I still hadn’t been called. One or two people grabbed their fleece and headed for the door. I thought of the old story about a guy who was going to give a speech at a banquet. As the evening wore on, the dinner guests began leaving. Finally, there was one man left at one of the tables. “I’m a professional,” the speaker said to himself as he strode toward the lectern. “I’m going to give the best speech I can.” Forty-five minutes later, he was done. He went over to the lone audience member. “I’m so glad you stayed, thank you.”
“No problem,” the man said. “I have to lock up anyway.”
I heard my name. the emcee hadn’t bothered to ask me anything about myself so there was no introduction…only my name. I took a quick sip from the Fiji water bottle. I grabbed my book and my cell phone. When I got to the lectern, I stepped back and put the camera up to take a pic of the audience. “Pretend that Stephen King is standing here, please. Look impressed.”
My throat tightened. Where was my experience…my years of talking to classes, large and small? Where was my speaking muse?
I removed my glasses and set them beside the microphone. I can’t read with them. I can’t read well without them. I squinted my way through the 3+ minutes. The roar of the crowd was really a polite clapping.
I bought two slices of pizza on my way back to the hotel. I sat on the bed and went over the evening again.
No one asked for a copy of the book. No one asked for my autograph. No one paid the slightest bit of attention to me.
I decided that something was missing from my “act.” I needed something more…eye-catching…memorable.
That was when I made a personal commitment to learn how to do the “moon-walk” like Michael Jackson.