Last night I had the great joy of helping take over Creative Colloquy in Tacoma, Washington's monthly open mic night with fellow Blue Zephyr Press authors Bethany Maines and Karen Harris Tully in order to celebrate the release of our newest collaborative effort, Galactic Dreams Volume 2.
I struggle a lot with public speaking. I have a theory that people tend to be better at either prepared presentations -- creating a script and practicing it over and over again until they get it just right -- or spontaneous presentations -- getting the gist of an idea down in your head and then winging in more of an improvisation way. I developed this theory after taking an improv class in my 20s. It took a little while, but then I felt super comfortable getting up in front of others and making things up. But in that class we also had to prepare and perform a monologue. I had spent weeks being able to throw ideas out in front of this class of people and feeling comfortable with the idea of failing. But preparing something ahead of time gave me time to get nervous. Really nervous.
I thought of this again as I sat in the room waiting for my turn to read from my newest book, The Glitter of Gold. I had practiced reading it a few times. I know I have a tendency to talk fast (and read fast) due to years of being told that, so I had to sit and continue to take slow deep breaths to try to calm myself down.
And then I got up, and I started read. I'd like to say that I magically felt better and the words just flowed. Instead I kept losing my place on the page as I looked up at the crowd (something I was told was better than just keeping my head down and reading) and stumbling over words I'd read perfectly several times before. I found myself spontaneously rewriting sentences as I read, skipping words or changing the order for the sake of my poor twisted tongue, and I could feel sweat pooling on my upper lip.
I was fortunate enough to have family and friends come and support me, and I switched from face to face in the crowd, looking for a lifeline, and trying not to speed up as I got closer to the end of my prepared section.
When it was over, I was very happy to drop the paper down to my side, take my applause, say thank you, and get off the stage. It did not feel like a graceful exit.
And then my cousin told me later how proud he was of how brave I was -- not just for reading in public, but for writing and putting my words out there for others to see. I of course started to tear up.
Both improvisation and presentation take bravery, and perhaps doing the one you are least comfortable with takes the most.
In the end, like anything else, they both take practice. Being brave takes practice.
And last night, my fellow authors and all the folks who participated in the open mic got a chance to practice being brave.
J.M. Phillippe is the author of the novels Perfect Likeness, Aurora One, The Christmas Spirit, and The Glitter of Gold and the short stories The Sight and Plane Signals. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a clinical social worker in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free time binge-watching quality TV, drinking cider with amazing friends, and learning the art of radical self-acceptance, one day at a time.