Posts Tagged ‘Public Speaking’

Well, we are rounding the curve and the finish line is in sight. Thankfully, by the end of next week we should have some idea how the citizens of the United States have plotted our course for the next four years. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a decision on who’s going to run the assylum one way or another. Bickering makes me tired.

Aside from the loss of freedom imposed by the Covid pandemic, there have been a lot of losses in my world this year. My son just reported his beloved Labrador retriever, Sadie, passed away. Sadie was a senior citizen in the dog kingdom, but that does not make her passing any less sad. My granddaughter lost her golden lab, Pita, last month and those are just the members of our inner circle who sit beneath the table counted missing. Blessedly, my loved ones are healthy and thriving. I am grateful for this every day, and each night before I go to bed I picture each of them surrounded in a golden light that keeps them protected and safe. In this environment where you find yourself constantly looking over your shoulder or waiting for the other shoe to drop, it is important to lean heavily on whatever faith you might have and steadily kindle your joy and sense of humor. My sense of humor has literally lighted my way through the darkest times in my life. I have been married four times, buried two of my husbands and divorced the other two, and said goodbye to Rick over two years ago, my partner of twenty years. One cannot walk through that minefield without losing a few body parts along the way. Always, in spite of whatever was transpiring in my world, I seemed to be able to retrieve a good laugh I hadn’t used yet. I can’t tell you how that has helped to make difficult situations more tolerable.

I did not know my dad, but from what I understand he was a funny guy. Now, from what I hear from my relatives on his side, he was more of the life of the party guy. When dad walked in, the party began, I believe was how it was put. That is not me. Born November 1st, I am a Scorpio baby. Scorpios, though they enjoy lifelong friendships (we’re very loyal) and deep, passionate relationships, they do not enjoy huge gatherings of strangers and a lot of gibbering small talk. I can do it, mind you, I’d just prefer not to. Intimate gatherings of dear friends or new acquaintances are far more my cup of tea.

Huge groups of unfamiliar faces make me want to open the closet door and step inside. Many times over the years I have been forced to face this fear, and each time I’ve approached the plate and gotten myself through the experience. Public speaking is high on people’s lists of fear inspiring events. I would never be happy with the spotlight pointed directly at me, which perhaps is why I was placed in a family where millions of people have absolutely no interest in what we are doing from one moment to the next. I am good with that. The good news is I’m good at a number of things, but excel in none. Fame has not eluded me, I have successfully managed to elude fame. Yay for me.

The first time I was called on to speak in front of a large gathering was at my best friend’s wedding when I was twenty-two. Prior to that, the only experience I’d had with speaking to a group was giving an oral book report in my high school English class. Not that getting up in front of my class wasn’t intimidating, but it was a walk in the park compared to the enormous turnout for this wedding ceremony.

Mike, short for Michaelin, had been planning her wedding since she exited the womb. On the way down the birth canal she was caught jotting notes on paper selection for the invitations and which flowers to choose for decorating the aisles of the church. At five, she had a subscription to Brides. The bulletin board in her room was completely obscured by wedding suggestions and ideal venues for the big event. When she finally met her prince, I was invited to be her maid of honor. This was not the first time I’d stood at the altar with a friend. In point of fact, it was the third. In each case, the attendants are always assured the dresses they’ve selected for you to wear can be worn to other functions after the ceremony. Right. Each of mine ended up on the Halloween clearance rack at the local Salvation Army. It was bad enough I had to seen in public once wearing them, why on earth would I subject myself to that humiliation another time?

One particular nightmare, as I recall, was bright lemon yellow. You needed sunglasses to safely look straight at it. There should have been a warning label attached to it. The citrusy monstrosity was accessorized with a matching hat that would also have served nicely as a landing pad for a B52. Huge and floppy, it was made even more gaudy, if possible, by the addition of long yellow ribbons that draped down the back. It would have done Scarlett O’Hara proud. I spent most of my march down the aisle trying to see past the brim to keep my bearings so I could find the rest of the wedding party when I got to the front of the church. The dress itself had a satin sash and was embellished with what appeared to be shower poofs attached to the upper sleeves. Yup, guaranteed I’m wearing that out again, most probably on my next trip to Raley’s to pick up a gallon of milk. The dresses for Mike’s wedding were to be red. The wedding was in late November so the color ideally suited the holidays which were in full swing. Actually, they were less awful than the previous contenders, but still I never put mine on my body again after the vows were said and done.

Once I had accepted the invitation to participate in Mike’s wedding, the fun had just begun. The ceremony would be a full Catholic mass with the church filled to capacity. Following the nuptials, the reception was to be held at a large upscale venue replete with all the trimmings including a sit down dinner for the three hundred guests expected to attend. God knows what all this was costing her poor father, but I’m sure with three girls to marry off he probably went into debt by the time the third one said “I do”. To make matters worse, Mike and her prince divorced ten years later so it was a great send off but lacked a flashy finish. At the time, I lived in the Bay Area with the bride still residing in Southern California where we had gone to school together. The real estate in between us presented some logical problems with me managing a full-time job and two little ones. I flew down for several showers, and a weekend of cake tasting and floral shop hopping. After that, my presence was not required again until the night of the rehearsal dinner. All the plane tickets for the three out-of-area attendants were also picked up by Mike’s poor dad, who never complained, God bless him. He was a lovely man who died in his early fifties, probably from stress or impending bankruptcy.

After some discussion, it was decided I would attend the wedding without my husband. Not a big fan of weddings, he preferred to opt out and stay home to play Mr. Mom to our two rug rats. Trying to manage the two of them for several hours in a church probably wasn’t an assignment he was interested in signing up for anyway, and it was, after all, football season.

On the day of the wedding rehearsal I arrived at the San Francisco airport early in the day to give me ample time to catch my mid-afternoon flight. It was a rainy, blustery day, and I wanted to be sure I didn’t run into trouble on the road and miss my plane. As it turned out, once inside the terminal I discovered the plane had been delayed due to poor visibility. Sigh. In those days there were no cell phones (I know!) so I schlepped over to a pay phone, deposited the requested amount of change, and let Mike know I would be late. As it turned out my mid-afternoon flight turned into more of an early evening flight. By the time I arrived at the Ontario Airport I had already missed the rehearsal dinner, and dinner in general. Exhausted from trying to find one comfortable spot on the terminal seating (news flash, this spot is an illusion), I rented a car, checked into my hotel, and folded myself neatly on top of the bed. Mike called after the rehearsal dinner to make sure I was live and in person and advise me someone would be picking up at the hotel early in the morning so I could spend some time with the wedding planner discussing my part in the ceremony before the show went on the road. K.

Arranging a wake-up call for 6:30, I showered, put on my make up, fixed my hair and stopped for a bite to eat before meeting Mike’s sister, Marie outside the hotel at 8:00. On the way to the church, Marie filled me in on what I had missed. It seemed in a high mass the maid of honor has some work to do. Goody. The wedding planner was going to walk me through where I was to be and what my duties were during the ceremony and before I gave my speech. Speech? Que es speech? Nobody said anything about a speech. Both the best man and myself were going to be expected to step up to the podium and deliver a three minute speech about marriage. Swell. I was twenty-two what did I know about marriage? I had barely scraped the surface about life. Good Lord. My knees were already knocking as we pulled up to the enormous Catholic church where the goings on were in full swing.

Mike, normally rock solid, was a puddle of nerves by the time I got to the back of the church where everyone was getting dressed. One of the bridesmaids, a friend from school now living out of state, had neglected to mention she was pregnant and unmarried, before saying she would be happy to be part of Mike’s big day. Though not in full bloom, there was definitely no doubt about her condition, and in the red dress it made quite statement. It was decided to add flowers to our bouquets last minute to hide what we could of her “bulge”.

The wedding planner grabbed me once I was dressed and took me out into the church to walk me through my paces. I hoped there wasn’t a test on this later, because I was quite sure I would fail. At one point I was to hand my flowers to the attendant next to me, lift up my skirt so as not to trip while ascending the four stairs to the podium, and deliver a pre-written speech. Thank God it was pre-written. Had I had to sum up marriage at that age, it would have been a very short speech.

Somehow we made it down the aisle. The ceremony seemed to last for days. Finally, my cue came to step up to the podium. Handing my flowers to the girl next to me I held my skirt up slightly as instructed and made my way successfully up to the third step. On the fourth my heel caught and I performed an ungraceful half gainer across the floor nearly falling on my face. The small ringed hat and veil perched atop my head moved forward nearly obscuring my view. Gathering myself up, and reseating my hat and my dignity I proceeded to the podium. Looking out over the sea of faces, I suddenly needed to use the restroom. Calming myself, I somehow opened my mouth and said what needed to be said and made it back to my appointed spot at the altar without leaving a trail of urine on the way. My mom, in the audience, said she would never have known I was nervous. That, I say, was definitely a miracle.

I had one large wedding out of four. Never sorry I did that. That day remains very special to me. We didn’t pull out all the stops. The reception was held in my parent’s back yard with around 100 people attending. I bought my own dress and paid for the invitations. The honeymoon was a gift from the groom and my parents paid for the rest. Nothing over the top but a special day nonetheless with few scary moments beyond making such a huge commitment at such a tender age.

A therapist once told me when facing a scary situation ask yourself “what is the worst thing that could happen”? This bit of advice has been very handy in a life filled with strange and unusual happenings. In the case of the wedding the worst thing was that I tripped and was embarrassed. My mum used to say I could walk into an empty room and find something to fall over. We each have our crosses to bear, mine is I tend to move before I think. By the time we reached the reception nobody but myself remembered what had occurred. Once there, I too forgot about it and enjoyed the people and the delicious food. Life passes by in an instant. Sweat the big stuff and laugh at yourself over the small.

Nowadays we do not want to concentrate on what is the worst thing that could happen because it seems to be happening all around us. Guess the best we can do is be positive and creative and try to stay vigilant.

Happy Halloween. One of my favorite holidays. Stay safe, have fun, eat lots of candy and remember to say “I love you” to those special people.

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Watching glimpses of Melania Trump’s speech on the morning news, I can’t help but wonder if her poised and calm appearance secretly housed an inside full of fear and dancing butterflies. Beautiful enough certainly to exude confidence in most any arena, still the woman surely had never been asked to give a politically motivated speech viewed by millions prior to stepping up to the podium this week. This would make a mouse out of many a lion.

Public speaking, so experts say, ranks higher than death among people’s fears. I know it’s right up there on my list. However, faced with choosing between standing before a firing squad or delivering a speech, I believe I would spit shine my writing skills and get on with whatever topic was at hand.

So terrified was I in high school of speaking before my peers, I would read whatever book was assigned for an oral book report, write the paper, and when called on to give my report claim I hadn’t done it. I know. I was a shy kid in those days. For people who know me now I realize this concept seems a stretch, but it was an accurate description of the younger version of myself. Miss Payne, my sophomore English teacher, was an unmarried lady of some years. At the age of fourteen I viewed anyone over twenty-five as having one foot in the grave, but her nickname was “the purple lady” due to her bluish gray hairdo so I would guess her to have been in her late fifties. Miss Payne brooked little resistance from her charges, and due to her iron rule received little. Many times we watched in horror as some poor kid caught breaking a Payne rule of behavior got their knuckles whacked soundly with her ruler for whatever transgression they had perpetrated. The second time I’d admitted not having a book report ready she had me stand in front of the class. For the allotted ten minutes I stood before them reading clumsily from a massive book of Shakespeare. King Lear has never been so sorely abused. I’m sure my words were drowned out by the loud knocking of my bony knees and the incessant drop, drop, drop of sweat beads on the wooden floor. Not good, not good at all.

Ten minutes can be eternity when you’re snared by fear. Once I took a ten minute typing test and my elbows were literally locked in place when on the downhill stretch. There was a boy in our class blessed with a nasty stutter. Talking to him required extreme patience. Each word he uttered struggled to be born and when it emerged was often accompanied by spitting and bizarre facial contortions. The wait between statements often became uncomfortable for both the speaker and the listener. As if this wasn’t enough of a social disaster for a teen, he had also been blessed with a terminal case of acne making the circle of his awkwardness complete. I was talking to my daughter the other day about the fact life is rarely fair. Recalling this kid would have been a great example to use. Hopefully like many social pariahs in high school, he went on to run a huge technology firm or try cases in superior court. High school kids can be a cruel lot, pouncing like pack animals on their weakest members culling them from the herd for ridicule and shame. I can only imagine what goes on with social media at their fingertips these days. Back then they were at least limited to their own turf.

Miss Payne trucked no rebellion in her English class. Everyone participated reluctantly or not. This boy, I wish I could remember his name, sat in the back row. His chin seemed to perpetually to be pointed in the direction of his feet, while his nervous hands worked ceaselessly at the craters on his face. When his name was called to do his report, several cooler kids groaned and snickered making his walk toward the front of room probably as long as an inmate taking his last walk along death row. Standing in front of his taunters wrinkled paper twisted in his fingers he began a report which was to eat up an entire class period. The boy sitting behind me began snoring as this boy worked to get through the torture. Looking back I’m sure Mrs. Payne thought she was doing what was best for him, but to me it felt like some kind of retribution aimed at all the men who had passed her by during her life. Poor guy.

After that day it became somewhat easier for me to appear in front of people. Let’s face it if a kid with a humiliating speech impediment and a face full of pimples could get through it, what had I to fear? These days I rather enjoy basking in the soft glow of the spotlight. Never would I be interested in public speaking, however, or appearing on TV or the stage. That light would be a little too strong for my tastes. People poking their cameras in every facet of your life would have no interest for me on any level. No amount of money or fame is worth losing my privacy.

One of the recent mega lottery winners in California recently stepped forward to claim their prize. The first thing coming to my mind was how life as they knew it was about to change drastically. Media attention, family members crawling out from under the rug, charities pursuing them, and changes in living, working and family situations. Whew. Lottery god if you’re tuning in it is not that I’m adverse to dealing with all this (my ticket is in my wallet if you’re waving your wand), however, I do acknowledge it might be a bit daunting. I’m just sayin.

I do have to say going back to my original thought that Melania Trump’s speech certainly had a familiar echo to it. No matter how much back pedaling their campaign managers do they cannot take away from the startling similarities to Michelle Obama’s speech. Ah well, kudos to her for doing it. This by no means is a political affirmation or nod to the Trump campaign, simply a casual observation about the speech itself.

This is my version of something I saw on a cooking show. Rick gave it an A. I prefer to let the bread rest a day or two so it’s not too fresh and soft.

Brie French Toast with Raspberry Sauce

4 slices Artisan bread, sliced thick
3 eggs
3 Tbsp. 2% milk
1 1/2 tsp. brandy
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. French Brie cheese
Confectioner’s sugar

Whisk together eggs, milk, brandy, vanilla, and cinnamon. One at a time soak bread in egg mixture. Melt butter in skillet over high heat. Place soaked bread in skillet and cook until golden brown. Turn over. Place two slices of Brie on top of two slices of bread. When bread is brown on the bottom side place the two slices without cheese on top of the bread with cheese and reduce heat to medium low. Turn over once until Brie is melted. (Like a grilled cheese sandwich). Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Raspberry Sauce

2 cups fresh raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. brandy
1/2 tsp. lemon juice

Place 1 cup raspberries in food processor with sugar. Puree. Push through fine sieve and discard solids. Add remaining raspberries, brandy and lemon juice. Serve over toast.

Serves 4

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