Sunday, October 01, 2006


Some people are afraid of public speaking. To them the experience is akin to standing in front of a crowd completely naked. Exposed. And all eyes are on you.

To overcome this fear, the most common piece of advice is to picture your audience naked. Apparently, it doesn't matter so much if they're judging you if you're judging them right back. I don't know. I've never tried this trick, but I am quite skeptical of any relaxation technique that involves me picturing my mother in the nude.

Luckily, I am not called upon to speak in public very often, and when I am, it doesn't frighten me. It's talking. I do it every day. Whether it's in front of one person or a hundred, it's still the same act.

I'm a natually nervous person. Virtually any interaction with people is unsettling. So I talk. Babble, really. The more I talk, I reason, the more my audience will be focused on my words. The more they're focused on my words, the less they're focused on my nervous tics, or my hair, or what I'm wearing, or the fact that I really need to visit my eyebrow lady. The more I talk, the less they focus on me. The more I say, the less exposed I am.

It doesn't work if you just talk, though. You have to have something else; you need a hook. The truly successful talkers have intelligence. They use what they know in an engaging and non-condescending way. They can throw out interesting facts and clever anecdotes. They are the cocktail party talkers. I am not one of these people.

Instead of intelligence, I use humor, and more often, inappropriateness. If I throw out a funny enough one-liner, or an especially colorful curse word (I find that "fucktard" works especially well in this situation. "Fucktard" is a word that naturally draws attention to itself) people will focus on it instead of you.

I don't know if this can be considered a science or an art. Maybe both. Probably neither. Personally, I lean towards art. This is mainly because any time I get going on a talking jag, I have a very clear mental image of me tap dancing. As fast as I can.

Public speaking doesn't scare me. What scares me is public not speaking. If I'm in front of a group of people and I can't talk to cover myself? That's frightening. Of course, this is something I never realized or even thought about until I was wearing a cute dress and standing in uncomfortable shoes in a vinyard while somebody thrust a bouquet into my hands. My little sister was getting married and I was in the wedding.

I've never been a bridesmaid before. I've only been to three or four weddings in my life. I performed my dad's wedding, but my job was to talk. And stand behind a lectern. This time, I have to walk--slowly--which goes against every instinct I have, and I don't get to say a word as people just stare at me. Now, the situation isn't that dire, as there are other people to look at. Namely the bride. If I can just hold it together until she makes it down the aisle, I'll be fine. Nobody will even notice me. Walk slowly, don't trip, hold the bouquet, just stand there. No problem. Until there was a problem.

For various reasons, we are unable to have an actual rehearsal until about an hour before the wedding. The bridesmaids and groomsmen are all dressed and ready to go, and my sister was in her I Love Lucy pajamas so her soon-to-be husband won't see her in her wedding dress too early.

The mood is light as we walk down the aisle and take our places. We're cracking jokes and laughing at how funny my sister looks in her flannel pajamas and veil. She looks like a kid playing dress-up. Replace the actual veil with a bath towel veil and she'll be six years old.

Dad comes down the aisle and practices giving away his youngest child. He gets teary. I laugh. Dad always cries. I always find it amusing. I lean over to one of the bridesmaids,

"Dad's going to lose his shit during the ceremony. He'll cry more than anyone else" I predict.

As dad takes his seat in the front row, I notice that the mothers are getting a little teary as well. This I find unsettling. I'm not a big fan of emotions in general, of people expresisng their feelings. It makes me uncomfortable. And crying? Crying I find fucking terrifying. I don't like it when it happens in front of me. If someone starts crying, I immediately become like a caged animal, trying to find any means of escape. I have contemplated gnawing off my own arm on more than one occasion.

Crying is something I don't even like to do by myself in the privacy of my own home. I don't find it cathartic. Crying just makes me feel dirty and a little bit sick.

And crying in public? Okay, you know how those people who are afraid of public speaking feel naked? For me, public crying is like being naked in front of a crowd. While having sex. With a relative. And people are videotaping it. While everything dirty or embarrassing I've ever done in my life is being shown on a jumbotron behind me. As all of my deepest, innermost shameful thoughts are being broadcast over a loudspeaker. And there's a woman interpreting it into sign language.

There's a definite feeling of exposure.

It's time for the ceremony. Somebody shoves a bouquet into my hands and I take my cute dress and uncomfortable shoes down the aisle as slowly as I possibly can. I take my place up front, acutely aware of all of the people who have been watching me. I take a shaky breath. The music changes and I see my sister walking down the aisle. This is when the problems start.

She looks absolutely stunning in her wedding dress. Dad looks so handsome in his suit, so...fatherly. The groom has such a look of excitement and joy as he welcomes his bride. The family is beaming with pride. This is going to be a beautiful wedding.

And I lose it.

Nobody has even started talking; the guests are still standing. And I cannot keep it together. I do not look beautiful and noble. I am not the proud sister, with a sheen of tears accenting the green in my eyes, fighting valiantly through the emotions. No, I am full-out crying. Sobbing, really. Complete with snot and shoulder shaking. It is taking every ounce of strength I possess to remain quiet. I'm even holding my breath at times to keep everything at bay.

"Holy shit. What am I doing? Stop crying, stop crying, stop crying. People are looking. Stop crying. This has got to end soon."

It doesn't.

It doesn't end during the vows, it doesn't end during the ring exchange, it doesn't end during the kiss. It doesn't even end as we are all filing out.

As we're lining up for the reception line, people are patting me on the arm and giving me more tissues. I'm still crying.

Guests are coming down the reception line. They are shaking hands. I alternate between crying and sniffling pathetically. When people get to me, they talk about my crying. I stop crying. I try to laugh. I start crying again. This continues until we're ready to leave the vinyard and go to the reception. I don't think I've ever cried for this long in my life. I want to crawl under the covers and hide.

We get to the reception. Adonilia is there. This is the first time I've seen her since she abandoned me to move back to Virginia.

"Everybody's talking about how you cried," she says. "Shut the fuck up. They are not," I say as I pour my first of many drinks. "Okay," she replies, "except...they are."

I hate her.

I was hoping that the change of venue would help everybody forget about what I had done. It did not. All afternoon, family, friends, aquaintences and strangers come up to me to talk about my crying. I'm beginning to wish I had just gone up there and shit myself instead. It would have been just as humiliating, but people would have been too uncomfortable to come up to me and talk about it afterwards.

I am basically living my worst nightmare. I have progressed from wanting to hide out in bed to wanting to walk blindfolded onto a busy highway.

Then it's time for the toasts. The best man and the maid of honor give lovely, brief toasts. Then my dad decides he wants to say a few words. He finishes and calls on my brother to say something. None of this is planned. He gives a nice speech anyway, and dad calls on my older sister, who says a few terrified words. Then he tells me to say something. Once again, everybody is looking at me. I can see the pity in their eyes.

"Oh, the poor crying girl has to make a speech. Bless her heart, I hope she can say something."

I take a deep breath. My speech is about as long as everybody else's put together. It is touching and funny. People are laughing. I start talking faster and faster, my hands flying. I'm picking imaginary clothes out of the air. I am covering myself. For the first time all day, I do not feel exposed.

No comments: