I’m sitting in New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport with Max and Karen waiting for Jetlbue flight 576 to arrive to head back to New York. It’s a long story and I’ve only got the energy for a short version.
Drug Court conference for the state of Louisiana. I did a plenary for the whole association (some 400 practitioners) on Cultural Competency and LGBT clients – a workshop for about 100 on Young Adult Developmental Issues. I said the words penis and vagina out loud. You had to be there to get the context but it was a moment I’m proud of.
Karen and Max came down here with me. It was their first time here. We did Mardi Gras, and a swamp tour, and Max held a baby alligator, and we ate beignets (Max laughed and made the powdered sugar go all over the place), and we caught beads thrown from parade floats, and walked the French Quarter.
Grant proposals are due. My work as Ex Dir is giving me constant brain freeze. I’m running out of steam.
I haven’t posted since December but I’ve been writing. That’s good.
Half of one book (Cid prequel) and half of another (modern-day). I’ve been marking new pages on a note app and am up to 42 this year on the modern-day newbie. That puts the total for modern-day up to about 135. Writing is good.
Finishing is better.
I’ll work some on the plane ride home. I’ve promised myself that. That and a movie – perhaps a comedy. We could all use a good laugh. We’re heading into the cold and a coming snowstorm.
I read The Bully Pulpit – by Doris Kearns Goodwin – a massive tome about Taft and Roosevelt. It was a long long tough read but totally worth it – even if Teddy R comes out looking like an ass at the end. Small print and many hours reading later…
Taft was an introvert. Long live the introverts. They are different kinds of leaders and good ones too.
It’s 2014. Two months in. 42 pages. Have to catch up.
I read at Espresso 77 last night. My son sold books for me and gave out free mugs as gifts. Four friends, ten customers, and three employees listened in. I read the opening six pages of Open Wounds and the first five pages of the second part, The Bells of Hell – where Lefty is introduced to the reader and to Cid – the protagonist.
The shop turned off the music.
The customers looked up from their conversations and laptops, took out their earphones, put away their phones.
Just about everybody tuned in for twenty minutes. It’s hard not too in such a small space.
I stood by the register with my back to the milk and condiment cart. The owner’s art-work surrounded me on both walls.
I love this place.
I wore my Espresso 77 t-shirt which says, “I love espresso,” on the front and Espresso 77 on the back. The writing is in white and red. The t-shirt is black. I wore my special, thick, writer-ly, wool coat. It doesn’t have elbow patches. It is slate black. And it is cool.
I may not be cool.
But my jacket is.
My son sold three books – two to friends, and one to a customer who got into the reading and decided to give it a try.
It was just about perfect.
Earlier that day my son and I went to a local pool hall and played ping-pong – 30 pool tables, 5 ping-pong tables, 2 air hockey tables, and one foosball table. I introduced my son to foosball. He liked it – a lot.
If the sun had come out and it had rained diamonds it couldn’t have been a more perfect day.
I went to Harlem today to visit a middle school’s eighth grade – PS/MS 161M, Don Pedro Albizu Campos School on 134th and Broadway. It’s right next to City College where I spent a year taking graduate classes in their creative writing masters program. I ran out of money after one year and never went back, but it was a good experience never-the-less. My friend Leslie set it up. She’s an Assistant Principal at the school and, after reading my book, accepted my offer to come in and talk about it with her eighth grade students.
The Library/Media Center was packed with 40 eighth graders, one teacher, and the Librarian/Media Center specialist. They had a smart board ready for me. I laid out my fencing weapons – a foil, a sabre, an épée, and a stage rapier, then talked for twenty minutes, read for twenty minutes and answered questions for ten.
Q&A can be tricky with eighth graders. There can be a lot of silence. These kids were great but I was worried at first as only one girl raised her hand. A boy and another girl seemed to raise their hands but then put them down. Perhaps it was peer pressure or maybe they were just stretching.
I called on the girl with her hand still assertively raised. Thank God she had a question. She opened a notebook she had with her, gazed down what seemed like a list of questions she had prepared, and asked the first of half a dozen that she would try to get to. I don’t remember what her first question was because right after I answered it five hands sprang into the air, then another few right after that. And the questions were good and they kept coming. Here’s a sampling of them:
- How does publishing work? How do you get a book published?
- Did your parents support you in trying to be a writer?
- When did you know that you wanted to be a writer and what made you come to that decision?
- What do you think it takes to be a writer?
- Are you working on anything new?
- Who was helpful to you along the way – like teachers or other people?
- Have you met famous authors since your book was published?
But this was the best. It wasn’t one of their questions. It was their answer to a question that I asked them. “Which would you rather do, take seven years to write a novel or one month? How many say seven years?”
Almost half the room raised their hands. I was in a bit of shock. I didn’t think any would.
“How many say one month?”
The other half raised their hands.
“Of those who said seven years, why did you say that?”
The girl who asked the first question raised her hand. “Because if it takes seven years then when I hand it in, it will be perfect.” Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
“And why one month?”
A boy raised his hand. “If it takes only one month then I’m writing really well, really fast.” Brilliant again.
I left three books with them – one for each class teacher and one for the library. How could I not? And whoever said middle school years were the lost years?
I’m presenting/lecturing/reading at the Queens Historical Society tomorrow evening. This is cool. I wrote a historical novel that takes place in Queens and Manhattan and the Queens Historical Society asks me to come speak at their author lecture/reading series. I’m pretty excited about it. I better get drressed up.
But first I have to finish my grant application for my day job. It’s due this afternoon at 12pm which means it must be finished by 10 so it can go out at 11 to be hand delivered. I have one more line to cut. It’s a different kind of writing, grant writing. It’s not very pleasant but it’s a skill that helps my fiction writing so I do it. Oh yeah, and it helps me keep my day job. And I can’t give it up yet. So I cut one line. Sounds easy until you see you’ve cut everywhere else after reading it over and over the day before into the night. But I digress a bit.
I’ve never been to the Queens Historical Society. I don’t know who will be there or what kinds of questions I’ll get but it will be different. I’m going to speak about the creation of Cid, the protagonist of Open Wounds, and how he came into being. He’s from Sunnyside, only two towns – about 30 minutes walk – from where I live in Jackson Heights. The 7 train takes you there in five minutes. The 7 also takes Cid in to Manhattan to see Captain Blood on his first day of freedom.
The reading runs from 6:30-8pm. Here’s the address of the Society:
Weeping Beech Park
143-135 37th Avenue
Flushing, NY 11354
Question number 3.
How do you deal with presentation anxiety? And how did you get over your fear?
Okay. Here’s one I actually have some expertise on. I know a lot about anxiety. You could say I’m an expert on it. I’ve lived with an anxiety disorder most of my life and in spite of this have performed as a reader, an actor, and a teacher in front of thousands of individuals over the last twenty years – and I’ve taught public speaking classes to just almost as many individuals.
The woman who asked this question had taken speech class and still had tremendous anxiety when she presented in class. I told her, “Welcome to the club.” The old stat from The Book of Lists is that people are more afraid of public speaking than death, taxes, divorce, and marriage. So If you’re scared of it you’re in the right spot.
So, to the first part of the question. Am I over my fear of public speaking? Yes and no. I still have some but I’d frame it as anxiety. Some days it’s higher and some days it’s lower but I am almost always anxious before events, the bigger the event the more anxious I am. But it’s normal anxiety – what you are supposed to have in situations like this – not overwhelming. And… the anxiety is much more manageable and that is why I can function and succeed with it. And yes, I even enjoy it (the public speaking not the anxiety – though we are friendly and exchange birthday cards).
What I did was do a lot of public speaking.
I practiced and practiced in my jobs. I liked teaching so I taught in all the different jobs I had. I watched other speakers and took techniques I liked, tried to avoid ones that I thought didn’t work.
I also took improvisational acting classes and found these to be tremendously helpful in building my confidence in my ability to deal with brain freeze (when you can’t think of what to say and stand there with your mind blank like you just drank a 7/11 slurpee way too fast) and in realizing there are many ways to get from point A to point B (ie: I don’t have to be perfect in what I say – I just have to get my point across). I will also say that taking acting classes and specifically improv classes helped me as a writer to see how ideas can be generated and grown very quickly with a minimum of effort. It also helped me to learn about character archetypes and how a 3-act narrative structure works.
I also swear by yogic breathing practices (pranayama), meditation, and asana (physical practice). I’ve practiced daily for the last five years and have been studying actively for fifteen. It has been the single most powerful collection of tools I’ve found to help me deal with life in general and anxiety in the specific.
Books to look at on public speaking:
The Exceptional Presenter (the best accessible, practical, and hands on resource I’ve found so far)
Public Speaking for Dummies (hey, don’t laugh, it’s a good resource!)
I was interviewed by Johnny Tann yesterday for his talk radio show From My Momma’s Kitchen.
It was an hour-long and I have to say I was nervous about it. I’ve done interviews before and I’m usually nervous about them. That is as it should be. They are anxiety provoking experiences.
Things I worry about include:
- What will I say?
- Will I say too little? Will I say too much? I have an hour to fill…
- Will I embarrass myself? My family? (My wife would tell me before every improv show I did, “don’t embarrass the family,” which, of course, is exactly what you do in improv but…)
- What if I get brain freeze and can’t think of a thing to say? (It’s the slurpie of public speaking and these days I use simple breathing techniques to get through it but it does still happen.)
- What if I say something that doesn’t make sense? (Do I ever make sense?)
- What if I say something that makes sense but is stupid? (That puts me back to embarrassing.)
- What if I say the word ask like ax and my family hears about it (my wife and son have been trying to help me get the New York out of my accent but it’s tough going – it doesn’t seem to want to leave.)